OPINION | The ANC and its distant relationship with accountability

 (Thapelo Maphakela, Gallo Images, file)
(Thapelo Maphakela, Gallo Images, file)

The ANC needs to start holding itself accountable as it fast runs out of systematic interventions and reforms to hold onto power after hollowing out public institutions and facilitating state capture, writes Ebrahim Fakir. 

The ANC lives by three mantras. All three now ring hollow.

The first is that the "ANC is leader of society". 

This is no longer true. A greater number of people stayed away from the polls in 2019 than voted for the ANC.

Election upon election, the ANC has cumulatively lost popular support – a combination of voter stayaways with shifts of support to other parties. Its slowly diminishing credibility may eventually lead to an eroding of its legitimacy.     

The second is that the "ANC is the Parliament of the People".

This is no longer the case, though it may historically have been – at a time when all South Africans were denied equal representation, inclusion and participation in public life. The Parliament of the people since 1994, is now in Cape Town. The ANC must get used to this. The ANC is is no longer the parliament of the people. It is only that, for its members.  

The third, is that the ANC claims to be a "non-racial, non-sexist & democratic organisation".

It may well be. But it is in reality largely so in theory and on paper, rather than in reality or in practice.

It is also probably "non-racial, non-sexist and democratic", as a social movement, rather than as a party in government, where it has proven to be venal, corrupt and inept at crafting appropriate policy.

Rampant corruption

It has also been less than effective in establishing appropriate regulatory regimes, and wholly ineffective in enforcing it. It has hollowed out public institutions and opted for austerity in social programmes while allowing corruption to run rampant – allowing public officials to behave with impunity and its friends in business, to engage in fronting, collusion, price-fixing and tender fraud – facilitating corrupt state capture.

Has the ANC as an organisation, or the ANC in government ever taken responsibility for the fact that the Auditor General repeatedly makes adverse findings against the overwhelming majority of municipalities run by the ANC?

Despite this, the AG’s report for 2020 finds that more than half of municipalities simply didn't bother investigating any of the findings or issues, flagged for attention by the AG – whether they be of maladministration, irregular expenditure (in excess of R32 billion), tender irregularities or outright fraud and corruption.

Discounting fraud, corruption and malicious capture – the failure to take any responsibility means that even simple maladministration or irregular expenditure is a sign of ineptitude and incompetence.

If not, then it must mean that it simply must be a attributable to evil and malevolence.                

When the ANC is probed on its record in government and public management, it has tended at its navel gazing five-yearly elective and policy conferences, to descend into degenerative hysteria, suspicion, conspiracy and paranoid delusion. This is symptomatic of its desire for authority, but shirking of responsibility.

The extensive accountability and oversight regulatory regime established for public governance by law and the Constitution appears to serve a merely decorative, rather than any instrumental or functional purpose for the ANC in government. So does its own Constitution and internal rules, or organs such as its integrity commission and the like.

Accountability is a value born of assuming responsibility, which the ANC in government shirks and the ANC as movement, finds excuses for – everything from Apartheid, to white monopoly capital, to lack of skills, to inexperience in government.

But in excusing itself, the ANC places itself in a deeper moral quandry.

After all, what kind of government takes no responsibility for children drowning in pit latrines, and then appeals court judgments compelling it to attend to the problem. What kind of organisation would tolerate within its ranks the theft of food parcels meant for social relief, or the theft of funds from state funerals? What kind of organisation allows tsotsis and thieves within its ranks?

Nine wasted years

After all, the ANC engaged in a decade-long incubation, festering and defence of the problems and misdemeanours, illegalities and corruption fostered by Jacob Zuma and his expansive network of crones, that the current ANC President, then ANC deputy President, without any hint of irony now calls "nine wasted years"?

When the ANC eventually wanted to get rid of a recalcitrant Jacob Zuma, and extract some level of accountability, it conducted the no confidence motion by "secret ballot" in Parliament in a open act of cowardice. This is perhaps understandable in a party where disagreements are dealt with through violence and political assassination in an environment replete with intrigue and subterfuge.

Repeatedly – South Africa has had to be saved by independent institutions and its rules – especially the Judiciary.

No matter how much mischief, manipulation and maladministration has gone before, independent and robust institutions and the faithful and sincere application of the rules have repeatedly had to curb irregular and excessive executive power and authority.

Thankfully the judiciary have managed to do so thus far. But if this level of rule manipulation and institutional destabilisation continues, the judiciary will whither over time, rendering South Africa completely susceptible to the mercy of the unctuous and the unscrupulous.

Even the most robust rules and strong institutions cannot withstand this level of sustained manipulation nor can they solve all of our seemingly unending problems of lawless behaviour and unethical conduct. 

Recall that two Constitutional Court Judgments (Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others [2016] ZACC 11 and Economic Freedom Fighters and Others v Speaker of the National Assembly and Another [2017] ZACC 47) which found that that the ANC used its majority in Parliament to ride roughshod over prudent deliberations and its speaker exceeded her authority demonstrating the encroachment and erosion of the base of independent institutions that seek to curb and limit the use of excessive executive power and authority and its abuses. 

The political excuses proffered by Zuma, perpetuated and propounded by the rest of the ANC was that a few oversights were committed, junior flunkeys in supply chain, procurement and tendering had engaged in price inflation with suppliers, ministers were misled, and perhaps a few misleading things were told to Parliament and the Public Protector, but these will be remedied. Never mind that it was in reality, a wilful, deliberate and malicious subversion of the Constitution and the role of Parliament.

Aids pandemic

Can anyone recall, the glossing over of the Aids pandemic by the Thabo Mbeki government, or the huge contentions about the corruption ridden multi-billion rand Urban Renewal Projects dotted around the country? Or the wilful neglect of the spike in crime and corruption under Mbeki’s ANC? Or can anyone recall any accountability for the notoriously "un-corrupt" Arms Deal, where the equipment now lies inoperably fallow due to unaffordability or inability.   

The ANC as an organisation is fragmented, factionalised and fractured. 

It is usually understood that some degree of factionalism might be positive, in that factions tend to hold each other to account, they contest, compete and refine party policies, and otherwise ensure healthy coemption and internal democracy within parties. But the factionalism and polarisation within the ANC has the veneer of policy difference, that masks venality and widespread government corruption in which the factions are merely representative of a more, or less, sophisticated approach to regularising theft and an increasingly vacuous and venal moral relativity in justifying the ANC’s continued hold on power.

This renders government and the state as a site for the contestation and control of capital and its accumulation.

In this context, government and the ANC as its leading party, faces a real, rather than an imagined crisis of representation, responsiveness and accountability.

The multiple protests around the country demonstrate societal unhappiness with malfeasance, maladministration and unaccountability associated with poor government performance. Declining levels of trust and confidence in government and in political parties, the ANC especially, renders public authority as neither democratic, nor developmental, but capricious, instead. 

Commissions of inquiry    

Commissions of inquiry into corruption and state capture compound the cost of loss to society and outstrip the value lost to corruption. Costs of the Zondo Commission, alone, are reportedly close to R700 million. Compounding this were the Nugent commission, the commission into political violence and host of others. This doesn’t ensure any degree of accountability, nor a culture of consequence.

Of course – the ANC uses systemic reform to maintain its grip on power. It did so first by regularising “floor crossing” and then ditching it when it proved inconvenient. It will doubtless use electoral reform in the same way, to claw back support it has lost.

Soon it will run out of systemic interventions and reforms.

In order to remain in power such system manipulation is unnecessary. The ANC must simply govern effectively. Governing effectively will require it to take responsibility and be willing to be held accountable.           

- Ebrahim Fakir is the Director of Programmes at the Auwal Socio Economic Research Institute (ASRI)

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