We must welcome a likely breakaway from the ANC
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.