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Monday, 15 April 2013

Are the Guptas latter-day imperialists?

This article first appeared in The Sowetan of 15th April 2013

Prince Mashele

IN 1916, Vladimir Lenin wrote a famous pamphlet decrying imperialism as “the highest stage of capitalism”. Lenin pointed out how capitalism led to the formation of monopolies that, having conquered domestic markets, had to conquer foreign markets.

Ironically, as Lenin reminded us, “Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism … monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition.” As a monopoly, imperialism seeks to eliminate competition for the benefit of the capitalists who operate in foreign countries as imperialists.

An internationalist and communist leader, Lenin sought to conscientise Marxists all over the world about the workings and dangers of imperialism. Having grasped Lenin’s ideological counsel, the ANC, as “a disciplined force of the left”, adopted an anti-imperialist stance.
This outlook was informed by ANC’s struggle against British imperialism and apartheid, both of which were underpinned by monopolistic economic practices.

All this may sound abstract, unless we use real human beings in our time to demonstrate what Lenin warned against. 

Recently, newspapers revealed shocking details about members of the well-known Gupta family. The Guptas are capitalists from India who came to South Africa to amass wealth. They did not come because they love us.

It was reported in the Sunday Times the Guptas used Siyabonga Mahlangu, a local collaborator, to bring a CEO of a South African parastatal to their house in Johannesburg.
As foreigners, and having come to extract resources in our country, the Guptas are not different from imperialists who travel to foreign countries in search of more wealth.
According to the Sunday Times, as soon as Vuyisile Kona was appointed acting chairman and CEO of SAA, he was taken by Mahlangu to the Guptas’ house – where he was offered R500000.

Kona apparently refused the “dirty offer”. Although the Guptas threatened to sue the newspaper, it has yet to receive a summons. Mahlangu is a special advisor to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, who has apparently been “captured” by the Guptas.
Before these reports surfaced, it was known the Guptas were close to President Jacob Zuma.

Indeed, many South Africans have been very worried about the seemingly compromising relationship between our president and the Guptas. Most troubling, was when it was reported that Fikile Mbalula had heard of his appointment to cabinet from the Guptas.
The question was: how can foreign capitalists summon a South African to tell him he has been appointed minister of sports?

We also know about the worrying relationship between the Guptas’ newspaper, The New Age, and state agencies, including the SABC. Not to be forgotten, is their failed attempt to hijack mineral rights of another firm in a suspicious deal that has since been reversed by our courts.

We must not forget, imperialists are foreigners. As monopolists, their intention is to thwart completion – so they alone amass wealth abroad. As capitalists who were born in India, the Guptas came to South Africa in search for new markets.

Since South Africa is a competitive environment, the Guptas use proximity to political power to thwart competition. The objective is to ensure they – and they alone – benefit from the state. 

South Africans should talk about this. This discussion is important for the security of our state. Let no one use it as an instrument of imperialism.

Given its historic anti-imperialist orientation, the ANC is expected to be on our side.
As a leftist vanguard, the South African Communist Party should express interests in this debate.

Two weeks before Mangaung, Blade Nzimande said: “We do not want leaders who are lackeys of imperialists.” Could it be he was referring to the Guptas?

Last April, Zwelinzima Vavi wrote a moving open letter to Chris Hani: “Your deeds and principles will forever inspire us to advance the struggle against capitalism and imperialism to the highest levels.” Is Cosatu worried about the Guptas?

As for us ordinary members of the public, we must never be deluded to think what Lenin wrote in 1916 will never happen in our country today – imperialists are still there.


Monday, 18 February 2013

Response to Politicsweb article

On Monday 18 February 2010 a story (http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=358588&sn=Detail&pid=71616) appeared on Politicsweb concerning the identity of the company that registered the website of Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s new Agang political organisation. This company is called “Great Potential for South Africa”. The directors of the company are listed as Dr Ramphele, Mr Moeletsi Mbeki, Mr Prince Mashele and Mr Brutus Malada.

Messrs Mashele and Malada are members of the Midrand Group. The Midrand Group has on several occasions in the past stated that it is not aligned to any political formation, nor will it be in the future. As a result its members can only take up party political membership if they formally resign from the Group. This story potentially could raise doubts about the veracity of the Midrand Group’s stated position.

The two gentlemen have confirmed that they were indeed directors of Great Potential for South Africa but they both resigned in January. Their directorship of the said company emanated specifically from their place of employment, the Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD), a research organisation whose board is chaired by Mr Moeletsi Mbeki. Malada is still employed as a Senior Researcher by FPD while Mashele resigned from FPD at the same time as he resigned his directorship of Great Potential for South Africa.

The conditions of membership in the Midrand Group preclude its members from being members of any political party that is registered either in South Africa or elsewhere. They are therefore required to resign from the Midrand Group immediately upon joining such a political party. They are however free to be members of any other civic structure including trades union, civic organisations, NGOs, community-based organisations and so on.

At no point did the Midrand Group have any contact or relationship with Dr Ramphele either under the banner of the Citizens Movement or Agang. There is also no relationship between the Midrand Group and FPD, the organisation in which Messrs Malada and Mashele were and are employed respectively, in the same way that there is no relationship between the Midrand Group and the employers of the Midrand Group’s other members. As they are no longer involved in any way with Great Potential for South Africa, the matter of their resignation from the Midrand Group did not arise at the time Dr Ramphele formed Agang.

Active membership of any political structure, we believe, has the potential to compromise the intellectual freedom and independence of the Midrand Group and its members. As an organisation that encourages its members to think and speak freely on the affairs of our republic, party political membership would be detrimental to this objective.

We also wish to reiterate that any contributions made by members of the Midrand Group to public discourse are their individual views, and never those of the organisation. While we robustly discuss various matters of public and intellectual interest, it is not in the nature of the Midrand Group to take formal resolutions or adopt a position in favour of ora against any intellectual, political or social view. True intellectual freedom can only be realised when each person owns their views and is free to insist upon them despite the views of their colleagues in the group.

In a matter of weeks the Midrand Group shall make a formal announcement concerning the role it will play in the future. This will be as a unique public think tank that provides a platform to a greater number of young South Africans from all walks of life to generate ideas on tackling pressing political and social challenges, and propose practical solutions.  Our existence is pivoted on deepening the quality of our democracy and advancing South Africa's progress.

Membership of political formations shall continue to be a disqualifying criterion. It will however engage formally with diverse interest groups, think-tanks, and political parties to exchange ideas. At all times, these public engagements shall be made public through its website and other forms of media communication.

The intersection between civil society and political advocacy is a space that has long been neglected as an avenue for grappling with South Africa's challenges. It is at this level that we see ourselves making a contribution. The Midrand Group has chosen to be a platform where individuals can freely develop and share their views with the South African public without fear or favour. It is also here that we believe an alternative paradigm for a better society can be envisioned.

Any inquiries concerning Great Potential for South Africa, FPD or Agang must therefore be directed at the individuals responsible for those organisations, or otherwise mentioned in the Politicsweb article. The Midrand Group is unable to answer on their behalf as it never took a decision to associate with any of them.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

My Best Books List

Songezo Zibi

After tweeting what I considered to be my Top 20 books that I have read in the past two years I had more than one request to put the list up on the blog. These are in no particular order. I shall also briefly explain why I loved these books. Again please note, these are the top 20 books I read in the last 24 months. It’s definitely not my best ever list.
The majority of them are obviously about politics because that’s what I love. But I particularly love politics from a philosophical point of view, although I delve a lot into the practical and so on. I have most definitely learnt a lot more, and gained significantly more knowledge from books and other reading material than I did in school, although school obviously laid a solid foundation for me to accumulate further knowledge.

The most recent book is External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960 - 1990 by Stephen Ellis. Having read many books on this subject, all of them written by ANC members and operatives - It was a big eye-opener to read an extremely well-researched outsider's view. I am not sure why the book has not made news in the way such an important and authoritative read should. I could not put it down, literally, so it took me three days to go through the thick volume. It is available on Amazon and Kalahari. For some reason Exclusive Books no longer have it.

First let me deal with two that relate to a fascination of mine, the Italian mafia. Many people do not know the origins of the mafia and assume it is what is represented in the movies only. That’s just part of it. Mafia: Inside The Dark Heart by A.G.D. Maran is probably the best book on the Cosa Nostra that I have ever read. He traces it to its beginnings in the 19th century. There is also The Last of the Godfathers by John Follain. This book is probably closer to what most of us see in the movies but more dramatic when you realise this is not fiction!
The mafia phenomenon is important to understand for another reason; that is to understand how criminality can become normal and take control of an entire society and its institutions. We often take this for granted but that’s what the mafia has been able to do, corrupting every sector of Italian society including, allegedly people inside the Vatican.
I also have a huge fascination with China and its politics and have read a lot of books about the country and the Chinese Communist Party. My two favourite reads in this respect are former Premier Zhao Ziyang’s The Prisoner of the State. His personal story is fascinating including the fact that he was the architect of China’s export boom in particular, the “Made in China” brand. Immediate past premier, Wen Jiabao was his aide during the Tiananmen Square killings. He tells the entire fascinating story and the factionalism that permeates the party.
In my quest to understand some of the roots of our corruption here, I was drawn to Xiabo Lu’s Cadres and Corruption: The Organizational Involution of the Chinese Communist Party. This is an authoritative and scholarly account of the evolution of corruption by party cadres. His definition of “involution” is particularly interesting when seen against the nature of the ANC’s politics and structure.

History and Philosophy are loves of mine too, and in this respect my favourite philosopher is mathematician and logician philosopher, Bertrand Russell. I immediately took a liking to his work upon being introduced to him, although I have also read Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche, JJ Rousseau, Voltaire and others. I find Russell’s work so frighteningly brilliant that it feels like one is reading a column about today, written yesterday. My favourite books by him are Education and the Social Order, Authority and the Individual, In Praise of Idleness and The Scientific Outlook. If I have to make a pick, I would say you absolutely must read Education and the Social Order. Please also look at Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan. What would my philosophy list be without  Nietzsche? Try his Why I am So Wise. Unusual but brilliant read.
One other thinker with a very profound impact on me is Slovenian Slavoj Zizek, in particular his utterly brilliant Violence.
David Rothkopf dissects the ways of the rich and their impact on politics and the global economy in Superclass: How the Rich Ruined Our World. This is a book written in a very plain prose but enjoyable nonetheless.
Ah, politics/history – my favourite. This is my list and I won’t elaborate too much:
Third Man by Peter Mandelson.
The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama
What Should the Left Propose by Roberto Mangabeira Unger
In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michela Wrong
Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
The Great Degeneration: Why Institutions Decay and Economies Die by Niall Ferguson
Super Afrikaners: Inside the Afrikaner Broederbond by Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom
The Third Reich in Power by Richard J Evans
Taliban by James Fergusson. Also try Al Qaeda by Jason Burke.

Have I left anything out? I hope not, and this feels like more than 20 books. Happy reading.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

SA's rape culture won't change with patriarchy intact

Songezo Zibi

This article appears on Page 15 of the Sunday Independent (20 January 2013)

News of the gang rape of a girl looking to enrol at the University of Pretoria last week offered a glimpse into the soul of a country increasingly accepting a horrific normality it should reject with all its might. The woman’s story made news, but on the same day countless others suffered the same fate elsewhere – and life carried on as ‘normal’.

Yet more were savagely beaten, stabbed and mutilated before and after the humiliating crime. In those instances too, a society too familiar with the horror to be shocked, shook its collective head and moved on. Some suffer the further and continuing punishment of being rejected by the men in their lives, and are often accused of having created the conditions under which the rapes and violence took place, and of being too filthy to associate with.

The stigmatization of rape survivors creates a double-edged sword. First it makes it necessary for most to opt to be anonymous even when they report the crime for criminal investigation. As a result they remain a mere statistic, people with no names who don’t get the full empathy being somebody’s daughter elicits. Second it creates a devastating conspiracy of silence in which countless women know they have been and are victims but dare not share it beyond very tight, trusted circles.

Estonian thinker, Slavoj Žižek’s powerful theory of violence is probably the best upon which to understand South Africa’s macabre orgy of sexual violence against women, including infants and girl children. It also can help us understand why so many of us are able to sleep at night despite such a crisis.

Žižek says visible violence, what he calls subjective violence – like a man raping a woman, brutally assaulting and killing her or any other human being is subjective violence. This is generally the outcome of what he terms objective violence, conditions and structures in society that are regarded as pillars of normality but which are inherently a violation of the freedoms and security of others. Alternatively they set up the conditions under which the violation of others will become possible, acceptable or elicit only token outrage which fizzles out as soon as the next incident hits the news.

Understanding the origins of our society’s contagious rape culture is our best hope in fighting it, but we have to be prepared to slay big holy cows. These are institutions, rules and mores we believe give us a sense of normality and cohesion but also serve the dual purpose of making us a society that cannibalises itself through the most horrific violence against its own.

Aspects of our different traditions and religions, and their influence on our politics and economic structures contribute in many ways towards perpetuating a culture that knows no race or ethnicity – and is entirely geared towards validating the assumed but incorrect genetic superiority of the male. It defines female propriety as accepting the role of second best, of modesty, waiting your turn and remaining silent lest you are regarded as too forward or loose. It is an invisible violence inculcated into the mind of every child as representing the virtues of true social order.

Organisations that are trying to fight the epidemic are privately regarded as hysterical because they allegedly exaggerate the problem. This apologetic mode posits that there are only a few misfits in society who perpetuate gender-based violence in an otherwise gender-equal society. It is a position littered with qualifications in order to avoid the contradictions it creates and encounters often. It prevents society from taking stock of what it does daily to reproduce on a large scale a community of males who believe women are inherently inferior.

The perpetuation of female victimisation is everywhere. In the workplace not only are women getting paid less than male counterparts doing the same work, they are also expected to serve tea, take minutes and other tasks considered too demeaning for their male colleagues. Such expectations are as irrational as males being prepared to open the door for a lady but revolted at the idea of carrying her purse or pouring her tea. We live with this contradiction because we are taught from an early age that it is normal, and any critical inquiry into why this bizarre normality needs to survive one more generation is actively discouraged.

More disturbingly many children grow up with false notions of sexual relations. They are raised up to believe that sexual intercourse is for the exclusive pleasure of the male; that male promiscuity is a sign of virility and masculinity, but the idea of a woman doing exactly the same is seen as abominable. It is hardly the case that both genders are treated equally in discouraging promiscuity in general.

We participate in traditions and religions where the male is entrenched in a superior position just for being male while angry and perverse moral judgement awaits those who dare challenge such notions. It is considered heretical to challenge these because they are perceived to disturb the sense of social normality we have known for generations. However this normality is precisely the circumstance under which in our context at least, we are faced with an onslaught against women which shall in the end give us a society of hypocritical robots who have neither the capacity to reflect on its origins or the will to put an end to it.

Of course, not every country has a rape epidemic like South Africa. But if we accept that rape is a crime of power and dominance rather than natural sexual desire it is impossible to dismantle this rape culture if we do not tackle honestly the destructive influence of patriarchy and its apologists. It is even less likely when our political parties and leaders hypocritically claim to want to alter the status of women for the better but simultaneously take decisions which undermine confidence in women. Some use their political positions to feed grotesque egos which find validation in female sexual conquest.

When in 2009, Western Cape premier and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille appointed an all-male provincial cabinet she insisted that appointing women would have amounted to tokenism as none were “fit for the purpose”. It was a mind-boggling justification which suggested that in the entire Western Cape there was not a single woman fit enough to warrant appointment to her Cabinet. Apart from this being impossible, it demonstrated abject failure on Zille’s part to recognise the profundity of the moment she faced. It required that she do what was necessary and just for the advancement of society, not just women.

There have also been several instances of senior politicians demonstrating sexual predatory instincts by preying on young women believing that their powerful political positions amounted to some kind of sexual advantage. Former ANC Chief Whip, Mbulelo Goniwe, is perhaps the most prominent example of this but his punishment for sexually harassing a vulnerable young woman member of staff was an exception rather than the norm.

Men routinely harass female staff members and colleagues, often invading their personal space without missing a heartbeat. It is not unusual for some men to expect sexual favours from women in order to get the career advancement their male counterparts don’t have to do special favours for. Refusals are followed by accusations of arrogance, being uppity or in several instances – of being a slut anyway.

These things persist because they are regarded as normal. In many ways rape is the final devastating act, a shocking toss of the coin between itself and being killed or dying. After all the humiliation and rejection many women suffer as a consequence of being raped is a horror that causes many to wonder if dying wouldn’t have been better.

Women are also often complicit in their own oppression by accepting a false normalcy under the guise of everything from political discipline to tradition. This battle will not be won if they don’t reject this lie in both its conception and its manifestations, and refuse to cooperate with any social, economic and political structure which seeks to relegate their position to second class citizens who deserve second class rights in their own society.

We shall also fail until the position of women in general becomes a central, urgent political and moral issue. To do that we need leaders in communities, business and in politics that are not so easily given to what Žižek calls “the neighbour thing”, where someone we profess to and are assumed to love is actually treated like an enemy in our subliminal actions.

Entrenched subliminal actions require constant shock treatment, and nothing short of a radical revolt against our backward traditionalism upon which we premise our sense of normality will deliver any tangible results. It is precisely because of the patriarchal traditionalists in our midst who are looked upon to lead that we have such a moral crisis on our hands.
We should all be sickened towards revolution.


Songezo Zibi is the convenor of the Midrand Group.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The meaning of Motlanthe's failed bid for ANC president

This article first appeared last week in the pages of the Independent Newspapers morning titles nationwide.

by Songezo Zibi

The key objective facts of the top leadership election at the African National Congress’ 53rd national conference in Mangaung are straight forward. President Jacob Zuma defeated his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe for the position of party president. Zuma harvested approximately 75% of the votes, a crushing defeat in any language.

Motlanthe’s approach to the race will probably be debated for some years to come with many questioning his decision not to campaign for the position. Motlanthe made it known that ANC traditions, which one assumes all members know, shun campaigning for positions. In any case, he stated, he did not want to belong to any slate which might feel he owes it favours after the elective conference.

The period leading up to the conference was marred by violence which included murder, vandalism and intimidation. There were also allegations of the rigging of the auditing process which precedes nominations, prompting some members to approach the Constitutional Court for relief, and winning. It has been a messy affair.

The former ANC deputy president appeared to be appealing to the ruling party’s rational centre. Whether he believed that approach would secure him the votes he needed to unseat Jacob Zuma is not known, but to many observers he never stood a chance.

What is to be read from Motlanthe’s unsuccessful bid? What does it say about the ANC and its future?

In his own organisational report to the 51st national conference during which he was still secretary general of the party he stated: “We found that issues dividing some of the leadership of some of our provinces are not of a political nature, but have mainly revolved around access to resources, positioning themselves or others to access resources, dispensing patronage and in the process using organisational structures to further these goals”, he said.

Addressing the 52nd national conference in Polokwane Motlanthe again bemoaned the development of disturbing factional and highly irregular activities in the period leading up to the election of a new ANC leadership. “In the course of these factional activities, aimed at securing election to the leadership of the movement of one chosen group over another, branches have been treated as voting fodder, in which nominations and other key decisions are taken without the benefit of any serious political discussion before issues of nominations are discussed.”

He went on to urge delegates to contemplate seriously whether or not the ANC could carry out its primary chosen task of uniting all South Africans if its own leaders and members are deeply divided on matters not pertaining to the organisation’s core tasks. He asked them to further reflect on whether the involvement of bribery in the nominations and electoral process is in line with the solemn oath of every member not to join the organisation for personal gain.

That was five years ago. As a former two-term secretary-general of the ANC he therefore had to have known that this rational centre was dwindling fast. His refusal to openly support even the faction that put forward his name could also be an indication that he knew it was possibly also guilty of the same transgressions seen before the Polokwane conference. His earlier call against factionalism appears to have fallen on deaf ears because matters had progressed to the point where factions have names, like Forces for Change.

Like previous conferences the 53rd national conference ends with a call for unity and a stop to factionalism. It is a call that has never been heeded and is unlikely to be heeded now or at any point in the future. The composition of the newly elected national executive committee demonstrates clearly that there is no place for those who campaigned for Motlanthe.

The ANC’s proposals on ending graft and hopefully its cancerous influence on party processes go some way towards curing the foundation of the factionalism – patronage and corruption. They are however likely to fail when they face stern tests involving some of its most powerful figures. Would the party for instance discipline President Zuma if the charges against him are reinstated by the courts? Only time will tell but the choice of some NEC members gives an indication of how this hurdle would be overcome.

The presence of people like Humphrey Memezi on the NEC gives an indication of the lack of seriousness with which the delegates view malfeasance. If there ever was an opportunity to send a strong message on corruption, this was it, and it was missed without so much as a heartbeat.

The desperation for positions stems from the possibility of securing well-paying or powerful jobs in municipalities or the government. In turn this originates in the party’s traditional view of its relationship with state organs where it deploys cadres. The party becomes a dealership where the political quid pro quo invariably involves dispensing state resources legally or otherwise.

The ANC places too much reliance on the concept of revolutionary morality. Political movements and parties are made up of human beings who are fallible even if they have sacrificed much in service to a revolution. That is why it needs strong institutions which ideally should be staffed by those drawn from broader society rather than party appointees. Like all groups, parties have hierarchies and an informal system of political deference. Party loyalists will always try to please party bosses.

That is why even when party bosses do not directly instruct those who sit on tender committees to decide in favour of those close to political power, decisions go their way anyway. I defy any civil servant to treat the Guptas the same as everyone else when they know how close to the President they are. This extends to the private sector.

This phenomenon is most serious where the ruling party maintains a tight grip on the state and its economic opportunities, like South Africa. Communist China sees exactly the same despite corruption being a capital crime. In his seminal book, Cadres and Corruption, Stanford University’s Xiabo Lu quotes a senior party cadre:  “To tell you frankly I don’t have to go through the back door. The front door is enough. My grandson took the high school entrance exams some years ago. Somehow a senior official in the department got to know about it and offered to help him pass. I was criticized by some people for abusing power but I didn’t know about the thing at all.”

One of the decisions from this conference is that members need to undergo four months of political education during a probation period of similar length before being accepted as members. This measure will help to a certain extent but ultimately come to naught if the party continues to believe it needs to micro manage every aspect of the state. That political education will instead entrench the very tendencies it purports to be helping to root out.

The party also needs to deal decisively with its dismissive attitude towards the very grave concerns of its citizens. It is beyond stunning that it has not found it within itself to immediately get rid of leaders and members who are accused of corruption. Consequently it not only chose Zuma as its president when he was facing a catalogue of very serious charges, but it failed to take any action against its Northern Cape chair, John Block. Like Zuma, Block also faces a litany of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering charges, among others.

This inability to take difficult decisions against popular figures has turned the party’s professed anti-corruption stance into a farce as they oversee everyone’s conduct including state finances. For instance Block is the MEC for Finance in the Northern Cape despite the very serious charges he faces for allegedly defrauding and stealing from the very government he serves in. A day before he was again arrested on more charges, he addressed an anti-fraud seminar in Kimberley. It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.

It was this type of ANC that Kgalema Motlanthe thought he could appeal to on the basis of a belief in the rules, revolutionary morality and an attitude to political and social service not predicated on a desire for power or financial gain. He knew that it no longer exists and probably that the Mangaung conference would not provide a rebirth to that ANC either.

The cancers causing disaffection with the ruling party do not just lie in the character and political consciousness of its membership and leadership, but the very foundations of its philosophical approach to the state. Until this philosophy changes to guaranteed independence from political influence of the majority of the state, the malfeasance and poor service delivery will continue at incalculable cost to the ANC and the country. The only question is whether anyone running for leadership should bother to follow Motlanthe’s example and secure far less than his paltry 25% in five years’ time.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What does the ANC's Mangaung have to offer?

Songezo Zibi

Following the past weekend’s chaotic provincial nominations conferences of the ruling African National Congress in Mangaung approaches, public attention continues to be entranced by whether or not President Jacob Zuma will retain his position as president of the party. Even among members the more important matter of how the ANC could arrest its precipitous decline hardly gets a mention. Power and its trappings are all that matters.

Yet this is probably the most critical year and conference in the existence of the organisation. The problems that beset it at all levels need no further clarification. They have been the subject of many an organisational report and discussion paper since 1994. The list of worrying or destructive tendencies has grown, triggering a crisis of legitimacy that sees angry service delivery protesters all over the country denouncing the behaviour and character of its leaders in government.

Can the Mangaung conference deliver the redemption the ANC needs to continue governing? To appropriately answer the question it is important to understand why the party is in crisis to begin with.

There are those who insist that its problems began with Jacob Zuma’s accent to the presidency. They are wrong. Zuma might present many problems for the party and the country but he is not the problem. He is democratically elected in a voluntary membership organisation, and subsequently gained a mandate to head the state in a free and fair general election. He is merely a loud expression of the problem.

The ANC’s first mistake was neglecting to prepare for the unintended consequences of being in power. These include a leadership cadre that suddenly commanded huge state resources and the opportunities they provide for patronage and elevation to political and social godfather status. The idealism of the early years of government soon gave way to familiarity with elevated status and the arrogance of incumbency. The growth in its electoral majority did not help, cultivating a belief that however flawed the actions of the party were they could inflict no electoral consequences.

Under former president Mandela and Mbeki respectively the party did not properly educate its emerging leadership corps on where to locate themselves and the party in relation to the country’s constitution and the powers of the state. Consequently we have leaders who appear confused about the powers they have, and whether or not the judiciary can overrule unlawful executive decisions and unconstitutional legislation. Upon being whipped into line by numerous judicial reviews, they make accusations meant to delegitimise and weaken it.

Secondly the party continues to pursue growth in membership, accepting all and sundry with little or no scrutiny. As a banned subversive movement under apartheid, membership of the party had terrible personal consequences if the authorities found out. This meant it could only be joined by those who were highly principled and willing to take the risk, or the countless spies who permeated its ranks. It failed to realise that this incidental filter that largely worked to the party’s benefit no longer existed.

Today power and access to financial prosperity or state resources are a huge attraction to new members. Political and social consciousness is increasingly used as tools to present false bona fides where they exist at all. It is from these ranks that the party has been drawing its leadership cadre and continues to do so. It is also from this pool that it continues to select candidates for deployment into the government system with disastrous results for the party and the legitimacy of the state.

Thirdly it has continued to believe in a political philosophy that no longer responds adequately to the challenges of our time. It is one steeped only in the personal character of its members whose revolutionary morality will guide their actions in an environment where state institutions are subjugated to the wishes of the party. This model is now pure fantasy and is failing each and every stern test it encounters.

The state of institutional accountability, the parlous condition of many state owned enterprises and the weakness of parliament as an institution are just some of the symptoms. A party the quality of whose membership is in rapid decline cannot reasonably be expected to form the backbone of an entire state and society. Instead, since arms deal corruption became apparent, the party has been doing its best to weaken and destroy institutions of democratic accountability.

The most recent milestones in this quest are its determination to enact the Protection of State Information Bill without a public interest defence, the disbandment of the Scorpions; and the reduction of the National Prosecuting Authority and the police service to shadowy organs steeped in political intrigue and suspicion. Their legitimacy is as strong as a dry straw in a snowstorm. The disgraceful Jackie Selebi saga, the irrational appointment of senior prosecutors and failure to comply with an order of the High Court further reinforce this view.

Through its cadre deployment system and its resultant patronage network, it has destroyed meritocracy and replaced it with slavish mediocrity and deference to dodgy political imperatives. South Africa’s young people no longer believe they can reach the heights of the civil service unless political figures within and outside the state approve of them. The most competent and brightest among them often do not wish to serve their own government. Strategically important diplomatic postings are often reserved for failed politicians.

Can this situation be turned around?

The steps required to fix the damage are such that the destruction of these negative tendencies would effectively become a self-immolation at once. The party is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Tragically, despite realising what needs to be done, it is patently clear that it no longer has the institutional strength to effect change from within.

The foregone re-election of Jacob Zuma after a long list of personal and political indiscretions that would have him impeached elsewhere is a clear indication that the majority of ANC structures and members believe he is the best the party has to offer the country. Incidentally many of these are the same people who fail to see the irony when they say “the ANC always cleanses itself, and will do so again.” They recognise that the party is contaminated but do not believe they need to do anything to facilitate a clean-up.

Instead of discussing these matters openly and taking difficult decisions about its next cadre of top leaders, the conference will result in the closing of ranks behind those elected. No longer given to blind loyalty, an increasing number of citizens will look on with disbelief and a measure of disgust at being taken for fools. Such outcomes will further accelerate its deteriorating legitimacy and normalise behaviours that the party itself has claimed need to be rooted out.

The conference will also not deal openly and decisively with our failing education system. Consequently it will not publicly make the link between a failed education system and the continued economic marginalisation of millions who annually are dumped into the economy with no means to use opportunities it offers. Instead we will hear more of the same, gratuitous attacks on those who survive the system and join the ranks of the middle classes for not endorsing blindly whatever the party chooses to do. Meanwhile ally SADTU will continue to run amok and Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga will not even be censured.

A critical first step to the recovery of any organisation is honest self-assessment. To an extent the ANC already does this, but it is utterly pointless when this is not followed by the implementation of politically difficult decisions to rid the party of those who pursue counter-productive behaviours no matter how high up they may be. It is even more worthless when the party exists in the permanent self-contradiction of praising its own incumbency while admitting it has lost its way.

The party’s internal processes have proven vulnerable to hijacking by external interests who are so effective they apparently know of potential Cabinet appointments before they are made! They exercise such because they control the purse strings that some greedy politicians need to trade their influence for cash. This will also not be dealt with at Mangaung because it is taboo.

Like previous conferences, Mangaung promises much but ultimately will deliver nothing helpful to the party or the rest of us. The hot buttons fuelling the party’s decline are so intimately linked to the patronage system being used to secure election to new positions or the retention of incumbency that anyone who attempts to deal with them will soon lose. No one bites the hand that feeds them or helps them ascend to power.

The question that South Africans should ponder is: Given the ANC’s inability to rescue itself, what informs the expectation that it can solve the problems it has both inherited and created, and lead South Africa towards a bright, new future as an economically prosperous constitutional state?

This article first appeared in the Independent Group morning newspapers.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Mangaung offers a key moment of decision

This article appears in the City Press of 4 November 2012.
Songezo Zibi

As the 53rd national conference of the ruling African National Congress approaches, the public space is inundated with many discussions about what the gathering should focus on. There is also a feverish obsession by members and non-members alike, with who should emerge as president of the organisation.

The critical question at this time is whether Mangaung should matter to ordinary South Africans who are not members of the ANC? The answer is that it does, a great deal.

The conference offers a unique opportunity to make a careful assessment of where they should position the ANC in relation to constructing the so called developmental state whose efforts are centred on the prosperity of its entire people. This is a chance to look beyond the seductive sloganeering and the promises of renewal and knit together a picture that can be juxtaposed against what an open democratic state at the centre of a modernising society should look like.

First for assessment should be the overall state of the ANC. This has a direct bearing on its ability to lead a national modernising programme. Much more important than whether it projects the dignity of old times is whether it has positioned itself as a modern party of government. It must demonstrate that it has the required intellectual, ethical and organisational capital to carry out this programme at all levels of government, and all spheres of our society.

For this we must look no further than the party’s often brutally honest assessments of itself in particular since the Stellenbosch conference. These have painted a party in decline, riddled with ill-discipline, selfishness and rampant corruption. They tell us the party often gets used by ordinary members and leaders alike as a vehicle for personal advancement and enrichment. It has become an overloaded vehicle for dispensing patronage, and for the state to be used as a deep trough from which to siphon public money to the back pockets of the politically connected or powerful.

Mangaung should tell us whether this picture will miraculously be cured. We also need to decide whether or not we believe such a miracle is possible, or understand why it will happen now unlike in the past when it has patently failed to materialise.

Second is whether the organisation’s assessment of the general state of the country is any similar to that of a rapidly increasing number of ordinary people. Is the ANC as apprehensive as we are about the general culture of political impunity where many public officials appear to see themselves as anointed leaders who are doing the rest of us a huge favour? Is it concerned for instance, about the exorbitant expenditure on the personal comforts of the president and other members of the executive while children in Limpopo go almost a full year without books? Does it believe there should be consequences for failing the children of the Eastern Cape many of whom continue to receive class in the open, under trees or in rickety mud structures?

Assuming that it says it is, we have to evaluate it on the basis of the actions it takes rather than promises. We have to observe whether the grotesque extravagance at Nkandla will continue or the president will, as he should, pay for it himself. With not a single head rolling for the Eastern Cape and Limpopo education disgrace, we have to watch keenly whether this conference will demand immediate, decisive action and responsibility.

Convergence on the diagnosis of our problems between the ANC and the rest of society is the first step towards curing them. It is delusional to expect the ANC to lead the resolution of problems it does not believe exist or are serious enough to warrant its most important gathering to discuss them.

Third is whether the ruling party believes South Africa is overdue for deep political reforms which start with the changing of our electoral system to ensure greater accountability to the electorate. The current system is a pious-looking pyramid scam which reduces voters to mere spectators between elections while the executive and a toothless parliament behave as if they own the state rather than form a part thereof.

If the ANC conference resolves either by commission or omission that the current system must stay, then the party would have made its position clear on the level of accountability it believes is necessary to cure the ills brought about by poor answerability.

Last it will indicate whether it takes the country seriously enough to present a leadership collective that exhibits the intellectual depth and ethical standing to cause the majority of South Africans submit to its direction. These are individuals whose conduct is as exemplary as possible and helps generate a new standard for modern, progressive leadership that understands and respects South Africa’s constitutional order.

Fundamentally however, South Africans have an opportunity to decide whether they will continue to believe the ANC is the only vehicle for the fulfilment of their aspirations. If notwithstanding the combination of the party’s self-assessment and the evidence of poor leadership, selfishness and corruption the majority still decide that it remains its chosen vehicle then responsibility is overdue.

We must see these vices as a representation of the voting majority’s collective character. Voting is an expression of subjective moral and political choices. It makes no sense for people to continue blaming the ANC for the country’s when the party, without hiding the malfeasance within, resoundingly wins a democratic mandate to form a government.

Decay happens over an extended period. At any given time it is always possible to make comparison with the worst example and conclude that it can be ignored because to raise alarm is to exaggerate. We use the same flawed basis to conclude that decisive, radical action is an overreaction – and so we let the decline continue to take root until the structure is impossible to inhabit any longer.

Mangaung offers a profound moment of decision to those who justify their failure to take responsibility for the decline of our political and social fabric by looking for worse comparisons. They have an opportunity to decide whether they will continue to live with the contradiction of failing to propose and pursue fundamental political changes while hoping for radical change to the national circumstance.

Obsession with the palace politics of the ruling party offers only temporary fascination but solves nothing. Despite the authorities insisting everything is normal in order to facilitate further inaction by the general public while they entrench themselves, the truth is that we are in trouble. The only reason we are convinced to do nothing is that we have become so used to the gradual decline that it feels normal.

South Africans need to see through the noise and pageantry of 100 years of the ANC’s history, and the rhetoric that will accompany the post-Mangaung honeymoon and deliver a verdict on whether the party belongs in the dustbin of history or needs to be given another chance to play a role in the future. The most decisive signal on which option to take will be the decisions taken at this conference.