Earlier this year, something unusual happened at the ANC’s 106th birthday celebrations in East London.
Here, Dear Reader, I am not talking about the famous birthday cake which trended for days on social.
With all its problems, the cake was baked, delivered at the event and thoroughly devoured by those who were lucky enough to get a piece of the famous cake.
I never thought something as innocuous as a birthday cake (ikhekhe) would have so many of us commenting on social media – blessed was the cake!
The unusual thing about the party’s celebrations is that the main event to mark the celebrations started on time.
Such events have been known for starting very late, leading to a lot of inconvenience to those in attendance including generating costs for media houses especially those broadcasting such events live.
Full marks to the ANC leadership for ensuring that this important event started on time.
In his interview with the public broadcaster the following day, party leader Cyril Ramaphosa stressed the need for the ANC to get such basic things right, ensuring that meetings started on time and one can only hope that this mindset will permeate all parts of the organisation including at branch level so that even there those who have been elected to lead the party get such basic things right.
Just getting this simple thing right will go a long way in truly re-positioning Brand ANC and regain lost political currency from members and non-members alike.
Not keeping time is extremely bad – in fact, it’s rude.
It is almost similar to those men who do not think twice about emptying the contents of their bladders in public regardless of who is around.
Apart from respect for time however, there are other values that must be recaptured as part of building Brand ANC and position itself as leader of society and regain public trust.
First, the party must place a huge premium on accountability and honesty as a matter of urgency.
Second, the ANC has to hold those it deploys into public office to high standards and take a zero-tolerance approach to graft and incompetence.
But why does this all matter?
Well, the following is part of what the party said in its annual message to its members, society in general and investors: “Corruption in state-owned enterprises and other public institutions has undermined government’s programmes to address poverty and unemployment, weakened key institutions, discouraged investment and contributed to divisions within the ANC and the Alliance.”
In fact, this passage formed the basis on which Team SA, led by the country’s deputy president, interacted with the global community and investors in its annual pilgrimage to Davos recently.
A few days ago a number of public hearings took place, keeping most of us glued to our television screens.
First, it was the arbitration hearings into the tragedy of Life Esidimeni seeking answers into how so many vulnerable people died as a result of a marathon project to move scores of mental healthcare users to ill-equipped non-governmental organisation.
For the benefit of our guests from Mars, in excess of 140 patients died as a result of this project. To give it some context, this is two busloads of innocent and vulnerable people.
The second hearing relates to hearings into the social security debacle, which nearly plunged our country into a huge social crisis.
The third hearing took place in Cape Town and dealt with the hearings into the Eskom state of affairs and two of our finest sons were called upon to explain the shenanigans at the power utility.
All three hearings had one thing in common. As members of the public we were treated to a buffet of denials, blame-shifting, amnesia and generous servings of arrogance and jaw-dropping poor performance.
Watching these hearings was an extremely frustrating undertaking and my heart goes out to those tasked with presiding over these enquiries.
These three hearings however provide the ANC with a window of opportunity to get things right and truly self-correct.
Those who the party deploys to public office must be held to the highest ethical standards and be held accountable at all times.
When people exercise public power, they must do so mindful of their duty to the public and always uphold the dual values of honesty and integrity.
Those who are appointed into key positions in our state-owned companies must be men and women of good standing who have an appreciation of the strategic role of these entities in driving the much-needed growth.
As leader of our society, the ANC has an opportunity to redeem itself. The integrity structure which the party has established must be given the necessary space to do its work.
The party will be doomed if it failed to take advantage of the changing public sentiment which has been unfolding recently.
Whether or not this sentiment will translate into votes in next year’s elections remains to be seen.
But there’s no denying the fact that the party is at a crossroad and it needs to look at its navigational device more closely.
Members of society will be watching the party closely to see how it gives effect to the passage I quote above.
Most importantly, the global community will be watching us with an eagle’s eye to see whether we do indeed change our ways or we do what those trapped in addictions do which is to promise change and only to wake-up the following day and continue with their old ways.
As a side-bar, we can only choose to ignore international sentiment at our peril. What the global community and international media say about us is important.
Our challenges as a country are many and the patience of our communities is running thin. International creditors have us on speed-dial.
Time is not on our side.
As for next year’s birthday cake... well, bless the hands that will mix the dough. As long as they will be black, green and gold.
• Fidel Hadebe is a former government spokesperson. He writes in his personal capacity.