TO Molefe

The ANC's costly inertia

2014-09-03 13:40

TO Molefe

A weekend article in City Press suggests that the ANC has taken the position that it will only act on the public protector's report into spending on President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla home only when it's good and ready, and will do so on its own terms.

The party, it appears, has decided that neither strongly worded letters from the public protector nor catchy chants of "pay back the money" from opposition benches in Parliament will force its hand. In fact, the ANC leaders quoted in the article suggest that the harder people and organisations outside the ANC press, the more the party is prepared to dig its heels in over the issue.

It reminded me that many in the ANC, especially its secretary general Gwede Mantashe, frequently liken the party to an elephant. They say the party, like an elephant, is large and cannot be moved by anything other than its own will. They also caution that once the party resolves to shift its tremendous heft, it can move with alarming speed, crushing anything, or anyone, in the way.

I prefer to think the ANC's preoccupation with mischaracterising this gentle giant of the animal world is a subconscious acknowledgement that the party lives in rooms filled with elephants - metaphorical self-evident truths it has chosen not to speak about, in other words. The party's decision to batten down the hatches while it supposedly thinks up an exit strategy on Nkandla is an example of how this tactic, while effective so far on other oppositional voices, won't work as a response to the EFF.

Not listening

Since the news broke five years ago that taxpayers were footing most of the bill for what back then was a R65m upgrade, supposedly for security arrangements, to Zuma's home in rural KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC has closed ranks. It has insisted that any criticism of the security upgrades to Nkandla be directed through formal structures, whether the party's internal democratic structures or those in the legislative and executive arms of government, which the party controls.

Like with other big-ticket matters, such as the Protection of State Information Bill, the unauthorised landing at Waterkloof or the Marikana massacre, party members who voiced their opinion on Nkandla outside of the party structures were accused of ill discipline and having anti-majoritarian tendencies, and were eventually silenced.

In the legislature, as the amount spent ballooned to R246m, the party used its majority to fob off any attempts by opposition parties, particularly the Democratic Alliance, to hold the executive accountable for the failures in supply chain management and the various conflicts of interest that led to the overspending. And the executive, comprised of ANC MPs and some members of its national executive, has tried to bury the matter with its own report, which exonerated president Zuma and laid the blame at the feet of a handful of government employees.

A culture of fear

This all could have been fine had the party's internal accountability mechanisms been functional enough to move the ANC act of its own volition in a meaningful manner beyond the political bluster on issues that have generated massive public interest. But those structures haven't functioned properly in a long time.

In its own internal assessments over the past 14 years, the ANC has admitted that there exists in the organisation a shadow culture where factional rivalries direct whether and how the party's internal democracy works. In addition, leaders are elected based on which faction they belong to and the losing faction is purged from the party's structures.

In such an environment, silence reigns over constructive criticism as party leaders fear that taking a stance on an issue in opposition to that held by the ruling faction would be a career-limiting move. This more than anything else is the reason for the party's inertia on Nkandla, or other matters, as those who might otherwise move the party action by speaking out internally against the excessive spending fear falling foul of the faction allied to Zuma.

Enter the EFF

Nkandla isn't the first nor is it the last big-ticket issue on which the EFF will stake its claim to holding the ANC government accountable. And unlike other external opposition voices, the young upstarts have made clear that they will not tolerate the use of arbitrary rules, or the police force, in the legislatures to shut down debates on issues the public, including ANC voters themselves, want answers to.

By refusing to budge, the ANC is giving the EFF a platform on which to wage its campaign. This means that when the ANC eventually does act by asking president Zuma to pay back a portion of the costs, as the City Press report suggests it will, the EFF will take credit for it and ANC MPs who defended the refusal to pay back the money will look like fools.

- Follow TO Molefe on Twitter.

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Read more on:    anc  |  eff  |  jacob zuma  |  gwede mantashe  |  nkandla upgrade

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