We are being led by the nose. We are so busy reacting to the latest outrages, perpetrated by our own government against its citizens, that we are losing or have already lost our ability to think clearly about how to counterattack these assaults on the bastions of our democracy. The latest bastion to seemingly fall, the Office of the Public Protector, is for many people the most demoralising. We became accustomed to Adv. Thuli Madonsela speaking truth to power, but now have someone who is supremely arrogant coupled with suggestions of incompetence, or capture.
Coming fast and furious from so many different directions, the new Mining Charter, the nuclear energy debacle that is unfolding in Russia as I write, SOE Boards fragmenting, the PP/MKVA/ANCYL’s seemingly coordinated approach to the South African Reserve Bank’s right to independence, and now the ANCWL pronouncing that constitutional democracy doesn’t work because our courts have too much power, are all timed to keep us off-balance and in a punch-drunk state of paralysis. The surprisingly muted coverage of the Auditor General’s latest report on the parlous state of local government finances clearly demonstrates we are drowning in a sea of outrage, and have nothing much left to give to this equally appalling situation.
Chief Justice Mogoeng’s delivery of the Constitutional Court’s well-balanced ruling that it is permissible to vote on a motion of no confidence in the president by secret ballot should the Speaker so decide, coupled with his timely reminder to politicians that they take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution and not their political parties, provided a momentary ray of hope that MP’s might be swayed to vote their consciences. I say “momentary”, because as soon as the judgement had been handed down, the ANC caucus issued a statement that indicated they had not heard a single word the Chief Justice said about loyalty to the country and its people over loyalty to their party. The most telling extract reads: “ANC members of Parliament are therefore representatives of the ANC in Parliament and derive their mandate from the political party which deployed them, in the same way as members of other political parties derive their mandate from their political parties. The most recent example of this is in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature where the Democratic Alliance refused to vote with the ANC to remove Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. In the Mogale City Municipality, the DA even went as far as forcing their councillors to take a lie detector test after some of their members defied their party mandate by voting in favour of removing the Mayor. This is the level of hypocrisy of the opposition who expect the ANC to do something which they flatly refuse to do.”
Apart from confirming that all political parties have the same modus operandi, we now also know that the ANC Caucus believes it is mandated to aid and abet the theft of state resources to the detriment of the people they are appointed to serve; and no matter what the circumstances, they must always vote against the opposition, even if it brings further harm to the people. The DA and EFF are also complicit in this party line dance that we naively call “democracy”. Do not be misled by their successful court challenges to the misrule of the ANC into believing they have any greater concern for the people. To quote a senior DA leader in a meeting regarding party politics interfering with service delivery: “I can tell you that when you are in a political fight, party politics will always come before service delivery”. I have consistently held the view that the DA does a better job of local government than the ANC, but the bar is set so low that even they can prioritise party politics before service delivery, and still come out ahead.
Then there is the EFF whose leader, Julius Malema, is still in dispute with SARS over alleged unpaid income taxes amounting to R32.9m. Having already negotiated a “compromise” with SARS in 2014, that required him to pay only R7.1m of a then outstanding R18m tax debt, SARS are now accusing him of not revealing the true source of his income, and also said Malema failed to disclose his interest in a Polokwane property. Malema claimed he had forgotten about the property as he never paid for it – well that sorts out how important the land issue really is to him if he can afford to forget about his own property. Then there is the finding by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in 2012 that Malema “improperly benefited” from a R52-million tender awarded by the Limpopo Roads department to engineering company On-Point, who allegedly then transferred some of the money to Malema’s Ratanang Family Trust. The bottom line is that this champion of the people also appears to be a champion tax avoider; tax that could be put to better use in alleviating the poverty of the very people he claims to represent.
This is the calibre of political parties, their leaders, their deployees and their cadres in this fledgling democracy of ours. It is no longer a question of the State of the Nation: it is the Nation that’s in a state. Political wolves are being held at bay only by the resolute defence of our Constitution by Chief Justice Mogoeng and his colleagues. This is unsustainable in the longer term. However admirable the intent of the Constitution and however often the Constitutional court reminds those laughably termed “servants of the people” how to behave, it contains no enforceable sanctions for those in breach of their sworn duty. As we have seen, and no doubt we will see many times again, this allows for the Justice’s admonishments to be ignored with impunity.
Now tick the boxes if you think these statements apply in South Africa today:
- Tell the population you have their best interests at heart;
- Have a derisory attitude towards educated people;
- Provoke (economic) disorder then tell everyone you are capable of fixing it;
- Promise to create jobs, respect the laws of the land, respect people’s rights etc.;
- Have your own news organisation that promotes only your views;
- Demonise a minority that effectively turns citizen against citizen;
- There is a spurious “belief” that democracy does not work.
Interestingly, these same boxes would have been ticked in 1930’s Germany, and were major contributors to Adolf Hitler’s rise to dictatorship. After a failed putsch, Hitler realised that the route to supreme power was to use the institutions of democracy to destroy democracy. First, get legally established in power, and then erode democracy from within.
Although the scenario might sound familiar, the situational aspects are obviously quite different. We are fortunate to have an independent media community that counterbalances the propaganda of Gupta media outlets for example, so South Africans will not be so easily rolled over. That same independent media also keeps us up-to-date with the level of erosion being suffered by our democratic institutions. But we cannot continually be reactive to events. We must become proactive in defending our democracy, so the issue now is how do we change the political and social narrative in South Africa, and change it quickly?
This is the point at which our home grown version of Emmanuel Macron is supposed to step forward to provide the vision and leadership needed to unite the country, and to steer us into calmer waters. Wishful thinking aside, we are a resilient and capable nation that has the intellectual resources to collectively come up with workable solutions.
Finally, there is a scuba diving maxim used when in trouble underwater: STOP; BREATHE; THINK; ACT, which can also be applied to surviving the political rip currents tearing at our democracy. We must STOP perversely chasing Bell-Pottinger’s White Monopoly Capital plus other distracting narratives, or the latest scandalous revelations about State Capture. The only thing we add to these narratives is the negativity of more outrage. So, take a deep BREATH to clear your mind, and start to really THINK about the situation we are in. Look at how we might contribute to countering the divisive rhetoric of our politicians, and who we can rope in to help us. Then ACT on your ideas, as well as sharing them as far and wide as your contacts list will allow. Also share with civil and religious organisations. Don’t be shy about this. You may feel your contributions are too little to make a difference, but never forget that “the little joined up makes for a lot”, and as Albert Einstein said “You never fail until you give up”.