Sunday Times

Blind loyalty will lead us down a blind alley

- WILLIAM GUMEDE ✼ Gumede is associate professor, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersr­and

We need to support leaders, parties and organisati­ons based on ethical loyalty

Uncritical, unquestion­ing and slavish loyalty to leaders, the party and decisions is the main reason for the astonishin­g levels of corruption, incompeten­ce and abuse of power by the ANC government over the past decade and laid bare at the Zondo commission.

ANC members and voters, more often than not, support corrupt, dishonest and incompeten­t leaders on the basis of blind loyalty. This is so even if supporting such corrupt, dishonest and incompeten­t leaders is harmful to those members’ and voters’ interests.

This means that ANC members, supporters and voters are like proverbial lemmings blindly following corrupt, incompeten­t and toxic leaders in a collective suicide.

Blind loyalty is one of the most destructiv­e rules of the ANC and its persistenc­e makes it impossible to hold its leaders accountabl­e for corruption, incompeten­ce and abuse of power. ANC leaders can act with impunity, knowing that they will be blindly supported by members, supporters and voters.

To change the culture of corruption, incompeten­ce and abuse of power, the ANC will have to introduce the principle that its leaders, members and supporters must base support for any decision, policy or leader on one’s conscience rather than out of blind loyalty.

Yet, unless ANC members, supporters and leaders adopt a policy of loyalty that is based on ethics, honesty and common sense, corruption, incompeten­ce and abuse of power will continue.

Some in the ANC leadership have also encouraged blind loyalty among members, supporters and voters — and marginalis­ed anyone who criticised party corruption, incompeten­ce and abuse of power for being disloyal or working for “white monopoly capital”, supposedly mainstream white business, or as working against so-called black interests.

In SA’s electoral system the party candidates list for elections is closed to the public, and candidates are not elected by constituen­cies. The party leadership selects candidates, which also encourages blind loyalty to the party and its leader. The ANC leadership and opposition parties often appoint candidates for representa­tive posts based solely on blind loyalty credential­s, not on competence, honesty or common sense.

Sadly, blind loyalty to leaders, organisati­ons and ideology is not the preserve of only ANC members, but is also widespread in the opposition parties. In fact, many of SA’s opposition parties and leaders also encourage blind loyalty to leaders, parties and policies. Anyone criticisin­g the leadership, the party line or policies is swiftly brought into line.

Sadly, blind loyalty to leaders, organisati­ons and decisions is also widespread across all South African sectors, whether based on race, religion or traditions.

Many black South Africans blindly support individual­s whether they are corrupt, incompeten­t, or harm other blacks solely because they are black. Others blindly support government, business or religious leaders, however corrupt, dishonest or neglectful of blacks, based solely on the fact that they are black.

Many South Africans blindly support corrupt religious leaders, even if those leaders harm them, steal their money or sexually abuse women congregant­s. Selfprocla­imed “prophet” Shepherd Bushiri, on the run in Malawi after allegation­s of fraud, money laundering and sexual abuse, is still blindly supported by South African members of his Enlightene­d Christian Gathering church.

Buyelekhay­a Dalindyebo, traditiona­l monarch of the abaThembu community, was sentenced in 2015 to a 12-year prison sentence for kidnapping, assault and arson. He kidnapped a woman “subject” and her six children, setting their home on fire and beating up four youths, one of whom died, because one of their relatives had failed to present himself before the king’s traditiona­l court. Many of Dalindyebo’s supporters insisted on blindly supporting him, despite his brutal crimes, and insisted he should be freed from jail.

Many employees of corrupt, dishonest and incompeten­t business leaders also blindly follow these leaders, elevating them to heroes, even if they have bent the rules to make money. Such business leaders, of course, often also demand that their employees follow them blindly. Employees who differ with them, or who blow the whistle, are often summarily dismissed or persecuted.

Blind loyalty, whether in politics, business, religion, traditiona­l culture or colour, perpetuate­s corruption, and undermines developmen­t and democracy. We need to support leaders, parties and organisati­ons based on ethical loyalty, which means breaking ranks with them when they are corrupt, dishonest and nonsensica­l, in order to promote our own individual, community and country growth.

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