Ralph Mathekga

'Anti-corruption' no longer a viable election slogan

2018-10-22 06:01
EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu (Thulani Mbele/Gallo Images)

EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu (Thulani Mbele/Gallo Images)

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When corruption becomes too widespread and totally out of control, the idea of going into the election with an anti-corruption manifesto is just senseless.

Where different political formations, including parties, drink from the same well of corruption, it will be senseless for voters to choose parties on the basis of their anti-corruption message. In this case, an anti-corruption stance would not help much in differentiating political parties from one another.

Recent developments in South Africa's anti-corruption crusade have shown that a party's stance on this might not matter much in the 2019 elections, simply because our political parties are all too complicit in corruption in the country. This nation also seems to be getting numbed by revelations of corruption to a point where they are no longer able to formulate a cogent response.

The VBS Mutual Bank scandal has disappointed many South Africans, particularly the alleged involvement of the EFF leader in the scandal. Even those who do not support the politics of the EFF would admit that the allegations do not only tarnish the party's image of speaking truth to power, but also damages the broader political system of the country.

Whether or not EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu has benefitted improperly from the VBS looting, the allegations have sparked the nation's cynicism towards anti-corruption. Add to that the demise of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, a good guy who was caught lying about his relationship with the controversial Gupta family.

All this brings a great deal of ambivalence towards the notion of anti-corruption. It brings mistrust in the war against corruption. A perception will soon emerge that South Africans just might have to choose leaders on the basis of the (acceptable) degree to which they are compromised.

When this level of cynicism sets in, as is the case, anti-corruption no longer offers an attractive platform to stage a political campaign from.

An example of this may be observed with the ANC; the party cannot go into the 2019 elections with a strong anti-corruption message. It is plain laughable for a political party to go into the election with a confession; it's unheard of!

If President Cyril Ramaphosa tries to beat the anti-corruption drum too loud in the period leading to the elections, people will be reminded that the ANC has been in power when it all went wrong. The party will find itself on the defence.

As for the EFF, the party's decision to defend Shivambu on the VBS allegations inaugurated a different attitude towards corruption. The EFF is no longer concerned with corruption in companies such as VBS, which according to the party is all about crumbs. The EFF is picking a fight with a big price tag of corruption such as Steinhoff, which seems to be left unchecked.

The EFF is saying that VBS is merely a deflection; the real issue is with the grand scale theft orchestrated by the business aligned ANC cabal that has taken over the party at Nasrec.

This complicates the entire anti-corruption fight in South Africa. Voters don't like complicated messages. It means that the EFF also cannot go into the elections with an anti-corruption message. It's just too complicated. What the party is mostly banking on is pushing the anti-system message.

There are many reasons why the EFF would abandon the narrow anti-corruption crusade, including latching on the VBS scandal. The party's position might have been influenced by Shivambu's situation regarding VBS. On the other hand, the EFF could just simply be upping the stake and going for the entire system instead of focusing on small administrative issues such as anti-corruption.

It has always been the view of the EFF that the entire system as it is, is corrupt and illegitimate. It's an unhealthy alliance between political elites and business elites. This is a complicated message to go into the elections with, but it's worth a try.

If anti-corruption is as risky a platform for the different parties as it has recently proven to be, anything far from anti-corruption is the way to go in activating voters.

The DA, for example, decided to go for a more attractive way to woe voters in the coming elections. The party opted for anti-immigration stance (read: Xenophobia in the case of South Africa). I wonder how the DA plans to ensure that their immigration position will not translate into Xenophobia.

All in all, anti-corruption just won't matter much in the next elections. However, gossip and blackmail might feature prominently as a source of wisdom and an effective political tool for some of our respectable political formations.

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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