It is possible to make a difference. So says Crispian Olver, the social activist who was sent by Pravin Gordhan to clean up corruption in ANC-run Port Elizabeth before last year’s local government elections.

His book, How To Steal a City – The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay, is an insider’s account of how factionalism and greed cost the party the metro. This is in the Eastern Cape, the historical heartland of the ANC.

Worried it might lose the city in the local government elections, Olver was part of a team sent to PE to stop the rot. Trained as a doctor, he has been director general of environmental affairs and tourism and is an expert on local government.

The book tells how the incompetent municipal leadership was swept aside to be replaced by Danny Jordaan’s team, with the aim of restoring confidence in the ANC.

Protected by Gordhan, as Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Olver was the hatchet man who took on the dominant Stalini faction which included former ANC regional leaders and senior metro staff.

The book spells out how criminal elements, politicians and officials worked together to fleece the city. Criminals bankrolled the dominant faction, which in turn parcelled out jobs, contracts, cash and gifts to loyal followers. Community and union rumblings and street protests would be used to create emergencies, allowing the faction to bypass normal tender procedures to gain contracts at inflated prices.
With the help of civil society, the media and whistleblowers, the corrupt networks bleeding the metro dry were identified and ringleaders investigated. Disciplinary processes, negotiated exits and civil claims followed.

In the past, councillors who fought corruption had been killed and Olver had to have a bodyguard.

Municipalities where there is political instability and interference are at risk from wholesale looting, he warns.

One wonders to what extent eThekwini, Msunduzi and every other KZN municipality face the same dangers.

The root of the problem is the erosion between the ANC and state institutions, says Olver. In PE the ANC’s regional and provincial leaders were used to deciding who got appointed to municipal jobs and who got tenders, and saw nothing wrong with it.

Olver admits his own moral shortcoming when trying to raise money from Jordaan’s campaign, with donors expecting favours in return for funds.
Politicians battling for survival make murky deals to get the resources they need to campaign.

The story of Nelson Mandela Bay is a textbook lesson in state capture, which is now a national disease, he says.

The ANC lost the election there because it lost interest in governing in the public interest. Ordinary voters, who previously supported the ANC, had had enough.

Unless the ANC can reform, it will steadily lose support, he warns. This happened to the ruling parties in India and Mexico. Only when they were in opposition did they redraw the line between party and state, clean up funding, clamp down hard on corruption and overcome factions.

But they had to lose power before they learnt to respect voters.