SA deserves better than to be ruled by a party that flirts with totalitarianism, writes Barney Pityana.
South Africans across our land must wish every year was a general election year. In election years, they see that it is possible for government to find money to repair pot-holed roads, and open schools and clinics in places where there had been a clamour for decent schools and healthcare for ages.
A general election is supposed to be a means for voters to make informed choices: about the quality of governance, about the extent to which government has fulfilled its promises, and whether any of the parties have a vision and a plan for the future.
The party in government is best placed to demonstrate in tangible terms what has been achieved – houses, schools, roads, clinics, hospitals, jobs and so on. What are often hard to quantify, though, are the intangibles: the quality of life of the people, the extent of prevailing and persisting poverty, human dignity, the humanisation of politics and decency in political life, the cultivation of a caring society, social cohesion. These are instances where the ANC in government fails.
In assessing the performance of the ANC in government under Jacob Zuma, there are some myths that have to be put to rest.
The first is the claim that the ANC is the only party that brought “liberation” to South Africa. It can only be a half-truth: the people of South Africa resisted apartheid and white minority rule. It needs to be acknowledged that in the face of the most horrendous repression, South Africans, as workers, religious people, civic society, in education, everywhere, resisted apartheid and in many cases did so without regard to the liberation movements.
The Black Consciousness Movement did not have its origins in the ANC, and yet many BCM activists contributed dearly to the liberation struggle, within and outside the recognised liberation organisations. The United Democratic Front established the power of community and civic activism in our country.
There needs to be a greater telling of the truth: that the genius of the South African liberation struggle was that it was a collective, broad-based and inclusive effort of the nation.
Another myth is that the resources of the state – taxpayers’ money, in other words – are simply available for the benefit of the governing party. In reality, the so-called achievements of the government, such as social housing, social grants, schools and land, are all part of the job description of government. The ANC in government does not just govern for its members but for the country as a whole. It is not necessary for one to be either a card-carrying member of the ANC to benefit from government projects such as housing and social grants. There have been reports that civil servants demand ANC membership cards before they process applications for social grants and housing. There have also been reports that ANC canvassers threaten those who benefit from state resources with reprisals should they fail to vote for the ANC.
South Africa is now celebrating 20 years as a constitutional democracy. The establishment of the constitutional state was itself a major achievement. Systems of governance and accountability, a thriving economy, peace, security and prosperity and a quality of life for the majority of the people were ideals that the new state set for itself, and about which there has always been general consensus.
The ANC in government, however, has systematically undermined that value system and the vision of a new South Africa as a humane society founded on the values of human dignity, equality and social justice. The result is that today South Africa is not likely to realise that vision unless a radical change is adopted now, before it is too late.
To start with, the ANC does not have a vision of a radically transformed South Africa. By and large, the ANC has presided over a game of musical chairs, with the black elite displacing the white elite minority. It has succeeded in appropriating the elite in a partnership characterised by a conspiracy of doing nothing to rock the boat, and assuring the white minority it will retain its ill-gotten gains.
The ANC under Zuma has no interest in the liberation of the poor from want and dehumanising deprivation. That statement needs explanation. The progressive thing to do is to lift the poor out of poverty and dependency, so that the poor can regain their human dignity. Instead, one gets the impression that poverty alleviation programmes are simply about the maintenance of dependency and the dehumanisation of the poor.
Instead, the ANC protects the interests of the elite. Frankly, that is the reason the South African economy remains in the doldrums; that is why nothing significant is being done to address the shame of unemployment. It is the reason that there is escalating poverty and inequality in South Africa 20 years after democratisation.
The ANC in government just does not have the interest or the intelligence to take South Africa’s economic system by the scruff of its neck and make it work in the interests of the vast majority of the people of our country. It does not have the political will to address the question of unjust land distribution. It is hard to understand what is to be done by the ANC over a further five years in government that was not done in 20 years in government. What is likely to happen is just more of the same.
A visit to any part of South Africa will show how little has changed in 20 years. In truth, public policy has aggressively retained the geography of apartheid – matchbox pondokkies for the black poor and burgeoning housing estates for the rich. Other than a few elite black people, black and white (and Indian and coloured South Africans too) live in separation. And how could an ANC government even conceive of legislation such as the Traditional Courts Bill and the Protection of State Information (or “secrecy”) Bill?
Democracy itself is in danger under a Zuma ANC. Political philosopher Hannah Arendt describes the situation of “total domination” by one party as the precursor to a totalitarian state. The ANC is hastening to control or subjugate all public institutions, to appoint only those who fit its ideology, to make independence taboo.
Examples of this are the recent amendments to the South African Human Rights Commission Act (to increase the influence of the president in the appointment of the chairperson of the commission), and further in the amendments to the Higher Education Act (to increase intervention by the minister in the governance of higher education institutions). A culture has now developed in which the party has collapsed its identity into that of the state. South Africa under the Zuma ANC has all the makings of a descent into an authoritarian one-party state.
It is common cause that crime has escalated in South Africa and corruption is skyrocketing. Arguably, South Africans have never felt as unsafe and in more danger in their own homes than they do today. The overwhelming victims of this state of insecurity are the poor, women and black people.
The phenomenon of police brutality reminds one of the Gestapo-style policing of the apartheid state – protester Andries Tatane murdered in full view of the world media, a taxi driver dragged to death behind a police van, a homeless Zimbabwe national stripped naked and assaulted in the Cape Town central business district. That explains Marikana, where 34 people were butchered by the police. We thought we had defeated apartheid, but apartheid, like the proverbial cat, has many lives.
The logic of the equality of women has, as Arendt put it, been “devoured by the logic with which the ‘idea’ is carried out”. The country prides itself on its progressive policies on women’s empowerment, but this is “devoured” in the execution because, though women occupy influential positions, it cannot be said that the lot of women has improved appreciably. The ANC Women’s League is often silent about the sexual exploitation of women in the ranks of the ANC itself, at all levels. Addressing the culture of violence against women takes more than just 16 Days of Activism; it requires a culture of radical equality with women that goes beyond mere law and policy.
The rule of law is undermined when it is possible for the head of state to muscle in, through his party bigwigs, and compel the national director of public prosecutions to decline to prosecute on demonstrably spurious grounds. And, when a court orders that the tapes that formed the basis of such a decision must be produced, the president simply stonewalls the process.
This is someone who has sworn to “obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the Republic”. A head of state implicated in the unlawful landing of a private passenger aircraft at a state military base cannot be one who has regard either for the rule of law or for his constitutional duty to uphold the law. This is the president who has benefited unjustly from millions spent on his private residence – in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act of 2004, this amounts to corruption.
South Africa has reason to be fearful about the drift of the democratic state when Cabinet ministers are adamant that draconian measures to protect state information are needed, or have recourse to the security apparatus of apartheid. It was chilling to listen to the so-called security cluster ministers threaten the South African public that we must not mess about with the “security” of the president. It reminds one of PW Botha and Magnus Malan’s national security ideology. Ours not to question why, just to do as we’re told and pay up.
In the light of all this, South Africans are to be faced with a choice at the ballot box on May 7. They can vote for the governing ANC as if all its indiscretions and the drift towards inefficient and totalitarian government had never been an issue, or they can vote for the other parties, considered untried and untested. Is that all it takes to make a democratic choice? Some of us think not.
The ANC and its president have been telling the nation that to vote for any of the opposition parties is a wasted vote. I do not agree. Every vote counts in our electoral system.
There is one ANC statement that I agree with. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe recently told an audience in Mthatha that an attack on Zuma is an attack on the ANC. It is true that Zuma is the face of the ANC in this election, as is his poor record in government, his shameful moral conduct and his dismal reputation as a leader. Zuma and what he stands for can no longer be separated from the ANC. The party has become infused with Zumaism. It has become the agency of unjust enrichment, the vehicle of unrelenting corruption and the progenitor of a kleptocratic state.
In South Africa’s proportional representation system, every vote for a party is also a vote against another party. That is why the Sidikiwe/Vukani “Vote No!” campaign has such potential for being a game -changer in South African politics. The campaign is led by people who have no vested interest in politics for themselves. It is a campaign to bring rationality, order, morality and decency back into our electoral system.
The campaign challenges voters to do more than just stay away, but rather to make a positive act of political responsibility and cast their vote in a manner that declares that they cannot make a choice among the alternatives reflected on the ballot paper. For the first time, election pundits will be forced to take account of the “no” vote. Every “no” vote will be a judgment against all the existing political parties.
There have been howls of protest from the ANC: we are told that such a call is a betrayal of the sacrifices made to achieve our democratic dispensation. I am of the view that the greater betrayal is that of those in the ANC who have systematically trashed everything that the morality of the liberation struggle taught us and promised the people of South Africa.
Like so many South Africans, I have no sense that the ANC in government is capable of a radical restructuring of our society for the better. It has become very inept at government, too arrogant, too self-seeking to care for the future of our country. The ANC under Zuma has become reactionary, socially backward and intellectually unimaginative.
South Africans are searching for the truth about the past and the shape of a desired future. South Africa is desperately in need of a government that guides the public debate towards a truthful understanding of itself, and the possibility of constructing a desired future, for the common good. The moral depravity of the Zuma leadership causes us to ask deep questions about the direction the country is taking. At election time, we are presented with an opportunity to correct the drift into a nightmarish future.
Nyameko Barney Pityana is the rector of the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown.