The Guptas are a useful but dangerous distraction for the ANC. The ANC can pretend that there is a single narrative about what is wrong with our politics and call it Guptagate. But that is a lie, and one that vigilant citizens must refuse to accept.
Corruption requires two to tango. One person does the corrupting, the other person allows themselves to be corrupted. This is also true of political parties and state institutions that get captured by nefarious forces.
So, when we see hashtags such as #GuptasMustFall and #Guptagate trending, one potential effect of this is to wrongly divorce Zuma from the Gupta family, or to pretend that the ANC itself isn’t blameworthy.
Yet, in the first instance, the ANC must take major responsibility for the influence of the Gupta family on our politics.
Corruption only thrives when there is an environment that enables corruption to take root. And the governing party is the chief guardian when it comes to state resources and public institutions, including the values and norms that operate inside the state.
Take, for example, weekend reports that the SABC has allegedly dumped a new, but already popular news analysis show, On The Record, hosted by excellent broadcaster Vuyo Mvoko, because he wanted to discuss President Zuma’s relationship with the Gupta family.
The SABC is a public institution (on paper, at least) yet it behaves like a public relations firm for President Zuma. It is not even a good model of state broadcasting, let alone a public broadcaster.
The SABC has been captured by nefarious forces. This has happened with the full knowledge of the governing party.
Where has the outcry been from ANC politicians all these years as the abuse of the SABC started, and still continues?
The same goes for way too many public institutions, including most of our state-owned enterprises which perform hopelessly, and which have simply become sites of looting, where tenderpreneurs can enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers. Why has the ANC, which is in a position to reverse this rot, done little to do so?
Take president Zuma himself. Under his non-leadership the economy is on the brink of junk status, and neither unemployment nor inequality has been seriously dealt with.
The economic pie keeps shrinking and those not invited to share in the crumbs are growing by number, and growing impatient. Why is the powerful ANC a witness to such horrific leadership disaster when it is able to intervene?
The single narrative about the evil Guptas is a distraction from a more complex story of Gupta poison – ANC inaction and Zuma dancing with the devil. Zuma has agency, and gigantic political and legal powers. He chooses to use this for his narrow, personal interest, and to subvert the interests of the state, and of society.
The same is true of the ANC qua a political party. The ANC is one of the most powerful social forces in our society, and it is the governing party with a massive electoral mandate. It is choosing not to use its agentive powers to stop Zuma in his tracks. This makes the ANC more blameworthy than it admits to be.
Yes, it is cool to hear a Vytjie Mentor here and a Mcebisi Jonas there speaking out about how they got caught in the Zuma-Gupta nexus. But how much more useful and more praiseworthy would it have been if that letter from Jonas directly and unambiguously targeted Zuma as a willing victim, and indicted the ANC for inaction?
Of course, this is politics, and so complete honesty is never going to be role-modelled by any senior leader in the ANC because those in the anti-Zuma camp still want to protect the ANC itself from public scorn. And, naturally, these leaders who are speaking out against Zuma want the ANC to survive Zuma and the Guptas.
But here is the snag, though. A singular Guptagate narrative leads to denial about the profound and urgent leadership and ethical crisis at the heart of the ANC.
In Mangaung, the ANC resolved to focus on organisational renewal. That idea appears to have died soon afterwards. Yet, the ANC needs organisational renewal more urgently than the Guptas need a new country to go and loot from.
If the ANC doesn’t accept that it enables corruption by having allowed a noxious relationship between money and politics to become the norm, then the party’s long-term survival, and flourishing, will be threatened even if the Guptas or Zuma himself were to fall tomorrow.
In an election year, this kind of soul-searching might seem costly. But when voters can see the plain truth for what it is, then your best bet is to come clean.
The Guptas are a distraction from a bigger conversation the ANC must have with itself. Ngoku.