Wednesday, April 27, 2016

ANC legacy of corruption is South Africa's true danger by Terry Bell

Jacob Zuma is a symptom of a much deeper malaise

"ZUMA must fall," is the slogan voiced by many who are concerned about the situation the country finds itself in. But Jacob Zuma is not the primary problem, he is merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise that afflicts the governing party.

To remove Zuma now would merely remove one particularly compromised individual, without in any way changing the system that put him in his position in the first place. The legacy of decades of compromise and corruption would continue, with many of the same role players in place. It would, to a large extent, be business as usual.

As such, the Gupta family may or may not go. Or they may move to the margins of influence as Shabir Shaik did after his release from prison on medical grounds. Other players may shuffle forward or back into the shadows, but the rot mentioned in the complaint by Chris Hani and others in 1969 will remain.

Hani and six of his comrades penned a memorandum complaining of the nepotism, rot and corruption in the ANC after the shambles of the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns of 1967/8. For his pains a hearing was held, and he was sentenced to death, a sentence later overturned by then acting ANC president OR Tambo. Hani left the ANC for a time before being persuaded to return.

But the same complaints voiced in the Hani memorandum had already resulted in a more dramatic protest in 1966. Then 29 MK fighters commandeered a truck in the Kongwa camp in Tanzania in a attempt to drive to Lusaka to protest to Tambo about the fact that they had been stranded for years in Tanzania.

There were also violent clashes and complaints about corruption, tribalism and the relative high life of unelected commanders. Fast forward to the 1980s and the same problems persisted, resulting in perhaps the most brutal episodes in ANC exile history. By then, the 1976 student uprising had catapulted the ANC to greater global prominence and triggered a massive outpouring of aid from quarters other than the then Soviet bloc. But the Russians still held sway over those who commanded the ANC’s armed wing MK and, on the latest available evidence, held back the development of an underground guerrilla war in South Africa.

However, the huge influx of cash and goods from clothing to shoes and canned food opened up more opportunities for unscrupulous operators in a movement already riddled with corruption. That so much was condoned was a symptom of the fact that the leadership feared any crackdown that affected those in powerful positions might result in schisms. So what crackdowns there were, were directed at lower ranks or individual commanders whenever there was any hint of dissidence.

The rationale was quite simple: the ANC was a broad church that claimed to be the only true representative of the people of South Africa. So to in any way challenge the unity of such a movement was seen as tantamount to treason. And that unity relied on a leadership whose word was law.

The situation in exile and the fact that the ANC was effectively at war with the apartheid state were the reasons given for the need for members on the ground never to question the commands from above; these had to be accepted as being correct and meaningful because only the leadership was in full possession of all the facts and knew best.

Those who challenged this situation were clearly opposing the leadership, and therefore opposing the people of South Africa. It could then be concluded that they were working in the interests of the apartheid state and were, in effect, enemy agents.

However, infiltration of the ANC by the security services of the apartheid government was a fact. Agents, it is now known, were trained at bases such as the farm known as Rietvlei. And particularly in the 1970s, the main “escape route” into exile for rebellious youth was operated by the South African security police.

Well versed in “psyops” — psychological warfare — the apartheid security services benefited from the sowing of paranoia within the exile movement. A level of this had existed since the early exile days, but it reached new heights by the 1980s. The autocratic attitudes of leaders and the undemocratic method of operation in the exile camps was fertile ground for dissidence. And dissidence was simplistically equated with enemy action that could only be dealt with harshly. This was the role of Mbokodo (the grinding stone), the ANC security apparatus.

What the ANC leadership  - which may itself have been infiltrated at various levels - did not understand was that trained agents would not make targets of themselves by being openly dissident. They would, instead, play the role of super loyalists and, if possible, seek positions in the security apparatus. They would willingly — and often with extreme brutality — carry out the instructions of security chiefs to “deal” with dissidents, so creating further disgruntlement.

Today, in a parliamentary dispensation, it is no longer possible to condone dealing with dissidence in such a way. But the exile legacy of autocracy and corruption — in many ways a mirror image of the apartheid state — persists. What former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi called the “voting cattle” have no power; that is vested in a patronage-soaked executive and parliamentarians and cabinet members who owe their positions, careers and pensions to the chief.

This situation does not make South Africa that much different from many other countries around the world. But in this time of ongoing economic crisis and an apparent slide into barbarism in several regions, it is perhaps time to act to bring about thoroughgoing political, social and economic change.