Mpumelelo Mkhabela

When the filth of corruption infiltrates an entire society

2018-07-31 06:01
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

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At the ANC's conference in Polokwane in 2007, the party's then secretary general, Kgalema Motlanthe, made an honest observation about how the governing party had to contend with nasty characters within its ranks.

"No profound and popular movement in all history has taken place without its share of filth, without adventurers and rogues, without boastful and noisy elements – a ruling party inevitably attracts careerists." 

Motlanthe borrowed the quote from Vladimir Lenin's address to the 10th congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union in 1921 to describe the extent to which the ANC's unit, the branch, had been corrupted.

Motlanthe suggested that given the inevitability of corrosive elements claiming a share of the party, there was a need to ensure that the noble values and norms remained the defining features of the ANC. Continuous political education, he said, was the solution.

The proceedings of the Polokwane conference were anxiously followed in and outside South Africa. Sadly, not because it was going to produce the kind of noble goals Motlanthe referred to. The eagerly awaited outcomes were about whether Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma would triumph in the ANC's presidential election.

As it has since become apparent, at the heart of the conference was whether or not one of the chief rogues would emerge victorious. He did. 

Fast-forward to 2018, not much has been done to show that the party was serious in rooting out the filth, adventurers, rogues, boastful elements and careerists. These characters haven't just claimed a "share" of the governing party. They are increasingly the defining features – contrary to Motlanthe's proposal to mitigate the scourge of the filth. 

It was not long after Polokwane that Tony Yengeni who, in some way, fits a version or two of the descriptions on Motlanthe's problematic characters, was in charge of political education. Supposedly the very same political education that would mitigate the problem identified by Motlanthe! Yengeni, a convicted fraudster, has since been promoted to the heart of the governing party's fight against corruption. He has consistently retained a seat on the party's national executive committee (NEC).

In fact, not only does the governing party "attract", (Motlanthe's words) nasty elements; it seems to be also breeding and transforming them into heartless individuals who enjoy looting from the poor while coining slogans allegedly to address the problems faced by poor people. 

Even people who joined the party under life threatening conditions, lost a number of their comrades in the struggle for freedom and emerged with terrible scars, have somehow metamorphosed into corrupt tax-in-transit kingpins. They have dealt a heavy blow to the criminal justice system, rendering it woefully incapable of mounting a response to what is essentially an attack on the democratic state, its institutions and processes.

It seems Motlanthe was either too optimistic or naïve in thinking that education was the solution to the problem. How would you teach Jacob Zuma to respect public funds? The solution really is a credible criminal justice system that flushes out from the body politic the malignant cancer of corruption. 

A justice system that does its work can only be a product of political will. We are not short of laws. Our supreme law of the land makes it clear we are all equal before the law. It is unconstitutional not to fight corruption. We have the most comprehensive anti-corruption legislation passed as recently as 2004. 

We have competent judges who are independent in a system that fosters checks and balances. But the political side of the criminal justice system is failing society – the police and the prosecutors who, unlike judges, report to politicians. 

While our politics has served to disable the justice system, the corrupt have been able to create an ecosystem of interdependence with other equally filthy elements in society and beyond our borders. A mutually symbiotic relationship of corruption between domestic and international elements (think: McKinsey & Company) has become so entrenched, with the governing party or its functionaries seemingly at the centre of it, to the point that even the most obvious crime of theft goes unpunished. 

At a time when you expect the governing party to use its State power to enforce the constitutional injunction of equality before the law, it falters because it seems punishing of a rogue could cause a domino whose ultimate direction is unknown to a timid political leadership. 

How else can we explain the failure to prosecute and lock up people who have evidently stolen tax money? Anoj Singh, the disgraced former chief financial officer of Transnet and Eskom, and his associates are still walking free, enjoying their loot despite countless revelations of corruption that should be in front of courts to be tested. 

City Press reported on a Treasury investigation that has the hallmark of a police docket ready for a diligent prosecutor to line up witnesses and take it to court. 

Similarly, the Life Esidimeni arbitration report compiled by Justice Dikgang Moseneke, together with the records of the hearings, make for a ready-made docket for people to be charged with murder. But Qedani Mahlangu, the politician who oversaw the deadly project, has been promoted to the ANC provincial executive committee in Gauteng. 

Few would be surprised if any of the VBS Bank executives who collapsed the bank emerge in some powerful role somewhere in society or if they are never prosecuted despite the harm they have caused to poor black people and the risk they created in our financial system. 

The failure or delay in prosecuting obvious crimes is a threat to our constitutional democracy and national security. It will most likely make it impossible in the future to prosecute anyone. 

If politicians at the top and state institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority are seen to be protecting their friends because they fear a domino effect, nothing will stop people at the bottom from beginning to defend criminals they like. Nor will criminals be deterred from recruiting friends in local communities to support them and their criminal networks. 

While the top and the connected use their connections and legal subterfuge to defend their friends, those at the bottom who lack access to the state machinery will use violence to defend those they think should not be prosecuted. In such a situation, the State will have no moral high ground to tackle the challenge from the bottom. Chaos will rule the land.

- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.

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