This opinion piece was written by Mike Roussos
Our new president did an excellent job of raising the spirits of the country with his rendition of the Sona 2018. Responses to his speech ranged from ‘brilliant’, to ‘a breath of fresh air’ to ‘gives us hope for the first time in a long time’.
What has changed since so many condemned this self-same group of ANC parliamentarians for being ‘faint-hearted’ at best and ‘rotten to the core’ at worst? Has the departure of the old president resulted in such a monumental change in the space of a few days? What about the large majority of ANC parliamentarians who defended him against the many ‘votes of no-confidence’ that characterised his tenure as President of the country?
What about the large majority of (ANC) NEC members who defended him against the many attempts to hold him accountable within the ranks of that NEC – the bulk of those people are still members of this new NEC, so what has actually changed? What about the people who make up the bulk of the ‘top six’ officials at the very top of the newly elected leadership of the ANC – people who were at the forefront of defending Zuma and/or replicating the political culture and activities that led to the country virtually being destroyed during his tenure?
What does this tell about our political system? What does this tell us about the structures of the ANC, and about the processes and structures that are responsible for electing people to the ultimate leadership structure within the ANC – the National Executive Committee (NEC)?
For those who believe (as I do) that SA’s political future – its hopes of undoing the centuries of oppression and exclusion suffered by the majority of the people – lies principally within the ANC – these are critically important questions. Please note that the belief that this kind of transformation depends largely on the actions of the ANC, does not amount to a belief in the ability of the current ANC leadership to deliver this result – it’s just that there isn’t any credible alternative, at this point in the country’s history.
Let us make no mistake, most South Africans hope fervently that Ramaphosa and his merry men (and women) will succeed in bringing us back from the precipice – but it is critical to explore what will be required for them to succeed in this gargantuan effort.
It is important to differentiate between efforts to pull the ANC back from the brink of possible losses in the 2019 elections – from efforts to restore the integrity and credibility of the drive to address the needs and aspirations of the majority of our people – the two are not the same!
If the new leadership is principally concerned with maintaining the unity of the party in order to win back the support of the electorate in the next elections – rather than restoring the integrity and credibility of the party (through eliminating the corrosive culture that has become the norm within the party – and rejecting anyone associated with such actions and beliefs) then they are not worthy of the support of the people – regardless of the proud history of this organisation.
Sona – the program outlined for 2018 onwards
The key imperatives outlined in the Sona address will undoubtedly make a big difference to the process of returning the ANC to its stated goals of meeting the needs of the people. The focus on eliminating corruption, restoring the credibility of the SOE’s and their sustainability – by eliminating wastage and rethinking their funding models, the stress on the need to revitalise service delivery by addressing the delivery mechanisms and restoring the commitment to honestly attacking the real problems that exist at every level of our state structures (especially those concerned with law and order – like the NPA – and those concerned with revenue collection – like SARS).
These are all commendable and vitally important. The problem lies with the attempts to do this without tackling the culture that exists within the ANC political elite – and within the administrative elite in the civil service. In reality it will be extremely difficult – if not impossible - to do this until the people who inhabit these various roles have been changed - and the process of choosing who to put into such roles – has been fundamentally transformed.
The political culture under Zuma cemented into one that stressed the acceptability of serving one’s own political needs - and thereby one’s material desires – whilst serving as an ANC leader within the government. It became increasingly acceptable to find ways of ensuring the comfort and security of one’s family and dependants – while serving within the ranks of the leadership at National or Provincial or Local government. In the beginning this was more peripheral to one’s role and activities – but this increasingly transformed into becoming the major pre-occupation of the political elite under Zuma – at every level of government.
This also transformed the administrative elite and gradually it became acceptable for them to do the same as their political bosses. The appointment of such administrative heads increasingly became geared towards the appointment of people prepared to serve the needs of their political bosses, rather than the needs of the people. In the beginning this was to serve the political ends of the political leader – to ensure that the program of the party was carried out by the civil service. This was easy to justify in the post-apartheid era due to the attempt by some civil servants to undermine political programs that they did not believe in. This quickly became the norm and justified turning away from the building of a professional cadre of civil servants - who were dedicated to service delivery first and foremost – regardless of the political leadership in office at the time.
At every level of government, it became acceptable to appoint administrative heads who answered - first and foremost - to their political bosses. This completely overwhelmed their principle role of service to the needs of the people, who depend on them to provide the services that are central to the elimination of poverty and inequality.
What is required to Transform this entrenched culture?
Membership of the party was transformed from one where candidates were required to exhibit: -
- a commitment to struggle for the fulfilment of programs that met the needs of the people – under circumstances that were difficult and required sacrifice - and a commitment to put those needs above one’s own perSonal needs and desires, thereby winning the support of the people – To one
- where membership of the party became a vehicle that put one at the forefront of the struggle to accumulate as much as possible, as fast as possible – while professing to promote the needs of the people, in a way that allowed one to promote the party, to make whatever promises were required to keep on getting the votes of most of the people
To change this will require a compete transformation of the party from the top to the bottom – and every level in-between – to get back to where it started – to the values of Tambo and Mandela and Sisulu.
It will also require the complete transformation of the civil service – especially at the leadership levels within the National government – the Provincial governments and the Local governments. People will have to be chosen for their skills and abilities – and their commitment to meeting the needs of the people – and not for their commitment to the politicians of the day!
What about the ANC structures?
It is an open ‘secret’ that the majority of ANC branches exist primarily to further the careers of the politicians who need them at election times – to get them elected to local structures – to put themselves forward as representatives to regional structures so that they can elect their patrons as regional executive members – to put themselves forward as representatives to national conferences, so that they can support the ‘right people’ for election to national structures. All of this to further the ambitions of their patrons – which will give these patrons access to opportunities to accumulate wealth, and thereby gain the resources required to repay their ‘supporters’.
This is a sad distortion of the ‘community structures’ of the anti-apartheid struggle – when such local structures were a critical part of putting pressure on those in power – to force them to take local needs seriously, whether they liked it or not! Today the party branches barely exist outside of internal ‘election times’ and they are characterised by the use of ‘rewards’ for supporting the ‘right people’. During the lead-up to the ANC National conference, everyone was talking about how the ‘ruling group’ was using these tactics to try and ensure their candidate got in. It was an ‘open joke’ that certain regions used ‘phone-book’ recruiting to hugely expand their ‘membership’ – to give them more influence at the national congress. This amounted to using the phone book to phone people and tell them that they were needed as members of an ANC branch and that they did not need to do anything or to pay anything – this would all be sorted out for them – they just had to provide some details for the records. From there on it was easy to manufacture branch meetings – by distributing an ‘attendance list’ for people to sign to say they were there when ‘comrade XYZ’ was elected to attend the national congress. ‘Incentives’ played a role at every level of this process.
Those supporting the need for change within the ANC were panicked at the very strong possibility that these ‘underhand tactics’ would result in these crooks retaining power within the organisation. Many of them worked very hard to prevent this – even to the extent of using some of the same tactics ‘to keep the crooks out’.
They managed to make some progress and got Ramaphosa elected – with a very split NEC that included many of the same old people – who are very adept at changing their tune to ensure that they remain influential!
The Way Ahead?
What does this mean for the possibility of transforming the path set down by Zuma and Co – and revitalising the ANC? What does this say about the chances of bringing the country back from the edge of the precipice – of revitalising our economy and creating the prosperity required for the creation of jobs and thereby income for the people?
It means that we cannot sit back and hope that Ramaphosa and his group of dedicated supporters succeed in turning back the tide of decay and corruption that has become endemic. It means that the call made by the new President that “Now is the time to lend a hand – Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me’” is not to be interpreted as a mere rhetorical flourish or an invitation to step up if called upon.
It needs to be interpreted as a plea – and an invitation – for all of us to stand up and be counted. We can no longer sit back and hope that the ‘new politicians’ will deliver us from all the decay and corruption that the ‘old politicians’ plunged our country into.
The time has come for all citizens to make their voices heard – for all of us to find ways of holding the politicians accountable – for every South African to play a role in ensuring that we work together to find ways to build the future that was envisaged when we proudly participated in the first democratic election in 1994.
It is time we fulfilled our promise – made at that exciting time – that the election was just the first step in building the country that we desperately wanted, that many of us had fought for, that many of our people had died for.
We cannot leave the future to the Politicians or the Power Brokers or the Wealthy or the Influential.
We all need to step up and make the sacrifices required to build the South Africa that is proclaimed in our constitution, the South Africa that will transform our country into one where we all find it unacceptable to live next to fellow South Africans who are unemployed or hungry or thirsty, who are without adequate shelter, who are sickly and cannot get the help they require to get healthy, who cannot participate in building our country because they did not receive a decent education - or did not get the opportunity to show what they can do to contribute – to help us transform this land of ours.
It is time to take our future into our hands – and build it ourselves.
Those who want to represent us in the political structures need to understand that they will be held accountable.
We will expect them to serve the people – not to lord it over the people.
We will expect them to lead by example, to sacrifice for the good of the people - and to thereby show what is required of all of us.
Written by Mike Roussos, a Trade Unionist within various unions during the anti-apartheid struggles – for a period of almost 10 years. He then worked for various corporates, ending his time with them at an executive level. He has been the CEO of a number of companies, ranging from IT to Legal Insurance to Metal manufacturing. He has worked for Government as a consultant and as a Head of Department. He has consulted to a range of companies, from small start-ups to large international corporates. He has been an activist in a range of areas, from his time as a student within the Catholic student movement, to the unions, to the UDF during the struggle against apartheid, to the Catholic Church Justice and Peace structures, to the struggle against climate change and for a variety of alternative energy initiatives.