Feasting at trough of broken promisesComment on this story
Johannesburg - In her report and subsequent public appearances around Nkandlagate, the public protector likens the behaviour of those involved to animals feeding at the trough.
This analogy has its roots in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and closer exploration reveals scary similarities with present day South Africa.
In Animal Farm, Orwell tells a tale of revolutionary promise and fervour gone wrong, of how absolute power can corrupt absolutely – even the most idealistic among us.
Having read the book many years ago, I recently read it again to my 10-year-old son over a few bedtime story sessions.
For those who have not read it, it tells the story of how a group of animals on a farm in England rise up and overthrow their exploitative human master, and assume control of the farm.
Their revolutionary ideology, built on all animals being equal, on self-determination and collective prosperity, is gradually subverted and replaced by one where the intelligent pigs assume greater control, and live more and more lavishly, at the expense of the other animals on the farm.
The rhetoric and tactics used by the increasingly power-hungry pigs in the book (and in particular by Squealer, the spin doctor and spokesman for chief pig Napoleon) to keep the animals in check and prevent any questioning of the status quo, echo with disturbing similarity the rhetoric of Jackson Mthembu just about every time he opens his mouth.
In the book, the leaders divert attention from their own failings and increasing appetite for the good life (which was initially vilified as human excess and not suitable for any animal) by finding scapegoats and blaming others, in particular Snowball, a former hero of the revolution who differed ideologically from Napoleon.
He became the sum of all anti-revolutionary behaviour, and every disaster on the farm was blamed on Snowball.
In South Africa we have a few Snowball characters, depending on the need.
Those of us South Africans with fair skin are certainly a prime target, as evidenced by Blade Nzimande’s recent statement that reports about the excesses of Nkandla are “white people’s lies”.
Such verbal subterfuge would have made Squealer and Napoleon immensely proud.
Similarly, anyone who disagrees with ANC policy or actions seems to suffer the same fate – like Zwelinzima Vavi.
But let’s not forget the criticisms levelled at such eminent former heroes of the revolution such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils, Trevor Manuel and even the ANC’s enfant terrible Julius Malema. Dare to criticise, question or disagree, especially with Number One, and you will be vilified and shamed.
This is not a healthy place for a political party as rich in history, intellectual thought and culture as the ANC to find itself.
That there have been many achievements in the past two decades of democracy cannot be overlooked.
Just like the animals on Animal Farm managed to escape from under the yoke of their human oppressors, so too millions of South Africans now enjoy many freedoms denied their forefathers under the scourge of apartheid.
There is a lot to be proud of, but just as many unfulfilled promises that should keep our elected leaders awake at night. Unfortunately, one gets the feeling that they sleep like babies (just as the pigs in the book ended up doing in the farmer’s beds), and that sits uneasily with me.
On Animal Farm, the other animals end up working for the betterment not of themselves, but ultimately of those in power and their ever-increasing dependents (Khulubuse Zuma, step forward).
Here in South Africa, we have a taxpayer base that gets squeezed for every penny to help support not just the infrastructure and welfare systems our country needs, but also the opulent lifestyles of the ruling elite.
Do we as a nation really accept that people like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani sacrificed their lives to overthrow apartheid, so that Dina Pule can wear Christian Louboutins and fly her boyfriend around the globe using taxpayer money?
Or so that Tony Yengeni can own a fleet of luxury cars and President Jacob Zuma can build a palace to rival the Taj Mahal using money plundered from the sweat and toil of ordinary South Africans?
Sadly, like the unquestioning sheep in the book, the spirit of the revolution tends to ensure lifetime loyalty and patronage from the vast majority of our voting public.
Throw in a Snowball here and there to blame for all failings, regular briefings full of statistics as to how much we have progressed in the past 20 years (a favourite tactic of Squealer, even though the animals were sure that things were just the same, if not worse, than before) and a tendency to foster strategic alliances with former sworn enemies when politically expedient, and one could be forgiven for thinking Orwell had a vision of the future when he wrote the book, and that future was South Africa circa 2014.
While the conversion from revolutionary camaraderie and shared purpose to entitlement and suppression was happening in Animal Farm, some of the wiser animals who sensed that all was not right chose to keep quiet.
They did this out of fear of the dogs, who were used as Napoleon’s enforcers, and also because they still harboured feelings of love and kinship with the spirit of the revolution. Is this not eerily similar to the silence of many in the ANC who know the current path of corruption and blind loyalty is anathema to the very essence of the party that once was?
At the end of the book, the pigs start to walk on two legs, forge strategic alliances of convenience with their former hated enemy, man, and live a life of luxury while the rest of the animals on the farm suffer.
Similarly, when politically expedient our government criticises and lambastes big business as anti-transformation and exploitative of the working classes, while feasting at the same table as big business.
The final page of Animal Farm sees the other animals unable to distinguish between the pigs and their former enemies, human beings.
Sadly, the disenfranchised and exploited animals, who have gone from living under one oppressive regime to another, are too set in their ways, too afraid or too ill-informed to do anything to change their fate.
They know it is not what they fought for; they know it is not what they were promised, but they feel powerless to do anything, so they just accept it.
We do have the power to change.
Let’s hope our electorate is brave and informed enough to do just that come May 7.
Anton Ressel is a business development consultant, mentor and SME specialist.