Da­m­as­cus mo­ment needed at branches

A few strug­gle stal­warts have ex­pressed their dis­gust at the rul­ing party’s moral bank­ruptcy, but it is time for dis­grun­tled party lead­ers in the var­i­ous prov­inces to speak out en masse.

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za Alices­tine Oc­to­ber is a par­lia­men­tary re­porter for Netwerk24.

how many “Da­m­as­cus mo­ments” are needed to change the coun­try’s lead­er­ship? Mid-Fe­bru­ary many South Africans again stopped short of throw­ing their hands in the air and shout­ing hal­lelu­jah when yet an­other ANC stal­wart drew a line in the sand in re­sponse to the ac­tions of the cur­rent ANC lead­er­ship.

But this is no Leonard Cohen song. This is South Africa and the coun­try is on its knees. Most of us, es­pe­cially those pray­ing to see Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ousted from power, again thought: “This is it, now some­thing will have to hap­pen.” But that mo­ment hasn’t come yet, I’m afraid. In a strongly worded opin­ion piece pub­lished in week­end news­pa­pers, former ANC trea­surer-gen­eral Dr Mathews Phosa shared his “Da­m­as­cus mo­ment” with the world.

The ANC veteran wrote that the mo­ment(s) Par­lia­ment’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers re­fused a re­quest for MPs to bow their heads in a mo­ment of si­lence for the 94 vic­tims of the Esidi­meni tragedy dur­ing the State of the Na­tion Ad­dress, marked the turn­ing point for him. (The death toll has since risen to more than 100.)

He re­fuses “to be part of the in­tel­lec­tual funeral of the ANC” and “as a dis­ci­plined cadre of this move­ment [ANC], to have my cof­fin buried in the same grave­yard as such lead­ers who have made the choice to place their own cor­rupt in­ter­ests above that of those that we swore, yes swore, to serve”. Strong words in­deed. Much-needed words.

There were many be­fore him who ar­guably ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar Da­m­as­cus mo­ments. Many of those who spoke up have now joined to­gether to form a con­certed cam­paign to “Save South Africa”. Strug­gle stal­warts like Ahmed Kathrada, Frank Chikane, Ch­eryl Caro­lus and even op­po­si­tion IFP leader Man­go­suthu Buthelezi have all pleaded for the soul of the ANC.

Within the cur­rent ANC lead­er­ship, back­bones have also started to sprout. This in­cludes min­is­ter of tourism Derek Hanekom, who tabled a mo­tion to have Zuma step down dur­ing a meet­ing of the ANC’s Na­tional Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee (NEC) a few months ago. Noth­ing hap­pened. The NEC is still in­tact de­spite calls (even from some of the party’s lead­ers) to dis­solve it. The pres­i­dent is still the pres­i­dent and, well, still chuck­ling.

Other ANC lead­ers will­ingly hide in the strait­jacket of party dis­ci­pline – their grunts and ob­jec­tions hushed and barely au­di­ble to ordinary South Africans.

But there may be a glim­mer of hope.

The power of the ANC’s branches

In the lat­est “coup” within the gov­ern­ing party, branches were re­port­edly cir­cum­vented in the North West to para­chute former Eskom boss Brian Molefe into Par­lia­ment as an MP.

Molefe has oc­cu­pied pow­er­ful po­si­tions in en­ti­ties like the PIC, Transnet and Eskom. As CEO of Eskom he re­port­edly earned al­most R800 000 a month – a lit­tle less than an MP’s an­nual salary. Be­ing an ordinary MP thus fails to com­pare to what Molefe is used to, and as for an hon­orary MP… well.

Molefe re­signed from Eskom fol­low­ing the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s con­tro­ver­sial re­port on al­leged state cap­ture in which his name was fre­quently men­tioned, but he has de­nied any wrong­do­ing. Now he has resur­faced in the en­su­ing bat­tle for the keys to the state cof­fers.

Par­lia­ment’s an­nounce­ment that he will be sworn in as MP sparked re­newed spec­u­la­tion of an im­mi­nent Cab­i­net reshuf­fle which may see Molefe re­plac­ing deputy min­is­ter of fi­nance, Mce­bisi Jonas. Some spec­u­late that, should this hap­pen, min­is­ter of fi­nance Pravin Gord­han might re­sign. Whether this will in­deed hap­pen, only time – and the pres­i­dent – will tell. But Molefe cer­tainly is closer to a pos­si­ble Cab­i­net post and the keys to the Trea­sury than he was a few weeks ago. And legally the pres­i­dent will be within his right to ap­point Molefe.

This time, how­ever – with this move of parachut­ing Molefe into Par­lia­ment – it is not just ordinary cit­i­zens who are again prover­bially be­ing spat in the face, but the very foun­da­tion of the gov­ern­ing party: its branch struc­tures. Some ANC party lead­ers in the North West have al­ready ob­jected as Molefe does not live in that prov­ince, and mem­bers at branch level were re­port­edly not con­sulted. Al­beit not a wave but a rip­ple at this stage, many other branches in var­i­ous prov­inces have also spo­ken up and called for the pres­i­dent’s head.

Ordinary South Africans can­not sim­ply live on a prayer for Da­m­as­cus mo­ments in the hope that con­science will con­quer greed. As a na­tion we are way past that.

Enough with ‘Da­m­as­cus mo­ments’

Any pos­si­ble lead­er­ship change within the ANC is driven from its branches. Yes, some are com­pro­mised as they have to choose be­tween money and their con­science. Some are not. That is where Da­m­as­cus mo­ments are re­ally needed. That is where the dis­sent­ing stal­warts must go and mo­bilise sup­port with the real soul of the ANC as their guide – and not nec­es­sar­ily just on opin­ion pages and Twit­ter.

Out­side the ANC, ordinary South Africans can­not sim­ply live on a prayer for Da­m­as­cus mo­ments in the hope that con­science will con­quer greed. As a na­tion we are way past that. Liv­ing on a prayer is not enough. Feed­ing off of the “Da­m­as­cus mo­ments” of ANC stal­warts is not enough.

Fel­low South African, you are on your own. The bat­tle for the soul of our na­tion will be won on two fronts – bot­tom-up from within the ANC and with each and ev­ery one of us who, at the bal­lot box in 2019, will make a cross to say: “Not in my name.”

Dr Mathews Phosa Former ANC trea­surer-gen­eral

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