The ANC’s Faustian moment
Struggle veterans are frequently asked in the light of disappointment: was the sacrifice really worth it? While my answer is decidedly affirmative, I must confess to grave misgivings too – for I believe we should be doing far, far better. We owe it to our moral conscience, to our people and the “Born Free” generation to carry forward the banner of those who so unstintingly and bravely gave their lives for a better life for all.
There are many bridges to cross. Twenty years into freedom, the more pernicious obstacles cannot any longer be blamed on the apartheid legacy. We expect the government we have elected to do everything in its power to solve the people’s problems. When those in power fail in their duties we have every right to peacefully protest to make our concerns and demands known and use our vote to make it count.
Without seeking laurels, for I have my own failings, I took a strong position within the SACP from at least 2005 about the pervasive culture of corruption and greed we were sliding into. Of Jacob Zuma, and the party’s clear preference to see him as president of the ANC and country, I was at pains to point out that I had known him for years in the Struggle.
I found him warm, brave and engaging, but he had many weaknesses. Among these was a rural, ethnic conservatism. He was, I stressed, “no working class hero” as they were making him out to be.
I certainly paid the price for being prepared to speak frankly, for I lost my positions on the party’s central committee at its July 2007 Port Elizabeth congress; and on the ANC’s NEC at the Polokwane conference of December that year. At these elective conferences the kingmakers have regressed into circulating lists of the preferred candidates they wish to see voted onto the top leadership structures – an antidemocratic practice.
When the ANC’s newly elected Polokwane NEC recalled Thabo Mbeki as president of the country in September 2008, I was among the 12 ministers and deputies who resigned in solidarity with him and in disgust at what was in fact a putsch…
Little did I imagine that in our democratic South Africa those who had fought for freedom would have to watch their own backs as the inner-party struggle for positions took hold in the run-up to Polokwane. But then as the saying goes: “Revolution devours its own children”.
That does not have to be the case. Our commitment today should be to make sure such a statement no longer applies to our revolution.
There have been impressive achievements since the attainment of freedom in 1994 – in building houses, crèches, schools, roads and infrastructure; the delivery of water and provision of electricity to millions; free education and health care; increases in pensions and social grants; financial stability; and a slow but steady increase in economic growth, up to the 2008 international meltdown at any rate.
These gains, however, have been offset by a breakdown in service delivery, resulting in violent protests by marginalised communities; gross inadequacies and inequities in the education and health sectors; the ferocious rise in unemployment; endemic police brutality and torture; unseemly power struggles within the ruling party; an alarming tendency to secrecy and authoritarianism in government; the meddling with the judiciary; and threats to the media and freedom of expression.
Even Madiba’s privacy and dignity are violated for the sake of cheap photo opportunism by the ANC’s beaming top echelon.
Of utmost concern is the increasing dysfunction of the state machinery, maladministration and incompetence at national, provincial and municipal levels because of the practice of appointing unqualified cronies into senior posts. Lack of leadership is starkly illustrated in such matters as sections of the police out of control; such scandals as the non-delivery of textbooks to schools; the wasteful expenditure of more than R200 million at the president’s Nkandla home; the manner in which the Gupta family are making South Africa look like a banana republic as they lord it over their ANC and government contacts.
Add to this the extravagant ministerial expenditure on luxury limousines and hotels and the enormous graft linked to the manipulation of tenders and awarding of state contracts to cronies and cousins. The list is depressing and endless. Crony capitalism and corruption as a way of life stare us in the face.
Most shameful and shocking of all, reflective of how far the ruling party and government have lost their way, came on Bloody Thursday, 16 August 2012, when the police massacred 34 striking miners at Marikana platinum mine.
It was the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 that prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana more distressing, for this occurred in the democratic South Africa we had sacrificed for and which was meant to bring an end to such barbarity. To compound it all, the president’s hand-picked, newly appointed police commissioner, with no previous security record or experience, defended the police, commended their actions and stated: “This is not the time to point fingers.”
Her refrain was instantly echoed by the president, and his ministers locked into a culture of denialism and panic-stricken cover-up. Incredibly, the SACP, my party of over 50 years, did not so much as condemn the police.
As with the Gupta family’s flagrant use of an air force base to land their guests from India for a wedding junket at Sun City, it is the foot soldiers and state employees who are made the scapegoats by their cowardly superiors.
Our liberation struggle had reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. How much further along the revolutionary road could we have proceeded under the conditions we inherited? Our hopes were high that we could make the necessary advance given South Africa’s modern industrial economy, range of strategic mineral resources, the unprecedented upsurge of the masses and a working class and organised trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle.
That optimism overlooked the resources and tenacity of a powerful international corporate capitalist system with the ability to seduce and corrupt on a grand scale. That was the time from 1991–1996 that the battle for the soul of the ANC got under way and was lost to corporate power and influence. That was the fatal turning point. I will call it our Faustian moment when we became entrapped – some today crying out that we “sold our people down the river”.
Just as Faust, in the classical German tale, became captive of the devil, so we became prisoner of the neo-liberal global economy. Faust’s pact with the devil was surrendering his soul in return for the devil’s promise of wealth and success. Faust surrendered his moral integrity and was irrevocably corrupted and descended to hell...
The leadership needed to remain determined, disciplined, united and free of the taint of corruption – and above all with the strong revolutionary will that had brought us so far.
Instead we chickened out. We needed to assiduously avoid embracing the ostentatious trappings and luxuries of personal power. Above all, it required that the ANC did not stray from its noble principles and objectives and especially from its commitment of serving the people.
This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class that ruled the economic roost but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment (BEE), corrupt practices and selling political influence – a comprador rentier class greedy for personal wealth at all costs: comprador because they would be the lackeys of corporate business; rentier because they create no value but live off shady commissions, bribes and payouts akin to receiving rental for doing nothing...
A revitalisation and renewal from top to bottom is urgently required. The ANC’s soul needs to be restored; its traditional values and culture of service and sacrifice need to be reinstated. The ANC house must be put in order in the interests of the whole country. In some versions of the Faustian tale the chief protagonist manages to escape eternal damnation. What is required is a reversal of the pact with the devil – which requires a revolution within the revolution.
l Kasrils is the former minister for intelligence services. This is an edited version of the introduction to the fourth and revised edition of his memoir, Armed and Dangerous (Jacana Media), which was released, along with the launch of his papers, at Wits University last night.