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.
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