Selfless leaders are vanishing in the ruling party

POLITICIANS are inherently full of contradictions. Politics is never about doing public service and helping poor people. It is often only about the self-interests of a politician, a group of politicians or a political party.

It is sometimes difficult to understand the actions of politicians. Surely, if you see yourself as a public servant, then you should be doing everything in your power to ensure that the people are served appropriately, even if it means that your actions might harm a group of politicians or the political party to who you might have pledged allegiance.

For the past couple of years, many people who have traditionally been loyal to the African National Congress, which still rules the country, most provinces and most cities and towns, have found themselves questioning their loyalty. This is because there has been mounting evidence that some ANC leaders appeared to have been working the interest of business, and one family in particular, as opposed to working in the interests of the majority of South Africans.

Many of these people, some in the leadership of the ANC, have been grappling with the best way to voice their displeasure at the way a once-noble movement has been reduced to a bunch of bag boys, thieves and tenderpreneurs.

I remember speaking to a Minister a few years ago and he told me that he was hanging in because, if he resigned, he would be replaced with someone who was compliant. He thought it best to fight from the inside.

Most people who depend on the ANC for their livelihood will not have the courage to leave the party, as former MP and rising star Dr Makhosi Khoza did recently. Most will not even have the courage to raise their discomfort.

I never thought that I would one day write anything negative about the ANC because, throughout the Struggle years, the ANC always best represented, in theory at least, the vision of South Africa with which I agreed.

As the ANC has seemingly unravelled in front of our eyes, I like many others have looked at the alternatives. I’ve always struggled to find resonance with most of the other political parties.

The one opposition party still has some way to go to shake off its colonial past, I struggle to support any party which calls its leader commander-in-chief because it brings up images of African military dictatorships, and it is sad to see how the once-powerful and charismatic Terror Lekota has become an almost pathetic bit-part player in Parliament. The only party that could be vaguely appealing is Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement (which he incidentally started with former Nationalist Party blue-eyed boy Roelf Meyer who is now in the ANC) but I don’t know if they have much appeal and interest beyond the Eastern Cape.

I’ve never allowed my political allegiance to impact on my writing and other journalistic decisions or general political behaviour. Instead, I have allowed myself to be guided by broad principles based on personal values, the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. I judge everyone and everything against these and decide, based on these, whether any politician or political party is worthy of my support.

Using this method, I work with people across political parties who are interested in uplifting poor communities and not only advancing their own careers and parties. I realised a long time ago already that there are good and bad people in all political parties. Sometimes the only thing that keeps certain people in a political party is their chance of advancing politically and career-wise.

There appears to be no limit to how far some people will go to advance their political careers, even if it means distorting history or erasing history.

An example of this is the recent funeral of former ANC Youth League secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, where his links with Julius Malema, who was ANCYL president at the time, was completely overlooked.

Another example is the recent dinner to mark the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the National Development Plan where there was not a single mention of Trevor Manuel, who was the minister responsible for heading up the National Planning Commission, who drew up the NDP. One would have thought that the President, who was the keynote speaker, would have mentioned the contribution of Manuel and current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was Manuel’s deputy on the NPC. Manuel, of course, has been critical of Zuma, while Ramaphosa, who was also not at the event, is opposing Zuma’s preferred ANC presidential candidate.

Maybe the solution for those who want to make a political contribution to South Africa is to look outside political parties. Get involved in non-governmental organisations who do good work in communities. But continue to hold politicians to account, not only through your vote but by pointing out their wrongdoings.

It is not good enough just to condemn politicians. We must show them what needs to be done to make a change to our society. And we need to do this without thinking of our own self-interests.

(First pubished as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 30 September 2017)