The adulation that former president Jacob Zuma was given wherever he went during last week’s public engagements by the governing party’s leaders in KwaZulu-Natal prompted the question in the mind of this lowly newspaperman: Can the ANC’s soul be saved?
In a now infamous clip that has gone viral, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule is seen leading a crowd – which includes many schoolchildren – in a rendition of the song Zuma Wethu (Zuma is ours).
Throughout the week, the chief enabler of state capture received rock-star treatment.
On Saturday, when he arrived at the ANC’s 107th birthday celebration and manifesto launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium, the roar of the crowd was almost as loud as a space shuttle taking off at Cape Canaveral.
When he took to the microphone and delivered his speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa was as hard and frank on corruption as he had been throughout his first year as ANC president.
He had also been forthright throughout the week and left no one in doubt that when he spoke of the ANC gone wrong, he was talking about his predecessor’s tenure.
It was encouraging that he did not shy away from doing so in Zuma’s back yard, and especially at a stadium that was packed largely with his sympathisers.
Ramaphosa told the crowd that he had “made mistakes and veered off course”.
“As a nation, we have learnt of the harsh impact of corruption on society and the economy. We have witnessed the loss of integrity in some of the institutions of state, business, and political and other organisations. We have learnt lessons about the vigilance needed to stop lawlessness, greed and selfishness from taking root.”
Now if these words were said by the previous president during his term, we would all have burst out in laughter.
But without having to swallow the Thuma Mina and New Dawn Kool-Aid, one has to acknowledge that this sentiment was genuine.
If it was the other character speaking, these would have just been words written into a speech that he was seeing for the very first time and would forget as soon as he rendered the first line of Umshini Wam.
Now, however, we can take the words seriously.
But just how seriously should they be taken, is the question. Are we to hang on to the words of the leader, or observe the actions of the rank and file as well as the leadership just beneath him?
Does the army of ANC branch members and activists who cheer Zuma to high heaven know that they are flying against the organisation’s manifesto promise that it would “actively promote a culture of integrity throughout the state, society and within our people’s organisation – the ANC”?
How does approving of Zuma and his ways square with the promise that leaders and members of the ANC who take public office will have to be “uncorrupted, honest and self-disciplined” and be able to “resist moral pressures”?
The ANC supporters who made a thunderous noise for Zuma reflect the corroded soul of the party.
They are victims of the numbing of conscience that occurred over the past 10 to 15 years as the ANC decided that the “bad” had been given a raw deal and “good” had been unnecessarily favoured.
As a result, bad was normalised and filtered into the party, the state and broader society.
Last week, as the jaw-dropping testimony of Angelo Agrizzi was gripping the nation, one of those viral quotes dropped into my inbox from a friend who is “a loyal and disciplined cadre” of the ANC.
“Probably the deepest crisis in the society and the revolution is that the Congress movement is highly infested with skillful liars, advanced ideological deceivers, fake political schemers, well-trained rumour-mongers, fully resourced wedge drivers and unrepentant political assassins who are just pawns in the hands of others,” read the paragraph, which was obviously penned by somebody in deep pain over the direction of the party and its allies.
The slew of startling revelations that continue to flow out of the Zondo commission into state capture clearly demarcates the sleazy spaces that the ANC – by commission or omission – had led us into.
Those who took us there knowingly benefited themselves, and, in the process, ruined the moral fibre of the republic.
Those who kept quiet are just as guilty because the signs were there for all to see that the moral rot in our country was spreading faster than a plague in the Middle Ages.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and former president Jacob Zuma
What riles is that the ANC knew before it elected Zuma in 2007 that he was so rotten that if he passed away and was interred, no organism would touch his corpse.
The party knew in 2009, when it shamefully rescued him from a criminal trial, that he was bad news for the country and the party.
In 2012, when it gave him a second term as party president, proof of his malevolence was there for all to see.
At that point, he had already used his three and a half years in office to kick-start the state capture vehicle and send it speeding down the highway.
In 2014, when the ANC delivered the dirty individual a second term as head of state on its ticket, his dirtiness was general knowledge.
By the time he was ousted in 2018, after years of the ANC stoically defending him, the republic had been debased, its morality corroded and its founding document desecrated.
While one would love to hold on to Ramaphosa’s genuine sentiments and intentions, the fact is that he is trying to kill a monster that was the deliberate creation of his predecessor, and whose growth was aided by his silence and the silence of his comrades.
Before he can convince us that he can save the soul of South Africa, he needs to make big and tangible strides in saving the soul of the ANC.