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An outside perspective of the ANC runoff

Looking at ethics, leadership, equality and the importance of upholding democracy, Lawrence Ndlovu provides an outsider’s perspective of the ANC’s elective conference and the message the “drama” has sent South Africans.

The season of ANC drama might finally come to an end with the party’s elective conference just hours away. Soon, South Africa will know who the party’s new president and national presidential candidate is. But, for the majority of South Africans, who are not members of the party, it’s not always been easy to follow the campaign and nomination period. The fact that the majority of citizens are not members means that what they hear is only in relation to how their own lives are affected. The country has on more than one occasion found itself being like children who happen to overhear their parents arguing. On the surface, it seems as if the argument has nothing to do with the children, but upon intense listening and observation the child realises that the contents of the disagreement has everything to do with the child. 

The ANC has had its own in-house disagreements and conversations, but of course these internal conversations have massive national implications, many of which the average citizen does not understand. Indeed, while this phase of the drama is coming to an end, it is possible that the fun is just beginning. 

High number of candidates

The high numbers of candidates for the ANC’s presidency has shown that the party has not invested itself in the preparation for future leadership. It also indicates that there is a tendency to want to lead as oppose to being led. The best leaders are those who are also open to being led. This desire for the highest seat in the party and ultimately the state means that there is a weakness in the party’s collegial structures. Despite the party having an 80 strong National Executive Committee and other such structures, those structures have failed to have great influence. Upon close observation, it has become even clearer that the reason so many want to lead the ANC is not really about the thriving of the party but instead about access to the State. It is the State that gives power and benefits, not the party. None of candidates have entertained the idea that they might want to be party president only and deploy someone else to the State. They do not mention, at least not yet, their desire to be state presidents but it is clear that is their ultimate goal.

No appetite for serious ethical solutions

The most alarming observation, which is an indication that issues pertaining to ethics will not receive the attention they deserve, is that each issue is not treated on its own merits. It has been most disconcerting to observe different factions trying to derail conversations pertaining to a particular issue by pointing to another social ill.  The issue of state capture, especially relating to the Gupta family, is a serious problem for the country. It does not make sense to respond to such an issue by pointing to other problems like “white monopoly capital”.  This is a sign that there is no appetite to deal with problems head-on. These issues, which affect all South Africans, have been reduced to being political tools which are used against another faction. The first sign of being serious about tackling corruption is to be clear about that which is right and that which is wrong, regardless of who is implicated. This kind of arguing also feeds into other areas which need serious attention – like the abuse of women, for example.

Forgotten women

When Karima Brown asked the ANC presidential candidates who they believed in the Jacob Zuma against Fezekile “Khwezi” Khuzwayo case, they responded in the most puzzling manner. No one can forget Lindiwe Sisulu’s “I believe she believes she was raped” response. That was her attempt of trying to say nothing while trying to respond to the question. The most jaw dropping response came from Cyril Ramaphosa was that he believes Khwezi. Both Sisulu and Ramaphosa failed to rise beyond the question or use the question to convince us about their views and action plans on the very important issue of women abuse. To this very day nothing convincing has been proposed that will see to it that victims of abuse do not suffer the same kind of victimisation that Khwezi suffered. To this day, many victims face the trauma of walking into a police station and receive no special private treatment that would make it conducive for a victim of rape to be comfortable enough. Instead they are faced with glaring eyes and busy police station corridors.

Equally disappointing was the response of the ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini. She too took the opportunity to remind Ramaphosa about his own cases of women abuse. If this is true, then what Dlamini has done is display for us the real face of the ANC. If it is known in their circles that Ramaphosa is an abuser then how is it that they chose to ignore that fact when they voted for him to be deputy president of the ANC and the country?  This makes it difficult for the ordinary person in the street to believe that ANC is serious about finding real ethical leaders that can take South Africa forward.

Decline of internal democratic processes

Democracy is by far one of the most cherished achievements that South Africa has.  It is a hard-earned right founded on those who lost their lives and those who gave all their lives fighting to attain it. The country’s democratic processes are safeguarded by our very progressive constitution. But, the campaign and nomination season of the ANC has also shown that there is an uneasy relationship with democracy within the ANC. The outcomes of some provincial conferences have been contested in courts. There have been serious tensions between factions to a point where we have seen delegates throwing chairs and injuring each other.  In KwaZulu-Natal there have been political killings of ANC councillors.

It would seem that there is no freedom for voices that differ within the ANC. The treatment that was given to the stalwarts was shocking. They received adverse responses from some officials in public because they raised their concerns about the state of the party. One of the joys of democracy, although sometimes also a difficulty, is the creation of the freedom to differ and be protected while doing so.  That principle of democracy has been absent. This is concerning because the manner through which democratic principles are treated within any political party indicates what the party thinks of the supremacy of democracy. As it has been seen in this administration, the ills of the party become the ills of the state. This begs the question: Do these these candidates, and the party, have any ability to be the protectors and leading custodians of our democracy?

Attacks on other organs of the State

A very dangerous tendency has developed as a consequence of the subordination of the principles of democracy for factional point scoring. In the last week the judiciary was criticised by the leagues’ (Women and Youth) chairpersons for handing down a judgement that said that President Zuma should not be the one appointing the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) head because he is in conflict with the NPA. The association of President Zuma with the candidacy of Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma has meant that any criticism of the president, saw those promoting Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma’s candidacy, coming to the his defence. At no point did any of the candidates seek to address this public criticism of the judiciary. All of the candidates failed to acknowledge the fact that their country (all organs of the state) finds itself in uncharted territory where the president also appears to be part of the problems of the country. None of them have bothered to acknowledge or deal with the adverse value of a compromised leader. The consequences of a compromised leader mean that he cannot be trusted with doing his job – like choosing head for the NPA or a judge for the State Capture Enquiry. Indifference about this hostility towards the judiciary is alarming and does not offer any candidates public trust.

This kind of campaigning and dealing within the ANC as it approaches the electoral conference has left many in the country very apprehensive about the intentions of the ANC. These candidates have failed to represent their party well. They have played to party factions. It will be interesting to see how the same candidates will, in 2019, be asking the public to forget all that they have put out about themselves and their own party. SA.


* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.