Sunday Times

We must welcome a likely breakaway from the ANC

- S’THEMBISO MSOMI

On the second day of his appearance before the state capture commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa spent a couple of minutes heaping praise on the media and the role journalist­s play in exposing corruption. In this praise the president was joined by the commission’s chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who went even further by wondering aloud how the ANC and its government had failed to realise that something was seriously wrong as newspapers, including this one, reported on allegation­s of Gupta influence in cabinet appointmen­ts.

Despite its many weaknesses and failings, the media industry as a whole played a commendabl­e role in exposing state capture at a time when the administra­tion of the then president, Jacob Zuma, was trying to downplay and even deny the problem.

However, the media was not alone in doing so. One can never overemphas­ise the contributi­on of the brave whistleblo­wers who, often at great risk to their lives and livelihood­s, went out of their way to try and shine light on all the malfeasanc­e that was happening under the dark cover of state secrets.

There are many other players too, including the judiciary, which asserted its independen­ce even under enormous pressure from politician­s who, when unhappy with court rulings, accused judges of judicial overreach and other alleged transgress­ions.

But little is usually said of the country’s opposition parties.

There has been much criticism at the commission and elsewhere of parliament and how it failed in its role as a watchdog to prevent the collapse of state-owned enterprise­s and the abuse of state resources for the benefit of the Guptas and others accused of corruption. This criticism, while accurate and fair given the fact that the decisions that carry the day in parliament are often those of the majority party, should not take away from the huge role played by opposition parties to keep the fight against corruption alive, even at times when all seemed lost.

While it was the late Mandy Rossouw at the Mail & Guardian who first exposed the scandal of the Nkandla presidenti­al homestead upgrades through her courageous reporting, one doubts there would have been any consequenc­es for Zuma and the other enablers of that corruption had it not been for the dogged fight put up by the DA and, later, the EFF.

In instances where the ANC used its parliament­ary dominance to push through reports and decisions that went against the role parliament should have been playing, it was mostly the DA that challenged those decisions in court, often resulting in embarrassi­ng rulings for the government.

The main opposition parties have been getting a lot of flak of late, largely because of their internal ructions and their seeming inability to pose a real electoral threat to an ANC that is in deep crisis mode.

But it would be wrong to judge the value of opposition parties only on the grounds of whether they can unseat the incumbent from office or not. While it is the ultimate goal of any political party to win political power, the role they play on the opposition benches should never be underestim­ated or dismissed.

During his testimony at the commission, Ramaphosa at one stage admitted that the electoral losses his party suffered in the 2016 local government elections contribute­d much to the change of attitude within ANC leaders’ ranks when, realising the damage done by Zuma’s closeness to the Guptas, a number of them began to speak out against corruption.

It was the opposition that inflicted those electoral losses on the ANC in metros such as Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesbu­rg and Tshwane. Losing those municipali­ties to DA-led coalitions made some of the ANC leaders sit up and start to listen to the electorate.

With infighting within the ruling party increasing­ly making it look like we are a few months away from another breakaway movement, we as citizens should not see this as a sign of instabilit­y but as yet another opportunit­y to further strengthen our multiparty democracy.

If policy pronouncem­ents by opposing sides in the ANC are anything to go by, the gulf has become so big that the difference­s are no longer reconcilab­le. They will stay together just to fight it out at the national conference. It seems most likely now that the losing side will walk away and set up shop elsewhere.

This kind of political realignmen­t may be painful for party loyalists, but in the long run can only be good for our democracy.

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