The party’s tolerance of corruption threatens not only its growth but its very existence, writes Mcebisi Ndletyana.
I would never have guessed that Fikile Mbalula’s middle name was April. You don’t associate a fiery foot soldier of the Battle of Polokwane and a Razzmatazz man with the name April. It’s so pussycat, so un-cool.
But just when I thought the names on the ANC election list couldn’t get any funnier, they became downright hilarious. Collins Chabane also goes by the name Ohm and Thulas Nxesi is Waltermade. Just so he wasn’t left out, Zizi Kodwa had to reveal that he’s also known as Goodenough.
It’s like a contest for the funniest name award. I suppose some parents have a sense of humour. Or is it a penchant for the exotic?
On reading the rest of the ANC lists, I began to suspect that the initial line-up of names was a ploy to use humour to detract from the substance, the meaning of the lists.
This is not just a compilation of names of prospective MPs and MPLs. It is the face of the organisation. You can tell a lot about an organisation from what it chooses to tell you about itself. The lists yield multiple meanings and insights, from reassuring to self-contradictory and downright unflattering.
Mbalula’s placing at position six on the national list augurs well for the party. The man is energetic and has immense mobilisation skills. The ANC’s impressive 2009 campaign was largely due to his creativity and vigour. How Comrade April will perform this time around, against his former prodigy, Julius Malema, is something else.
His prominence on the list indicates the fluidity necessary for a party to remain robust. Contesting a position should not make one an enemy. Ostracising former opponents denies an organisation of talent. Mbalula’s prominence holds out the promise of life in the party.
Examined from a different perspective, Mbalula’s inclusion also represents faith in the youthful leaders of the ANC. He is one of many on the lists. A party needs youth to regenerate itself. Because they’re eager to make a name for themselves, youthful leaders more often go out to impress.
That’s the sense one gets particularly from the two former youth presidents, Malusi Gigaba (aka Knowledge) and Mbalula. They don’t just go through the motions, they go out of their way to make a good impression.
Appointment to Parliament, however, is not necessarily a reward for good performance.
Naledi Pandor, Lindiwe Sisulu, Chabane, Aaron Motsoaledi, Max Sisulu and many others deserve their top placings on the national list. They certainly do have a good story to tell about their performance. Others are just depressingly unimpressive. And they’re included on the lists.
Politics is not always driven by merit. Building alliances is also a key part of political life. Alliances are not always meritorious but make good political sense. Sometimes meritorious acts don’t make political sense. And so some undeserving inclusions on the list can be forgiven.
Other illogical decisions, however, amount to self-destruction.
The Gauteng provincial list, for one, has a potential to inflict self-destruction. Nomvula Mokonyane is clearly at loggerheads with the ANC provincial leadership. But Luthuli House isn’t in any hurry to place her in a different leadership position. She’s not on the nationalist list to Parliament, which her seniority in the ANC allows. Rather, she’s on the provincial list for the legislature. Not only that, she’s way down the list in 11th position.
David Makhura tops the list, making him the membership’s choice for premier.
But including Mokonyane on the provincial list suggests that she, too, may be considered for premier. Appointing her over Makhura, who is the provincial secretary, will clearly continue the stalemate between the Gauteng premiership and the provincial leadership.
And she may not want to serve as MEC under Premier Makhura either. Surely the stalemate won’t make for efficient government, as we’ve seen in the past five years. Their squabbles are even disrupting the current election campaign. So why not just resolve the problem?
Gauteng’s persistent power struggle is not the only puzzle about these lists. Even more bewildering is the inclusion of individuals who are facing criminal charges. The concept of innocence until proven guilty is a time-honoured one. But it’s a technical concept and applies only in a court of law. The old truism, politics is perception, remains valid at all times. The ANC already suffers from an image problem.
Having MPs who face criminal charges appearing in court is not good public relations. Even though they are charged in their personal capacity, they’re still ANC MPs and the public will see them as such. This places the ANC on trial. When the accused is convicted, people will say not that he is corrupt but that the ANC is corrupt. This is how popular imagination works. We all know that.
Missing out on a parliamentary appointment is obviously a huge inconvenience. For some it has implications for their livelihood. That’s partly the reason the leadership is reluctant to take a hard stance. Of what good is personal consideration, though, if it harms the image of the party? Isn’t it the case that the party is bigger than the individual?
Integrity committees were mooted specifically to protect the image of the party. This was an admission that individual misconduct harms the integrity of the party. The Gauteng ANC acted against Humphrey Mmemezi when its disciplinary process found him guilty of improper expenditure.
He was demoted from the executive to the legislature.
Even though that was demeaning to the legislature – suggesting it was suitable for members who lacked moral rectitude – at least a message was sent.
The party disapproves of impropriety.
In the case of current members facing criminal charges, integrity committees appear wholly ineffective. No doubt the image of the party is taking a knock.
But the integrity committees are silent. Instead they’ve deferred the decision to the courts. It may take a while for a court to reach a verdict. And convicts can appeal a guilty verdict, dragging the case on even longer. In the meantime, the ANC remains on trial for corruption, sustaining more knocks the longer a trial drags on.
Ultimately, everyone knows that accused people and convicts are not ideal candidates to represent a party in Parliament. It’s common sense.
But the politics of expediency is in the ascendant.
This creates a disjuncture between the moral entity the party seeks to become and what it actually is. It is survivalist politics. And Luthuli House can only offer meaningless answers when asked, which only invites ridicule.
Politics of expediency is not an investment into the life of the party but is sufficient to gather enough numbers to remain in power. It’s not about future growth, but about staying alive.
Growth is stunted by the party’s tolerance of impropriety. Service delivery is the only platform left on which to fight the election. Even this advantage does not yield optimal results, as the party is called upon, now and then, to explain why it expects voters to elect corrupt people to Parliament. What is meant to be a trump card – service delivery – is also diluted by the tolerance for misdemeanor.
A morally conscious, delivering ruling party would be unassailable. The leadership simply lacks the courage to do the right thing.
* Ndletyana is head of the Political Economy Faculty at Mistra.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.