Corruption: The “Termite in Politics”

It has been a turbulent week in South Africa. The future of the country hung in the balance as the ANC voted for its new leadership. After a long delay, the new leadership was finally announced. The BIG question now, for many South Africans, is what to expect.

Although Cyril Ramaphosa seemed to be the forerunner in the race – against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – it was a hard-fought and close-run battle. A Ramaphosa victory was never absolutely certain. There was no absolute majority in an ANC that is (and remains) badly divided. This is startlingly evident in the other five that were elected along with Ramaphosa. The top six of the ANC is a mirror of the organisation’s deep divisions.

The divisions will not bode well and are unlikely to give Ramaphosa the space he needs to make his own mark on the ANC. In actual fact, he has a near-impossible task. His deputy, David Mabuza, the new secretary-general, Ace Magashule, and the deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, are all implicated (to varying degrees) in the burning issues the new leadership faces: corruption, maladministration and state capture.

The big question (and hope) of many South Africans was that the new leadership would swiftly remove Jacob Zuma from the country’s presidency and begin the mammoth task of dealing with corruption which is eating away at democratic South Africa’s foundations. Given the composition of the top six, this is probably not likely to happen.

In a response from the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office, researcher Advocate Mike Pothier, says “… it is Mr Ramaphosa, rather than Mr Zuma, who risks being a lame-duck leader.” Everything that played out in the past week has, potentially, been to President Zuma’s advantage. It remains to be seen how the NEC will work out but, given recent history, that too is likely to be a divided body.

In a visit to Cesena, Italy, in October this year, Pope Francis described corruption as the “termite in politics.” He said that corruption does not allow a society to grow and that good politics is “not subservient to individual ambitions or powerful factions and centres of interests.” The pope encouraged a politics that is “neither a servant nor an owner, but a friend and collaborator … neither fearful nor reckless, but responsible and therefore courageous and prudent at the same time.” Pope Francis said that good politics “encourages involvement of people, their progressive inclusion and participation.”

The country’s political landscape still remains poised on a knife-edge. What seems glaringly obvious is that in order to exterminate the termite in our politics it will require great selfless attention and dedication. Ramaphosa has shown great selfless attention and dedication to good governance when he negotiated the end of apartheid and the country’s Constitution. Has he got the stamina to weather a storm again? Time will tell. It is now the task of the Church to hold Ramaphosa and his administration publicly accountable for the election promises he made in the run-up to the ANC’s Electoral Conference. The “termite” in our politics, as Pope Francis points out, will only be exterminated when we are all willing to be involved – not just bleating from the sidelines – but actively working for the kind of country and society we want, taking responsibility together.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church. @rpollittsj
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