Thursday 8 May 2014

Barney Pityana on Vote No

The Sidikiwe/Vukani Campaign has caused waves. It has touched and rattled the South African political landscape just on the eve of what is likely to be the most contested general Election to date. Within the ANC, from Jacob Zuma to Gwede Mantashe, from Essop Pahd to Pallo Jordan, on the fringes of the Zuma ANC there have been howls of protest, and a sense of betrayal. There are others I would rather ignore like Alastair Sparks and Rhoda Kadalie whose attacks on Ronnie Kasrls are so personal as not to warrant a response. In any event they do not address the concerns from within the ANC that the likes of Ronnie Kasrils and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge seek to present.

But there have been other more thought-provoking responses from Patric Mtshaulana, Jeremy Cronin, JJ Onkgopotse Tabane, Phillip Dexter, among others. Theirs was to suggest that, Ronnie Kasrils, in particular, had turned his back on a revolutionary tradition that he nurtured in many years in exile and underground. The point was made about the futility of politics outside the formal structures of the ANC, and that the ANC was the only viable vehicle for change in the country. Interestingly there was no effort to defend the Nkandla debacle, or to explain away the shenanigans in the so-called security upgrades that caused the price tag to escalate. The view is expressed that the Nkandla situation is not defensible, but that, in Cronin’s words, Jacob Zuma is not the worst leader that the ANC has ever had, or that the present crisis is not unheard of in the history of the Movement, and that revolutionary strategy and tactics would be enough to guide comrades on how to approach the present crises in the Movement. Dexter and Tabane draw on their experiences having left the ANC, only to recognize the futility of functioning outside the ANC. They both make two telling points. One, that the ANC remains the most viable vehicle for social transformation in the country, and that it is possible to raise matters for debate and correction within the ANC. It is the latter two assertions that I believe require a response.

The Sidikiwe/Vukani Campaign is essentially a conversation within the ANC about the ANC.  It is introspective. The champions of the Campaign have not given up on the ANC, and have not formed a political party. The purpose of the Campaign is to challenge the ANC about its faults and shortcomings, and in the end to clean up the organization. It happens outside of the structures of the ANC because the ANC has in fact been captured by a clique that has turned it into an instrument of self-enrichment, and for the control of the state - not for the common good, but for personal benefit. The result is that the ANC has become an ‘echo’ to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s telling expression. It speaks to itself, and its words bounce back on itself. The organization is no longer an inclusive, debating chamber. It is no longer a place of ideas, or a forum for ideas battling with ideas. It is not an inclusive society conscious of its moral responsibility for the well being of South Africans.

On the second criticism, that the ANC is the only viable vehicle for radical transformation, I beg to differ. Actually the ANC in recent years has become a very backward, conservative organisation. As a matter of fact there is hardly any difference in policy between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, except perhaps that the DA holds a better prospect for fighting corruption within its own ranks than the ANC has ever managed in 20 years. The truth is that the ANC has become a harbinger of die-hard conservative politics that make it possible for the erstwhile National Party stalwarts to find a home within the Party, of capitalists – black and white, vying for attention at ANC fundraising events, and whose message line is about enrichment without conscience. This is the organization that treats the poor as if they are the scum of beggars. Minister Bathabile Dlamini can proudly say that the poor must be grateful to the ANC government for the grants they receive. Or the lavish parties and drinks displayed at ANC events for leaders only, speak volumes about the drift of the Movement to the right of the political spectrum. It explains the cynicism with which the party will dish out food parcels, at the expense of the state, at party rallies. It is out of utter disrespect for the poor. Nowhere does the notion of a developmental state that uses the resources of the state to empower the poor in human dignity asserted with love and passion. In a revolutionary developmental sense, the poor must never be treated as beggars and supplicants at the table of the rich ANC Master.

Those of us who are not merely impatient with the ANC in government, but have lost faith in the ability or even passion of the ANC to transform the fundamentals of South African society in a manner that moves decisively away from the apartheid-induced social constructs, must however, confront a fundamental challenge. The question, however, begs to be asked: Has a functionally elite system under apartheid been dismantled or truly transformed? The answer has to be a resounding NO.

The concern is about living comfortably with transformation that does not touch the fundamentals, but makes the apartheid fundamentals more efficient, and aims to reach further than apartheid did. For Raymond Williams, the British historian, this is “a transformation engineered by political methods directly contrary to the values at which the transformation aims.” That is a sobering thought for the ANC, and a dilemma for many of those of us whose faith lies with the ANC as the vanguard for fundamental change in South Africa. What we have not managed to do in 20 years is never going to be done by those selfsame that had found reason not to go as far as their ideology demanded of them. “We have seen enough of the paradoxical results,” notes Williams, “- the reality of change and yet the degeneration of political values – to be both tense and alert, as we take our turn to be tested.”  That is our dilemma too.

Similar messages have been heard following the Marikana Massacre. Police poorly trained in riot control methods are protected by a reckless disregard of law and of human life. That must surely explain why it is that the ANC government boldly and persistently tabled a Traditional Courts Bill the effect of which would be to entrench in law an undemocratic system of governance and give it legal credence with the consequent effects on the rights of women and on land distribution, and on rural development. Under the ANC government the country has entrenched the Bantustanisation through affinity with traditional leaders, appointments and by the spatial geography that has become entrenched in law. The ANC itself has become so tribalised under Jacob Zuma that there is no longer any need for the IFP! Apartheid is alive and well when one takes a look at the roll out of housing for the poor – RDP houses in ghettos as in apartheid-style group areas. The policies of the ANC in government have been less about empowering the women and the poor, especially the rural communities, but to enrich the few at the expense of the poor.

Nkandla, on this understanding, therefore is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the philosophy and practice of government. Twenty years on South Africans are entitled to think again. The Sidikiwe/Vukani Campaign may have the potential of wresting the country and her economy out of the clutches of the kleptomaniacs, and restore it to the people. If democracy from within yields no results it is justifiable to try democracy from without.

N Barney Pityana
Grahamstown, 25 April 2014.

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