The ANC should admit the failure of leadership in the matter of upgrades, and then tell the country how they intend to fix the mess, writes Tiny Maluleke.
There are moments when I wonder if the ruling party understands how important its role is to South Africans and why. We are going through one such moment. It is the moment defined and dominated by the Public Protector’s Secure in Comfort report on
allegations of impropriety and unethical conduct in the implementation of security features in the private home of the ANC and state president.
The public protector’s report is now commonly referred to as the Nkandla report or simply Nkandla.
The report does not look like a good story for the ANC to tell.
Granted, it is rather awkward for the ANC to have to deal with Nkandla at election time. Yet the ANC and government are no innocent victims here. Nor does a seemingly bad story have only negative implications.
In any case, the story is out there and has been for a while.
The ANC needs to stop trying to “manage” the story and start to take full ownership of the authorship of the Nkandla story. Various attempts by the ANC to tame, deflect, change or douse the flames of the story have not succeeded. Nor have attempts to discredit or discourage the storytellers fared any better. Yet we must be clear about one thing: the Office of the Public Protector may be the author of Secure in Comfort, but neither that office nor advocate Thuli Madonsela is the author of the Nkandla scandal.
This is a story authored by the ANC government. At the heart of the story’s plot are key government officials and prominent ANC leaders – none more prominent than the President of party and country.
One of the reasons the Nkandla story cannot be explained away is that it is not an idea or a proposition.
It is a real place in uThungulu District in KwaZulu-Natal – one of the poorest in that province and the country. Similarly real is the homestead of the president of the ANC – half-an-hour’s drive from Nkandla town – whose security upgrades were the subject of the public protector’s investigation. Perhaps this is the difference between Nkandla and the Guptagate scandal.
The Gupta plane landed and later took off. Nkandla is physically here and will be for a long time.
Luthuli House and the Union Buildings should rise to the occasion and take responsibility, not some responsibility; but full responsibility – responsibility not only for aspects of the Nkandla saga; but for everything about it, especially for originating the very idea of extensive security improvements in the private home of a sitting president and for allowing, if not nurturing, the culture and environment where such an idea could emerge and be appropriated so greedily, so improperly and so unethically.
The Presidency, the president and his entire executive should assume collective responsibility for all that went wrong in Nkandla
under their watch. The ANC is probably concerned about votes at this time, but taking responsibility for what goes wrong under one’s watch is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength.
At the heart of the public protector’s findings is a huge failure of governance, serious deviation from ethical conduct, and a failure of leadership and oversight. I refuse to believe the ANC does not realise the higher level issues raised in the report of the public protector.
Current ANC responses are woefully unequal to the higher level at which the public protector has pitched the matter.
Many of the government and ANC responses I have seen so far are pitched at levels of “it’s not me”, “I did not know”, “I did nothing wrong” as well as the ongoing if also frantic search for “fall guy” candidates.
Another example of inappropriate response has come from those who have attempted a technical, legalistic and even criminal line.
This group can be roughly divided between those who want to “test” the report of the public protector in one way or the other (including going to court) and those who wish to “test” the extent of the culpability of particular individuals in government, especially the president (including the laying of criminal charges).
With due respect, both “groups” miss the central point of the report, namely that there is a systemic, failure of governance and leadership as well as a thriving culture of indifference to ethical standards. Ironically, the very kinds of responses manifested
by some ANC leaders and government officials seem to confirm not only the existence of culture of habitual corruption, but a
brazen refusal to commit to abandoning that culture.
The ANC should stop being anxious about the possible impact of the report on their elections performance.
They should own up to the mess that is Nkandla and approach the South African voter with humility and with the truth.
My sense is the voter, especially the loyal ANC voter, will respect the ANC more and not less if the ANC said: “We have messed up, we understand the implications of our failure in leadership, we are determined to fix the mess and here is how we are going to do it.”
The ANC must remember that its place in the hearts of millions of South Africans is owed to its history of conducting a moral and ethical struggle largely through moral and ethical means. The “power” of the ANC derives from the “negotiated revolution” they waged as well as the reconciliation ideology on which their ascendancy to power was premised.
In light of this, the ANC should use Nkandla to regain their moral stature. The way to do this is to accept full responsibility for Nkandla.
The Nkandla story may not look like a good story to tell, but it is an important story for the ANC to hear and take heed of. Let the ANC use this debacle to speak truth first to itself, to its president and the people of South Africa.
Let it form the pole around which they will build a huge anticorruption plan. Let it speak the truth to its leaders, including its
president. This is the least South Africans expect of the ANC.
* Maluleke is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Internationalisation, Advancement and Student Affairs at the University of Johannesburg. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.