One of the things that non-South Africans observing our country have marveled at over the past nine years is the relative ease with which we slid into the democratic dispensation.
Virtually overnight, a nation in which the franchise was previously a privilege for a minority behaved as though its democracy was an age-old habit. We responded to our new constitutionally enshrined freedoms as if we had always lived this way.
Perhaps we believed that the democratic system would mutate on its own and sustain itself. But the past two years have rudely exposed our naivety, as it has become obvious that democracy has to be nurtured. While there is no evidence that any of our cherished freedoms are under threat, there are signs that we are not paying enough attention to developing the norms and systems that will protect its long-term health.
One of the areas we have neglected is the issue of party funding, a keystone of any democratic system. Only recently has the issue begun to edge its way into our political discourse.
And, ironically, it took a scandal that brought the holier-than-thou Democratic Alliance crashing down to earth to push the issue of party funding to the fore. It was not until the DA’s dealings with German fugitive Jurgen Harksen were exposed that South Africans opened their eyes to the dangers of keeping party funding secret. The issue was rekindled by the recent revelations that New National Party leaders had accepted money from Count Riccardo Agusta, an associate of Mafia boss Vito Palazzolo.
But it is the current scandal surrounding the sale of Transnet’s printing division that should surely put the matter on the agenda.
The allegations are damning: that one Zwelibanzi “Miles” Nzama, purporting to have the African National Congress contacts to swing the tender, went to a company promising to do exactly that, in exchange for a 15% share in the company “for his principals”. When rebuffed, he helped structure a 20% deal with a different bidder, which won the tender even though Transnet’s evaluation committee thought it was less qualified.
The facts also tell us that it was an intervention by Public Enterprises Director General Sivi Gounden, acting on behalf of his minister, Jeff Radebe, that preceded Transnet overturning the preference of its own evaluation committee. It now emerges that Nzama is a trustee on a structure called the ANC Fundraising Trust, among whose stated aims is to acquire shareholdings in various companies to benefit the ruling party.
We would expect that during the course of discussions certain warning lights should have flashed.
With the ANC having been the architect of this republic and the most influential force in the country’s body politic, South Africans expect it to be at the forefront of creating a society that values integrity and transparency. We expect the ANC, as the avowed enemy of special interest politics, to have considered the issues of conflict of interest that would inevitably arise from its involvement in private enterprises.
But the issue goes beyond the ANC. The fact that European fugitives, Mafia kingpins and local conmen can get close to power by making secret donations to political parties proves that party funding should be one of the dominant debates in South Africa as we head towards our democratic republic’s 10th anniversary.
The rules of disclosure of interest already apply to individual politicians and bureaucrats. Why should the same rule not apply to political parties, which, as entities, wield much more power than individuals?
Cobbled anthem must go
If there was one thing more tedious and baffling than South Africa’s batting performance in the opening game of the cricket World Cup, it was our mix ‘n match national anthem. Cobbled together from mutilated songs in four languages, it is musically incoherent, poetically abortive and far too long.
As a concession to potentially explosive ethnic loyalties at the time of the 1994 election, it may have made sense. But nearly 10 years later, South Africans should be sufficiently grown-up to identify with a national song that is not in their home tongue. By excluding seven of our 11 official languages, the current anthem is already selective.
If the Indian national anthem can be universally accepted despite being in a minority language, Bengali, why not a similar approach here?
The obvious answer is to revert to internationally acclaimed Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika, which during apartheid assumed status of being the anthem of the liberated.
Because Nkosi is so well-entrenched, this would be acceptable to all black South Africans and to English-speakers, who have never identified with the English translation of Die Stem. The special significance of the latter to Afrikaans-speakers is a consideration — but they cannot be happy with the present truncated version of CJ Langenhoven’s poem, half in Afrikaans, half in the language of the former colonial overlord. It would be better to keep it in its original state as a separate patriotic song, like Britain’s Land of Hope and Glory. In this form, it could be sung in conjunction with the anthem on appropriate occasions.
No one could take exception to the beautifully simple sentiments and melody of Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika. All South Africans, one assumes, want our continent to be blessed, and her prayers to be heard.