ANC has dam­aged our hu­man­ity

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Euse­bius McKaiser

The ANC has not just messed up the foun­da­tions of our democ­racy. It has also com­mit­ted an ar­guably worse moral sin: con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cantly to re­duced lev­els of hu­man­ity and pub­lic trust in the cit­i­zens of our beloved coun­try.

I have the awk­ward but enor­mous plea­sure and priv­i­lege of fram­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing sharp de­bate on ra­dio on week­days on 702 and Cape Talk. Ra­dio is con­ducive to au­then­tic­ity like no other medium.

It is in­evitable that deep dis­agree­ment about how we see the state of our so­ci­ety, and our place in this world, will be re­flected in the con­ver­sa­tions that oc­cur be­tween my lis­ten­ers, and the guests we in­vite on to the plat­form.

My sole obli­ga­tion is to treat ev­ery­one with dig­nity. It is not to soothe feel­ings or af­firm the cher­ished be­liefs and con­vic­tions many of us have never in­ter­ro­gated or which we have come to ex­pect our pre­ferred me­dia to prop up.

This sets up the most un­pre­dictable daily con­ver­sa­tions, es­pe­cially on the open-line seg­ment, which kick­starts my three-hour show.

On Mon­day, some­thing un­ex­pected hap­pened on my open line that caught my pro­duc­ers off-guard. It also caught me off-guard.

Lis­ten­ers — in other words the pub­lic — were strongly united, re­gard­less of race, gen­der, po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or which part of the coun­try they were call­ing from. This is rare. Emo­tions were run­ning high. They were, to put it bluntly, unan­i­mously pissed off.

What trig­gered this rare col­lec­tive anger and will­ing­ness to put fa­mil­iar dif­fer­ences aside to unite on a shared view­point? The per­son they were skew­er­ing was the ANC’s Jack­son Mthembu.

The day be­fore, the Sun­day Times had car­ried the story of Mthembu think­ing se­ri­ously of ex­it­ing pol­i­tics next year. He has been a ca­reer politi­cian for most of his life and it has had many neg­a­tive con­se­quences for his fam­ily, con­se­quences that are clearly haunt­ing him into the fi­nal stretch of his stay here on Earth.

Mar­i­tal life has been ru­inous for him. A son has suc­cumbed to ad­dic­tion and is now in jail. Mthembu is clearly grap­pling with his demons and the choices he has made in life, and he ev­i­dently wants to make amends with his fam­ily for his long ab­sence.

In a very pro­found way, in my view, Mthembu is re­ally com­ing to terms, even if he is not us­ing this word­ing, with how bro­ken the ANC is as an al­ter­na­tive fam­ily struc­ture. Many politi­cians ex­pe­ri­ence po­lit­i­cal par­ties, es­pe­cially ones with deep-seated lib­er­a­tion move­ment iden­ti­ties, as a kind of fa­mil­ial place, which, though not wholly com­pen­sat­ing for the psy­choso­cial loss of ac­tual fam­ily life, of­fers some psy­chic and so­cial gains.

The ANC to­day, how­ever, is not what it used to be. It is bro­ken. It can­not be mended eas­ily, if at all. It is a source of ex­is­ten­tial pain for some­one like Jack­son. That sparks a long­ing to now find in­ti­macy in a so­cial unit he has ne­glected for a long time — his wife, chil­dren, un­cles, aunts, sib­lings and cousins.

My ra­dio lis­ten­ers hated him for ex­press­ing these feel­ings and thoughts. They were ex­tremely an­gry. They see it as a pa­thetic at­tempt to avoid moral and po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity for his role in the ruin of the foun­da­tions of our demo-cracy. They in­ter­pret it all as a fee­ble at­tempt to be let off the hook, a case of seek­ing sym­pa­thy rather than ac­count­ing for po­lit­i­cal in­ep­ti­tude as a se­nior leader of the gov­ern­ing ANC.

Men and women, res­i­dents from town­ships and the sub­urbs, black peo­ple and white peo­ple, all agreed that he should be ashamed of him­self.

That was the crux of my Mon­day open line on ra­dio. It left me sad­dened, puz­zled and, as an an­a­lyst, in­evitably in search of mean­ing. I dis­cussed it with a close friend.

We agreed on what is go­ing on here. The ANC has squan­dered pub­lic trust so badly that cit­i­zens who gave it many chances to gov­ern ef­fec­tively and car­ingly are now gatvol.

Since pub­lic trust is so low, it breeds sus­pi­cion of the mo­tives of an elected of­fi­cial when they tell us about their pain and their life story. As one black woman said to me: “Euse­bius, I don’t care about Jack­son Mthembu’s feel­ings. I want my coun­try back!”

But I think it is not just pub­lic trust the ANC has oblit­er­ated, though my friend is right about that, sure.

Some­thing worse has hap­pened. Our ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy, our hu­man­ity, has slowly been eroded by a spent ANC that has made us cyn­i­cal and un­kind to each other, and has made us refuse to em­brace el­e­men­tary com­plex­i­ties such as dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween po­lit­i­cal ac­count­abil­ity and hav­ing enough hu­man­ity in us also to see politi­cians as be­ings ca­pa­ble of grap­pling with al­co­holism, ab­sen­tee fa­ther­hood, be­ing a bad hus­band and guilt-rid­den feel­ings about do­mes­tic fail­ure.

Mthembu should not be given a free pass as a se­nior ANC leader. But why are we let­ting this cur­rent crop of ANC lead­ers also de­stroy our moral psy­chol­ogy? We can si­mul­ta­ne­ously nail Mthembu for po­lit­i­cal agency badly ex­er­cised while also re­spond­ing to him as a per­son in a way that is not re­duc­ible only to his role as a politi­cian.

It will be hard to re­cover our hu­man­ity long af­ter the ANC is voted out of power, so it should not be eas­ily for­given for fa­cil­i­tat­ing our grow­ing cyn­i­cism.

Skew­ered: Jack­son Mthembu is com­ing to terms with how bro­ken the ANC is as an al­ter­na­tive fam­ily struc­ture. Photo: Made­lene Cronje

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