The ANC takes the low road

Mmusi Maimane says choice facing the governing party was pragmatic self-reform or hastening towards populism and kleptocracy

Two months after LGE2016, it is clear the ANC has taken the low road

History will mark the 2016 election as a pivotal moment in SA’s political development. No one foresaw the ANC losing so much of its urban support as to lose control of three powerful metros and fall a full eight percentage points nationally, bringing the party to a point where losing power in 2019 is a distinct possibility.

An outcome so threatening to the ANC’s future prospects was bound to catalyse a significant reaction. It seemed obvious that the ANC had reached a high road / low road fork, prompting either pragmatic self-reform, or a hastening towards populism and kleptocracy, as alternative strategies for self-preservation.

Two months in, it is clear the ANC has taken the low road. Since the election, and at a staggering rate, the ANC government has taken or allowed high level decisions that scale up the pace of state capture, patronage, corruption and cadre deployment that have become the hallmarks of Zuma’s ANC.

The first clear signal was a reckless and baseless attack on Finance Minister Gordhan in an attempt to remove the ‘internal opposition’ at the Treasury, the outcome of which is still uncertain. What is certain is that investors and ratings agencies are horrified. The attack on the Treasury was aimed at eliminating obstacles to the government’s plans for the nuclear deal, SAA, the presidential jet and other opportunities for corruption.

Sure enough, Zuma-crony Dudu Myeni was swiftly and irrationally reappointed as SAA board chair, despite SAA posting a R5.6 billion loss for the last financial year. The trillion rand nuclear deal was confirmed as going ahead under a veil of secrecy, despite massive public resistance, and a compelling argument against it, and the first corrupt contracts relating to the deal were signed this month with connected cronies. And Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula confirmed that R100 million has been allocated for the leasing of a new VIP jet for the current financial year, but declined to give further information, “for security reasons”.

Other red flags have emerged in Parliament, with the ANC caucus voting against an inquiry into state capture by the Guptas, despite mounting evidence and a public outcry. They also refused to table the SADTU “cash for jobs” report which may be the key to breaking the union’s stranglehold over our education system, a crisis that is rendering millions of our children functionally illiterate and innumerate.

True to form, President Zuma sought leave to appeal the North Gauteng High Court’s judgement that the discontinuation of the prosecution against him on 783 counts of fraud and corruption was manifestly irrational. This shows a continued willingness on the part of the ANC to allow Zuma to delay his day of reckoning with endless court action at vast public expense.

State capture and cadre deployment have continued apace with the appointment of alleged Zuma crony, Arthur Fraser, as head of the State Security Agency and with Dudu Myeni (of SAA infamy) being appointed to chair a major KZN water board. On Tuesday, Hlaudi Motsoeneng was re-deployed to a top job at the SABC, despite a damning Public Protector finding against him, and despite a court ruling that he is unfit for the position, and despite his sustained attack on media freedom.

This is clearly in reward for Motsoeneng’s support to the ANC during the 2016 election and in preparation for further favours in the 2019 national election. Under the ANC’s stewardship, the SABC is becoming the voice of government propaganda and a powerful means to shore up fast-eroding popular support.

All the while, the ANC has failed to show decisive leadership in responding to the calamity unfolding at our universities, which has seen R600 million of damage wrought on our precious campuses. Thousands of students are being denied the right to learn and SA faces the very real risk of extended campus shutdowns and irreversible destruction to the higher education system.

With the feckless ANC leadership unable or unwilling to stop the organisation’s steep decline, an attack on the Electoral Commission was almost inevitable. Last week it emerged that both Gwede Mantashe and Jessie Duarte, two of the party’s top six leaders, admonished IEC deputy chair Terry Tselane to the point where he fears for his life.

In essence, the ANC’s response to its electoral losses has been to step up its intimidation or capture of democratic institutions, and its plundering of public coffers.

However, the approach since 3 August may be less a systematic assault on our democracy to further a specific agenda, than symptoms of panic and disarray in a party that is “at war with itself” in the recent words of Cyril Ramaphosa. This can be seen in Mining Minister and Gupta lackey Mosebenzi Zwane’s attack on the banks, which the Presidency swiftly shut down. The ANC is disintegrating internally, and the collateral damage is a steady reversal of the gains South Africa has made since 1994.

Both the 2016 electoral result, and the ANC’s response to it, has accelerated the process of electoral change towards true multi-party democracy. By 2019, the ANC will have ruled for a quarter century. It is high time for a shakeup. A loss of power nationally will cure the party of its worst afflictions. It will teach the ANC a much-needed lesson in political accountability, and shatter the arrogance that naturally sets in with prolonged power. It will smash the ANC’s patronage network and cut its channels of corruption. It will rid the party of its copious dead wood: those individuals who place personal enrichment over serving the public good.

Voting the ANC out of power will also be the rite of passage that establishes South Africa as a fully-fledged democracy, whose citizens will have finally learnt that a vote is a means of holding an incumbent government to account, and not a measure of allegiance. We will all be the better for it.

This article by Mmusi Maimane first appeared in Bokamoso, the online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.