Max du Preez

Fit to govern?

2007-10-03 09:00

Max du Preez

It seems completely obvious, but in fact far too many South Africans don't get it: it does not matter how popular the ruling party is, its interests should not be mistaken for the interests of the state or the nation.

It has become commonplace for people who voice criticism of the government or of the ANC to be labelled unpatriotic or disloyal to South Africa. (And if the ANC is annoyed enough, the critics will be called racists if they're white and servants of white interests if they're black.)

I have not once heard the present leader of the ANC and president of the country, Thabo Mbeki, distance himself from these types of accusations. In fact, in the recent book that carries his full blessing, Ronald Suresh Roberts's Fit to Govern - The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki, every single Mbeki critic is painted as a disgusting, racist settler or a despicable native servant of these racist settlers. Mbeki sycophants, of course, are noble patriots.

I'm not sure whether the explanation for this blurring of state and party's interests is the extraordinary arrogance of some ANC leaders or simply a very limited understanding of what the concept of a democracy really means. Probably both.

No right to criticise?

It is a fact that the overwhelming majority of South African citizens support the ANC. The ANC got around two-thirds of the vote during the last election and just about three-quarters of the total number of members of Parliament are ANC. (How many times have I heard, in conversations and on talk radio, ANC members saying those outside the ANC have no right to criticise the president or his cabinet, because as ANC leaders they were chosen by the majority of the people, and that is democracy?)

Even if 90% of the voters voted for the ANC it still does not mean what is good for the ANC is necessarily good for the country. Anyway, which ANC are we talking about - the Zuma/Cosatu/SACP ANC or the Thabo Mbeki ANC?

Many suspect that Jacob Zuma was fired as deputy president of the country because of his power struggle with Mbeki inside the party. Persecuting Zuma in this way might have been in the interests of the Mbeki faction of the ANC, but considering what it had led to, it wasn't in the national interest.

It would clearly have been in the national interest to fire the embarrassing Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, and to replace her with her competent former deputy, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. But it was in the Mbeki-ANC's interest to protect Tshabalala-Msimang, so she stayed and Madlala-Routledge was fired. When parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete refused to entertain questions about Tshabalala-Msimang and kicked out the DA MP who wanted to ask them, she was acting in the interest of the ANC and not of Parliament or the country.

National interest

There is little doubt in my mind that it would have been in the national interest to fire or at least suspend the commissioner of police, Jackie Selebi, after his admissions of close friendships with known criminals and his dealings with assassinated millionaire Brett Kebble.

In fact, there was enough of a prima facie case against him to persuade the Director of National Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, that he should be charged and for a prominent High Court Judge to issue a warrant for the commissioner's arrest.

But Selebi, a former operative of Umkhonto we Sizwe, is a powerful man in the ANC with a lot of inside information on many top people. In the end he was kept while Pikoli was fired, because that was what was in the interest of the Mbeki-faction of the ANC. By what stretch of the imagination can it be in South Africa's interest to have a suspected racketeer as the head of its police?

I have a very high regard for the history of the ANC and its leaders over more than 80 years. It was the most mature and democratic of all liberation movements on our continent. It gave us the likes of Albert Luthuli, OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela - leaders any nation on earth would be proud of.

ANC members and leaders should show more respect for their party's legacy and act according to the spirit of our negotiated settlement of 1994 and of our brilliant constitution. They should recognise that the country and the nation come first, party political allegiances second.

They should also remember this when they vote for a new leader at the ANC's elective conference in just over two months' time.

Send your comments to Max.

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