The ANC’s recent announcement that it will first test the legality of the proposal to bar family members of party leaders from doing business with government before implementing it, is not only a contradiction of its earlier commitment to root out corruption in the party, it smacks of moral bankruptcy.
While it is true that our Constitution dictates that even those accused of the worst crimes should be accorded the same basic rights as law-abiding citizens, history is replete with cases where individuals accused of wrongdoing voluntarily opted to surrender their rights as a gesture to those they had wronged.
Even at home there have been numerous cases where the accused, while facing trial, chose to forgo their right to apply for bail. I personally know of a case where a villager who had been arrested for the disappearance of several goats opted not to apply for bail as he did not want to upset further his fellow villagers. This despite the fact that he had the right to apply for bail, and if granted, would have walked back into the community.
Back to the ANC, the party is in the dock for the most heinous crime — corruption, which essentially is the act of taking food from the mouths of the hungry millions in rural areas, townships and hostels. According to the Washington research group Global Financial Integrity, corruption under the ANC-led government cost the country R185 billion between 1994 and 2008.
In government alone, it is estimated that by 2009, corruption had diverted a staggering R70 billion from the public purse into the pockets of individuals who were either ANC members or were connected to the party’s leaders.
This happened as the poor, who the party claims to be its core constituency, has since the advent of democracy in 1994, been waiting for the government to provide them with basics services.
In some parts of the country it is not unheard of for schoolchildren to drown while attempting to cross flooded rivers to get to school.
In informal settlements, it is not uncommon that youngsters are unable to study in the evenings due to a lack of electricity, or are electrocuted while using power diverted from nearby electrical poles to their homes.
Surely, the stolen R185 billion could have gone a long way to preventing the pain of hunger and death. It is for this reason that ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa proclaimed that the ANC is in the dock. However, by simply stating that the party is facing corruption charges in the eye of the public, Ramaphosa conveniently avoided going to the extent of explaining the daily horrors which the crime has created for the poor and vulnerable. Much to his credit, though, Ramaphosa has urged ANC members to do precisely what the villager who was accused of stock theft did — forgo some of their rights enshrined in the Constitution. According to the Constitution, ANC members accused of corruption, just like any other citizen, should be deemed innocent until found guilty by a court of law.
However, given the seriousness of the crimes committed by the party, Ramaphosa and other top ANC leaders declared that any member of the party who has been charged with corruption should step aside immediately from their government and party positions. Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership collective’s decision was to a large degree able to diffuse the public’s anger.
When people such as former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, who is accused of stealing millions from the poor, was suspended from her ANC KwaZulu-Natal MPL position, the public viewed the move as a sign that the ANC was finally beginning to take responsibility for the pain it has caused them over the decades.
But the public’s joy was short-lived as the ANC went on to question the proposal that the relatives of party members should be barred from doing business with government. It is well known that a large portion of the R70 billion lost to corruption did not go directly into the bank accounts of ANC leaders themselves, it was channelled to the accounts of family members and others connected to party members. This was done mainly to shield the real beneficiaries of corruption, the ANC leaders.
In any case, the ANC is on record as saying that those who join the party do so voluntarily. So, members uncomfortable with the suggestion that their family should be barred from doing business with government should withdraw from the party.
Close to 20 000 South Africans have died from Covid-19 and the toll is climbing. Despite this, some ANC leaders, thorough companies linked to family members and friends, saw fit to siphon millions of state funds meant to prevent infections and deaths.
It can only be those ANC members lacking the moral capacity to fully appreciate the pain which corruption has caused the masses, who would insist that the matter around family doing business with the state be looked at through a narrow legalistic lens.
• Clive Ndou is political editor of The Witness.