The dying of the old ANC

William Saunderson-Meyer says Andrew Mlangeni's death is a snapshot of the party’s turpitude and decay


The old African National Congress is dying. Literally.

The exceptional people who gave it heart and soul during its darkest years will soon all be gone. They leave behind a steaming, reeking organisational corpse.

This week saw the funeral of 95-year-old Andrew Mlangeni, the last survivor of the Rivonia Treason Trial of the mid-1960s. These were the men who took on the power of a white supremacist state, were caught, charged and narrowly escaped the death penalty, only to spend the next couple of decades in brutal isolation on Robben Island.

When their dream of a democratic South Africa was realised in 1994, they genuinely believed that they could contribute to creating a model state. This would be a new nation, committed to the upliftment of the impoverished masses, not just the enrichment of the connected few.

They were wrong. While the moral corruption of the apartheid state was absolute, the magnitude and brazen nature of financial corruption in the ANC-led state now far exceeds anything that the Nats managed to pull off.

It’s a tenet of democracy that the government will — despite inevitable failures, inconsistencies and acts of expediency — hold the line against criminality. Instead, in South Africa, we now have an institutionalised criminal state that without an iota of shame or remorse systematically exploits those it has sworn to protect.

Mlangeni’s death is not just part of the extended death rattle within the ANC government of the Mandela generation. It’s also a snapshot of the governing party’s turpitude and decay.

Mlangeni was always forthright in his condemnation of corruption and his contempt for those of his comrades who were engaged in it. That included former president Jacob Zuma, whom Mlangeni had called upon to resign. He once said in an interview, “Zuma has messed up the country. He has stolen everything.”

Mlangeni went further. He said that despite the 10 years had spent incarcerated on Robben Island with Zuma, if found guilty of the charges against him, “[Zuma] should be returned to that jail”. Yet, despite Mlangeni’s blunt antipathies and the family objections to their choice, the ANC insisted that Zuma be one of three speakers at the memorial service.

Pre-1994, state funerals were accorded only to the head of state. Since not all the families of dead apartheid-era presidents accepted the honour — PW Botha’s family declined,— the actual number of these, by my count, is a handful.

Post-1994, state funerals were embraced as a means of advancing the ANC propaganda goals. The new protocols allowed for a whole range of deathly pomp and circumstance: a state funeral, an official funeral, a special official funeral, a provincial official funeral and a special provincial official funeral.

The list of the posthumously eligible was expanded to include presidents and deputy-presidents, both serving and former, as well as serving ministers, the Speaker, the Chief Justice, chair of the National Council of Provinces, and provincial premiers. And their spouses. And the kings and queens of SA’s 11 royal houses.

And any other “distinguished person” deserving of the honour. It is this convenient provision of “distinguished person” that allows the ANC to indulge its political necromania and fete its party apparatchiks unfettered by tedious rules of state protocol.

The resultant explosion in lavish, taxpayer-funded final exits is not only about honour and respect, or ANC politicking. State funerals have also become a lucrative racket that enables politically connected empowerment entities, appointed after non-existent or murky tendering processes, to rake in the money.

The Mlangeni family, however, called on the government to ensure that the procurement processes for Wednesday’s state funeral would be transparent. and above board.

Their concerns were not misplaced. Between February 2018 and February 2020, alone, there were 15 state and official funerals, costing the government R106m.

We’ll never know how much money was wasted or stolen, in total, during the nationwide mourning of Nelson Mandela’s death. We nevertheless do know, from an investigation by the Public Protector, that R300m set aside for the welfare needs of the indigent in the Eastern Cape was diverted and “disappeared” into dubious funeral expenditure.

As it happens, this week Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille at last suspended her director-general, following the findings of a forensic report into one firm’s alleged funereal rip-offs. A cynic might conclude that the delayed reaction to a report that was released four months ago, in the week of the Mlangeni family publicly expressing its concerns, is not coincidental.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers investigation found evidence of fraud in the “ exorbitant” expenditure of R76m on the three state funerals examined, those of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former minister Zola Skweyiya, and ambassador Billy Modise. At Madikizela-Mandela’s farewell shindig, the taxpayer spent R7m on hiring padded chairs, leather couches and scatter cushions, R2.47m for hiring draping, and R470,000 on hiring serviettes.

In the greater scheme of the looting that continues under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s bleary eyes, these are not big numbers. Embarrassingly — for ordinary citizens, that is; not for a shameless ANC — on the eve of the International Monetary Funding granting SA a US$4.3bn loan to ease the financial drain placed on the fiscus by Covid, another corruption scandal erupted.

The Special Investigations Unit is looking at allegedly fraudulent deals to the value of R2.2bn from the emergency funds set aside for the urgent acquisition of personal protective equipment for nurses and doctors. The final sum may be higher — the SIU investigation, so far, is confined to 90 Gauteng companies and a scattering of firms in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

It might be unrealistic to have hoped that Ramaphosa would have by now — it is already two-and-a-half years that he has been in office — jailed at least a handful of the criminals that shelter in his party and his Cabinet. That is, after all, a daunting undertaking that would quite likely lead to him being ousted.

But the embezzlement of the Covid billions shows an even more worrying picture. The ANC’s culture of state looting remains virulently rampant. And ethical tone-deafness extends to the office of the president.

One of the contracts being investigated by the SIU, valued at R125m, was awarded to disputed AmaBhaca king, Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko. Diko is married to Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, who has now “voluntarily” stepped down while the matter is investigated.

Diko has issued a statement saying that she and her husband “accept that years of cronyism have created an environment of mistrust and suspicion when individuals who are close to political office and influence are seen to be benefiting from the state in ways that may be unethical”.

“We have attempted to rectify this matter by seeking to cancel the contract, and we deeply regret the error of judgment that led Royal Bhaca to seek to do business with this department in the first place.”

So, to paraphrase: one of Ramaphosa’s closest political allies and confidantes — the woman entrusted with accurately conveying the nub of Ramaphosa’s beliefs and values to the public — didn’t realise that it would be bad public relations for her hubby to trade on political connections.

She’s either an idiot, blinded by greed, or else she understands her boss perfectly.

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