ANC’s bruised apples and those rot­ten to the core

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - ● Stein­berg teaches African Stud­ies at Ox­ford Univer­sity and is vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Yale

When former fi­nance min­is­ter Nhlanhla Nene’s story erupted, sev­eral pun­dits I deeply ad­mire, and from whom I have learnt much, said things against which I protest from the bot­tom of my soul.

The Nene rev­e­la­tions show how naive some peo­ple are, they said; the story of the ANC is not good ver­sus bad; the or­gan­i­sa­tion is cor­rupt, fin­ish and klaar.

This anal­y­sis isn’t right — and it is dan­ger­ous be­cause it does the work of those who in­tend to do SA grave harm.

The anal­y­sis starts off badly be­cause its in­tended op­po­nent does not ex­ist. Who in their right mind ever thought that the good peo­ple were all on one side, and the bad all on the other?

Never mind Deputy Pres­i­dent David Mabuza. From the be­gin­ning, Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s cam­paign to be ANC pres­i­dent was backed by East­ern Cape politi­cians no­to­ri­ous for their cor­rup­tion and by se­nior fig­ures in the Gaut­eng ANC with dirty hands.

Any­one who thought that Ramaphosa’s camp was all good must have had a blind­fold wrapped around their face and leaden plugs in their ears.

That, how­ever, hardly means that’ ev­ery­body­one s of­fice to en­rich is equally a rel­a­tive cor­rupt. Be­ing tempted to use is de­struc­tive and un­ac­cept­able.

When Ja­cob Zuma was pres­i­dent we were faced with some­thing of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent na­ture. He led a se­cret, or­gan­ised, highly so­phis­ti­cated cam­paign to per­ma­nently dis­able the pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions that make the coun­try work.

It was not so much an at­tack on the bean coun­ters as a project to smash the very ma­chin­ery that counts beans. He wanted to pre­side over a coun­try that would lack the equip­ment to keep ba­sic ac­counts. He wanted to de­stroy modes of gov­ern­ing that have taken gen­er­a­tions to build.

That is light years from what Nene may or may not have con­tem­plated do­ing — light years at the very least.

“Cor­rup­tion” is such a dan­ger­ous word, for it in­cludes in its am­bit en­tirely dif­fer­ent things.

To say that the ANC is cor­rupt, fin­ish and klaar, is to mis­take chalk for cheese.

What is at stake here is so much more than aca­demic. Zuma and his bed­fel­lows want all cor­rup­tion to look the same. Ev­ery­one is a thief, they will have us be­lieve, and so one lot of thieves is the same as the next.

If we got rich through the Gup­tas, they say, Ramaphosa got rich through the Op­pen­heimers. And so what if the Gup­tas tried to steal the Trea­sury? It is from San­lam and Rem­brandt they tried to steal it, not the SA peo­ple.

As with all lies, this one has a sprin­kling of truth. One would have to be naive in the ex­treme to be­lieve that old, pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions do not ex­ert more in­flu­ence over pub­lic pol­icy than they should.

They, how­ever, did not try to de­stroy the in­fra­struc­ture that makes gover­nance pos­si­ble — and nor did Nene. The dif­fer­ence is so mas­sive it is fright­en­ing that one has even to point it out.

SA is nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury into the demo­cratic era. Many of us hoped an op­po­si­tion would have emerged by now ca­pa­ble of win­ning an elec­tion and tak­ing power. Alas, it has not hap­pened. And so, as al­ways, the coun­try’s fate will be shaped more than any­thing else by what hap­pens in the ANC.

It is thus as im­por­tant as ever to get the gov­ern­ing party on the right track. To say that ev­ery­one in the party is the same is not just to mis­read what is go­ing on. It is to sing to the tune of the most de­struc­tive po­lit­i­cal force of the demo­cratic era.

JONNY STEIN­BERG

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