"The ANC's political thuggery will lead to its demise" - Helen Zille
The forced disbandment of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO, or "Scorpions") by the ANC yesterday underscores the post-Polokwane drift of the ruling party into political thuggery. It happened in the same week that two DA activists were brutally attacked by ANC supporters in the Mogoba informal settlement near Daveyton, and ANC loyalists threatened to kill Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa.
Yesterday, the ANC used its majority in Parliament to muscle through two bills which replace the Scorpions with a Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation and locate the new outfit in the South African Police Services (SAPS) rather than the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Locating the new unit in the SAPS will not only render it far less effective, but will undermine its independence. It is far easier for politicians to interfere with the work of the SAPS than the NPA because of the constitutional guarantee that the NPA must operate "without fear of favour."
Given the success of the Scorpions, there is no rational, public-interest argument for disbanding the unit, and the ANC has never been able to muster one. It is telling that not one political party or civil society organisation supported the decision to kill off the Scorpions. I doubt whether there are many people outside the ruling clique of the ANC who think it is a good idea.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe admitted that the decision was taken to protect the ANC when I met with him at Luthuli House earlier this year. He said, quite emphatically, that the Scorpions were being disbanded because the unit was targeting ANC leaders. Jacob Zuma, Blade Nzimande, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Billy Masetlha, Nyami Booi (who was yesterday appointed Chairman of the ANC's parliamentary caucus), Thaba Mufamadi and Playfair Morule have all been investigated by the Scorpions.
The nation's most effective corruption and crime-busting force been sacrificed to protect the narrow, selfish interests of the ruling party's leadership cabal. As constitutional expert, David Unterhalter, told the Pretoria High Court during Hugh Glenister's bid to stop the government from disbanding the Scorpions: "This is not being done in order to create a better oiled machine, it is being done to carry out the narrow interests of the ANC as a political party".
The ANC leadership may be celebrating the Scorpions' demise, but it should be worried; worried because, in killing off the Scorpions, it has revealed everything that is wrong with the ruling party. The ANC has demonstrated its contempt for Parliament, its contempt for the views of the people and its contempt for the Constitution.
The dissolution of the Scorpions is the logical outcome of the ANC's model of closed, patronage politics in which the interests of the party trump the rights of citizens and the higher law of the party means independent institutions must be undermined or taken over if they thwart the power abuse of the ANC's ruling clique.
The process through which the DSO was dissolved bore all the hallmarks of closed, patronage politics, too. The initial decision to break up the unit was taken by Jacob Zuma and his inner circle. It was then passed as a resolution by approximately 4000 delegates at the ANC's national conference at Polokwane in December last year. After that the ANC in Parliament just went through the legal motions of implementing the Polokwane decision, taken by people who were unelected by, unrepresentative of, and unaccountable to the people of South Africa .
From beginning to end Parliament was sidelined, abused, and railroaded by the ANC. The clearest indication yet that Parliament is being run from Luthuli House came yesterday when Gwede Mantashe arrived at Parliament to announce changes to the ANC's parliamentary caucus.
Mantashe has never been elected to office by the voters. He is not a Member of Parliament. He is a member of the South African Communist Party - a party that has never stood for election but now demands one third of all the ANC's seats in Parliament. And it demands the right to take decisions on behalf of the ANC and then impose such decisions on Parliament. This takes the logic of closed, unaccountable, crony politics to its logical conclusion. It entirely negates the struggle to achieve democracy in South Africa .
The first test of democracy is the holding of free and fair elections, the result of which must be accepted by all parties.
The second (and more difficult) test to pass is the willingness of the winning party to be called to account, and to have its decisions weighed and measured by independent institutions against the yardstick of a bill of rights and just laws. This test of democracy requires that ruling parties accept limitations on their powers by institutions acting in the interests of the people as a whole, not just the ruling clique of the majority party.
The third test is whether the ruling party will voluntarily cede power when it is defeated at the polls or resort to violence, intimidation and thuggery in order to stay in office. We are yet to submit to that test, but the signs are not good. The ANC is growing increasingly intolerant of opposition, and its intolerance is manifested both in the militarisation of its discourse and the brutal behaviour of its supporters.
This week I visited two DA activists in the Mogoba informal settlement who had been violently attacked by a gang of men known to be members and supporters of the ANC. They had been hacked with axes and bludgeoned with shovels, and one of their homes was burned to the ground. Deputy Minister of Justice, Johnny de Lange, callously dismissed the whole episode as a DA publicity stunt.
Yesterday, ANC supporters tried to disrupt a rally held by the former Minister of Defence, Mosiuoa Lekota, who plans to launch a breakaway party from the ANC. The ANC thugs chanted "Kill Shilowa, kill Lekota".
With the warning signs so clear, we must succeed in one of our key aims in the 2009 election - to hold the ANC below a two-thirds majority, and thereby safeguard the rights entrenched in our Constitution. The political realignment currently underway makes this goal achievable.
The dissolution of the Scorpions is a Pyrrhic victory for the ANC: The ruling party has won this battle, but lost any moral authority it once had. Opinion formers that once mollycoddled the ANC now openly voice their disapproval. Journalists that once soft-pedaled the excesses of the ANC are now more inclined to interrogate its motives. Many of its own supporters know, deep down, that the ANC is no longer the party of Luthuli, Sisulu and Mandela. The spell has been irrevocably broken.
By destroying the Scorpions and resorting to thuggish tactics against its opponents, the ANC is showing its true colours. In one sense, this is a good thing. It confirms in the minds of more people that the ANC is morally bankrupt. It sends out the clear message that the only way for democracy to succeed is for South Africans to band together behind a party that puts the Constitution first. I believe that the events of the past week will prove to be a crucial step towards breaking the ANC's dominance.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance, October 24 2008