This past weekend South Africans, like Orwellian animals, came face to face with the reality that the constitutional democracy they fought for and negotiated is at risk. President Jacob Zuma, who is elected to protect and promote the Constitution, said there was only one commandment: The ANC is greater than the country, the nation and the state.
This has been a long time coming. The spirit of unity in diversity that inspired us at the dawn of our democracy is fading as the ANC’s drumbeat of “be grateful that we liberated you” becomes louder. Ordinary people, like the old Orwellian pig, are increasingly asking: Is this all that freedom means for us?
The entitlement narrative to rule “until Jesus Christ comes again” is a common feature of the post-apartheid politics of the ANC, which Zuma has made more explicit. It flows from the claim that the ANC is the sole author of our liberation from apartheid.
The mass civil society mobilisation that flowed from the 1976 youth-led uprisings and cut across race, class, culture, age and geography has been appropriated as being initiated and led by the ANC. This claim is memorialised in statues, naming of public places and the selective choice of heroes of our struggle.
The narrative of entitlement to rule as a reward for liberating our country underpins rampant corruption, and undermines the Constitution, the rule of law and public institutions. It also extends to an increasingly established culture in the ANC of capturing the state. A deliberate process of blurring of lines between the party, the government and the state justifies the ANC’s claim to be the provider of all benefits flowing from the provision of public services by the state. The taxpayer’s job is to grin and pay up.
The expensive abuse of state resources, exemplified by the Chancellor House deal as the BEE partner of Japanese firm Hitachi, has left our economy to shoulder the direct costs.
Delays, poor workmanship and the escalating costs of the Medupi Power Station are the price we had to pay for the 5 000% return on investment over seven years that the ANC made on the deal. The ANC paid about $191 000 (R2.7 million at the current exchange rate) for a 25% share and received $10.5 million upon exit in 2012. The country has had to grin and bear the load shedding and rising electricity costs because the party is more important.
The culture of impunity and levels of corruption, nepotism and wasteful public expenditure stem from this sense of entitlement to rule. ANC cadres deployed at all levels of the public service abuse their positions knowing they are protected by their comrades in high places.
Remember the arms deal? What of the more than 700 corruption charges against the current president? Nkandla, Guptagate and attacks on the Public Protector are all part of the script.
Neither the Public Service Commission, Parliament nor the Auditor-General’s reports have succeeded in stemming the tide of corrupt practices. Public servants’ propensity to do business with the government at great cost to the taxpayer continues unabated. The protective armour of the ANC is much stronger than our public institutions.
It should come as no surprise that we have failed to transform our public services in critical areas of education and training, health services and social infrastructure, including decent public housing for poor people. Politically connected teachers, nurses, doctors, tenderpreneurs and others benefiting from the patronage of the powerful ANC are secure in the knowledge that they cannot be held accountable.
The brand loyalty to the ANC as Mandela’s Party is strong enough to protect the ANC from punishment by voters. However poor the performance of the ANC in government has been and continues to be, many voters still cannot bring themselves to punish the ANC at the ballot box. Using the power of their vote to punish the ANC remains unthinkable to many. They see such electoral punishment as punishing Mandela the liberator – an unthinkable act.
The ANC brand as Mandela’s Party is also strengthened by poverty, unemployment and an inequality that remains colour-coded. The daily indignity of racism in the workplace and on the streets, and racist public utterances by white people confirm the assertion that whites are not committed to nonracialism and socioeconomic justice.
By their own admission, white business leaders have reaped huge benefits from the political settlement that ushered in a democratic government without demanding any sacrifices on their part.
The only actor who can challenge the power of the ANC is the citizen who stands up and refuses to accept the narrative of a liberator who has become an oppressor. Young people succeeded in 1976 to challenge an equally arrogant National Party. Is it not time for civil society, business and active citizens across the boundaries to come together and say enough is enough?
Over the past few weeks, young people have shown their power to shift the terms of engagement with political and institutional leaders. They have woken up to the fact that those presenting themselves as liberators are undermining their future and that of their country.
The ANC needs to heed the lessons of history.
Ramphele is an active citizen