Political power is so addictive that the younger ANC leaders are mimicking their elders to ensure self-preservation, writes Eusebius McKaiser.
You can can forget about the ANC self-correcting any time soon. Too many ANC leaders within the party and the state are so addicted to power and so-called sins of incumbency that they're unable to grasp the gravity of the moment we're in.
The other day, for example, when disgraced National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams appeared before the justice portfolio committee in Parliament, it was shocking to see ANC committee members trying to help him out with responses to sharp, salient questions from opposition MPs aimed at holding him accountable for his woefully unconvincing handling of the Pravin Gordhan, Oupa Magashula and Ivan Pillay fraud case.
ANC members, including the chairperson Mathole Motshekga, tried hard to shield Abrahams. This was after the whole world knows that Abrahams failed to apply his mind to the facts, public interest and nexus legal tests before hastily announcing fraud charges, only to have to withdraw them later after much damage to our economy, the individuals wrongly cited and his own reputation.
But the point is that if you think the tide has turned against the abuse of state institutions, including the manipulation of Parliament to prop up members of the executive branch of the government, you're mistaken.
The truth is that some battles are being won here and there, but the war against corruption, impunity, unethical leadership and unresponsive government will be long and drawn out. The fact that one or two Jackson Mthembus are parading shiny new backbones shouldn’t be confused with consensus within the ANC parliamentary caucus that the government's a hot mess.
Similar protracted battles play out elsewhere. Inside the ANC, for example, there has been conspicuous silence from many of the younger leaders of the party. We've focused so much on the growing list of people who are calling on President Jacob Zuma to resign that we aren’t paying attention to the silent voices.
What are the views of Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, for example?
Why is it mostly the old-timers who are making their views public? Simple: the younger crop of ANC and SACP leaders aren’t moved by principle to speak out against the abuse of state institutions for political ends. They are buying time. They are careerists or, in a word, politicians.
But their silence is instructive. It means that anyone who thinks there'll be a generational break once older ANC politicians retire or die are being dangerously optimistic. Political power, and the access to largesse that it enables, is so addictive that younger ANC leaders are mimicking their elders with careful positioning aimed at self-preservation rather than ensuring we deal with the rot.
Don’t get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being a career politician. After all, even if you have selfless motives for why you're in politics, you can't do anything for your citizens unless you have power, of course. And, so, careful strategic posture and clever tactical timing for when you make certain moves matter.
But the moment we find ourselves in doesn’t allow for this kind of time-insensitive fence-sitting. The economy is barely growing, inequality continues to widen, gross levels of poverty refuse to go out of fashion, granular details of state capture and the securitisation of the state are dripping with increasing pace into the public debate, and all the while President Zuma continues to mock us all.
In this context, silence is wilful and irresponsible. The silence of many ANC leaders, even as the list of outspoken ones is growing, tells you that there isn’t universal acceptance that the status quo is irredeemably blemished.
The callous reality is that even during war times there are winners. That’s why, for example, countries like the US love wars. Wars have casualties, but they also have economic winners. The same goes for a democratic state in disrepair. Those close to Zuma can prey on his vulnerability just as he taps into their insatiable appetite to amass power and money.
The implication for you, active citizen, is that you can't wait for the ANC to self-correct. The ANC doesn’t exist. It comprises individuals and groupings with disparate interests. And these members and leaders are engaging in a drawn-out war for power.
That means that a broad coalition within civil society is critical to keep the pressure on the state to take its constitutional duties seriously. Being a bystander while the ANC fails to self-correct its mistakes will simply lead to the collapse of society. Don’t choose silence.
* Eusebius McKaiser is the best-selling author of A Bantu In My Bathroom and Could I Vote DA? A Voter’s Dilemma. His new book - Run, Racist, Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism - is now available nationwide, and online through Amazon.