“Working Together We Can Do More Harm”

by Iswamo Kapalu

A four day meeting of the African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) at an Irene hotel in Pretoria has ended in a four page statement from the committee. Some of the highlights of the statement include support for keeping fees the same, a commitment to address the growing image crisis in the ANC and an admission of collective accountability for the organisational ills of the party.

The NEC meeting and the statement come in the wake of election results that saw the no party secure a majority in half of the country’s metros. This trend was most pronounced in Gauteng where four of the nine municipal councils – three of them metros – failed to yield a controlling majority.

Whether this was because better educated urbanites with increased access to information and opportunities are beginning to reject the message of the ANC, or that a low turn-out amongst the poor pushed the larger proportional share of votes in the direction of wealthier suburban districts, or that the message of the opposition is gaining traction among the poor, is a matter that will be ventilated ad nauseam in the national media and in party committee meetings in the weeks and months so come. The answer is most likely a combination of all three.

If the question is one of better access to information, one has to ask what information has so greatly upset urban metropolitan South Africa. Corruption, scandal and maladministration, as the key themes of the morning papers and nightly news, would be my best guess. In middle to high income areas where poverty, inequality and unemployment aren’t felt as acutely, the message of the ANC is less potent and “poverty, inequality and unemployment” may be usurped by “corruption, scandal and maladministration” as the triple challenge.

If the almost daily service delivery protests that our national broadcaster refuses to air are anything to go by, it isn’t a surprise that the poor were uninspired on Election Day. By the governing party’s own admission in the run-up to the election, municipal government is seen in some communities as a path to personal wealth. One would likely be hard pressed to find in those – mostly rural, mostly poor – communities genuine commitment to service delivery. While the governing party recognises that the perception exists, serious questions as to why this perception exists have not been properly interrogated. Far from being born out of the ether, this perception likely has some grounding reality.

The politics and identity of the South African opposition seem to be exactly that – opposition. In forming post-electoral coalitions for many of these “hung” councils, this much has been obvious. The millionaire capitalist politicians of the “radical left” have chosen- however they frame it- to coalesce with the millionaire capitalists of the centre-right. If anything, this shows that the identity of opposition takes precedence over all else. The central message of the opposition in the last election was that a vote for them is a vote against the corruption, scandal and maladministration of government. If it’s true that the message of the opposition is gaining traction, then this is the message that’s gaining traction: the ANC is the standard bearer for corruption, scandal and, maladministration.

All of this is why the public was left a little confused when (alleged) scandal magnet and corruption extraordinaire, His Excellency President Jacob Zuma, was left seemingly untouched by the NEC in their last meeting. They have opted instead to take faceless “collective” responsibility.

This is… actually right.

The President didn’t deploy himself, he didn’t fail to keep himself accountable and he didn’t vote for all the members of the National Assembly who opposed every motion of no confidence brought against him. The problems of the ANC – scandal, corruption and maladministration – are bone-deep, and the President is just a symptom.

The steps necessary to cure these problems will have to be thorough- cleansing every level from high office in Pretoria to the small council of Mahuduthamaga in Limpopo. Anything short of this will force the public to show the continent’s oldest liberation movement what it seems to be unable to see; that the country can and will go on, with or without them.

Mr Iswamo Kapalu
LL.B. (Wits)

Iswamo Kapalu is a young South African of Zambian origin. He holds an LLB from the University of the Witwatersrand and currently works as a researcher, writer and social justice advocate at the Jesuit Institute.

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