With 2017 underway, I must say I am grateful that the year is not starting with the kind of Penny Sparrow drama that ushered in 2016. But with the ANC going to an elective conference, we are in for drama this year. Especially that it looks very likely that the conference will be preceded by the reinstatement of the 783 criminal charges against President Jacob Zuma. And this will mean that South Africa will join Brazil, as the second Brics country, to have a sitting president face criminal misconduct charges.
But Zuma is a different kettle of fish compared to Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff – who was impeached in September. Zuma has a well-established patronage network, and this means that the process of getting rid of him might paralyze state institutions and even further widen cracks within his party. Adding to Zuma’s woes for 2017 is the commission of inquiry into state capture that former Public Protector Advocate Madonsela has ordered him to establish. It is an inquiry that will add to the R300 million that has already been spent in other Judicial commissions of inquiry under Zuma. But hopefully, it should have much more credibility than some of the others.
But there’s one inquiry I would still like to see conducted this year. Not one about the abuse of state power or the use of institutional resources for personal pecuniary gain, but one simply to find out how South Africa has managed to sink so low – and so fast. Our country is almost unrecognizable from the one that was celebrated the world over for its moral leadership and rare displays of heroism. In fact, I remember travelling in Guangzhou City China a few years ago and the best way to describe where I came from was to say I was ‘from Mandela’s country.’ That’s all it took to establish a rapport with complete strangers.
That we have taken a tumble from this lofty position should be obvious even to the staunchest supporters of the ruling party. Greatness was within our grasp, but somehow we chose a path of shameless accumulation and disregard of the values that make us who we are. I imagine that two things would form part of the findings of my proposed inquiry. The first is that populist politicians are good at getting elected into office but terrible at running it. Secondly, that yesterday’s heroes can easily become today’s villains.
But lest we forget that, amandla ngawethu, the power belongs to us. The ANC itself trumpeted this mantra recently at Orlando Stadium. The January 8 event marking the 105th birthday of the ANC was a colourful affair, complete with theatrical performances from a party that sadly refuses to transition from its revolutionary past into a modern organisation. On that Sunday, President Zuma read from the national executive committee’s January 8 statement and spoke against things like corruption, factionalism, and various forms of discrimination.
He reaffirmed the importance of respecting – and upholding – the country’s constitution. He also made references to ANC stalwart, the late Oliver Reginald Tambo, who would have turned 100 years this year. This reflective posture is similar to what the ANC did after its poor showing during the recent local governance elections. The problem I have with that reaction is the lack of rehabilitative consequence. Germany’s first post-war chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was correct when he said that ‘history is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.’
Something South Africans could have avoided is giving untrammelled power to a few untested hands. While it is tempting to say that our democratic project has been hijacked, the sad reality is that it is we who gave the political elite the keys to their licentious behaviour. The Save South Africa Campaign led by businessman Sipho Pityana will hopefully awaken all of us from the slumber we took after 1994. As Christians we can never afford to slip into a complacent mode that assumes that our politicians have the country’s best interests at heart. So in 2017 may you remain vigilant! God bless