Ours is the age of rule of self-destruction through politics defined by the capitalist spirit and greed as greatest motivator: a culture founded on the precept that the wealth accumulation of corporate executives and profit making practices of capitalist business is good for political leaders.
Ours, the democratic South Africa is the age of rule by men and women who boldly and famously declared they did not get in the struggle to be poor, yet chant ‘batho pele’ – the people first slogan. Leaders who believe they are only answerable to party members and not the nation. Leaders who believe they will rule until Jesus comes, until then, they will give in to the spirit of rule-breaking that has morphed into a willingness to abuse power and plunder public resources.
In the midst of pandemic that has devastated lives, brought the economy to its knees and forever altered society, political leaders have embodied the capitalist spirit that suggests each follow or pursue their own interests – an acquisitive success made possible by greed.
The corruption allegations in personal protective equipment procurement tenders in the fight against Covid-19 and the incestuous link between senior ANC/government officials and their relative’s business interest embodies the kind of individualism and self-interest Adam Smith would be proud of. Sadly, the marriage between the ANC-led government and corruption has long been apparent to observers and the people they claim to serve.
I believe the R500 billion economic support package and the ensuing goods and services procurement process has undoubtedly showed South Africans the unbearableness of ANC corruption. So deep-rooted are corrupt practices that in the midst of increasing poverty, joblessness and death caused by the pandemic that political leaders couldn’t help sticking their hands in the cookie jar.
We are witnessing political entrepreneurs who think if corporate actors can do it – that is, the egregious rent-seeking, deceitful use of political power for economic benefit and oligopolistic practices where a few connected companies benefit from the state tendering system – why can’t they.
Ironic isn’t it? For all its rhetoric anti-capitalism stance, most of the ANC leaders and their alliance partners personify the very concept they claim (at least on podiums) to abhor in their fight to make South Africa an egalitarian society.
Ours is an era where political office has made some individuals fabulously rich and woe betide anyone who stands in the way of these politicians and their ‘entrepreneurial activities’ and accumulation of wealth.
This reality is in no doubt concerning, however the frightening part is the disassociation from reality President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to have, especially when it comes to tackling corruption. Moreover, his lack of action reveals to many what some of us have known for a while: he is powerless to act against corruption in the ANC and in government.
It is hard to be convinced that the ministerial committee set up to investigate Covid-19 tender corruption will produce evidence that will incriminate fellow ANC members. After all, was it not just last week that Ace Magashule the party’s secretary general said, “Tell me of one leader of the ANC, who has not done business with government”?*. He seems to imply that the practice by political leaders of engaging in what young people call a ‘side hustle’– albeit on multi-million rand scale – is well and truly entrenched in the ANC.
The statement can also be deciphered as warning shot to the president, one that says ‘probing Covid-19 tender processes is opening a new can of worms, are you sure you want to that?’ It seems to be a let-sleeping-dragons-be kind of warning, possibly because of the allegations made against his and other ANC leaders’ family members in procurement contracts relating to the pandemic.
It should be evident by now and especially since the pandemic outbreak, that it is not rising unemployment or poverty that currently threatens South Africa, nor is it white monopoly capital (WMC). It is a culture of political capitalism steeped in corrupt practices and the impunity with which the ANC has made it fashionable.
All of this, then, makes you wonder what can be done to halt this abuse, appropriation and outright stealing of public resources? And what can be done to halt the declining process currently underway, as it undermines democracy and economic development?
South Africans must attend to this threat; first we must shake off the powerlessness many are currently feeling in the face of corruption that cripples society. Then we can empower institutions that prevent and even offset the abuse of power by leaders who believe the office they occupy gives them mandate for self-enrichment.
We must support institutions such as courts and the judiciary that safeguard our democracy and hold leaders accountable. At a time when such institutions are being attacked, we must stand for them and never accept the false claims that they are enemies of the people.
In part 2 I will expand on this possible solution and others, including rejecting the regressive lure of nationalism. We must challenge the notion of an omnipotent party that has ambitions of ruling forever – Zimbabwe offers valuable insights to this danger.