ANC’s overblown manifesto has a Clinton-Lewinsky feel to it
Even if you could believe the anti-corruption pledge in the document, its lists would be politically anorexic
Snippets from the recently launched ANC election manifesto conjured up the famous quip of Dorothy Parker about a spectacularly bad book: “This is not a novel to be tossed away lightly. It should be thrown away with great force.”
Parker, a renowned wit and critic, had her heyday in the 1920s, which is the era whence many of our governing party’s half-baked economic recipes derive.
There are, however, certain 21st century aspects in the ANC document.
But in respect of two of the touchiest issues which are likely to interrupt Cyril Ramaphosa’s jaunt in the Swiss Alps this week at the World Economic Forum, the manifesto did not long survive contact with reality.
First, there is the issue of the SA Reserve Bank (SARB), and its mandate and independence.
Unconstrained by the strictures of the Constitution, the manifesto, launched on January 12, proclaimed that the role of the central bank needs to be expanded to include objectives way beyond its constitutional remit (protect the value of the currency “in the interest of balanced and sustainable growth”) to include a new raft of objectives. These would include the ominously ill-defined “second phase of the transition” and employment creation.
You don’t need to be a semiologist to know that the idea here is to hit the printing presses to inflate growth. Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Argentina are the destinations here.
Just to buttress rewriting the bank’s mandate is the takeover of the bank itself via nationalisation, once again at odds with the Constitution. It provides for the bank to perform its functions “independently and without fear, favour or prejudice”. Most of all from meddling, avaricious politicians.
The idea behind this wheeze is for the seven independent directors of the SARB to be replaced by deployees of the ANC. It will doubtless be reassuring for investors to know that the head of this committee is none other than deputy president DD Mabuza, of whom the New York Times, in 2018, provided a lurid portrait of the misdemeanours on his watch while premier of Mpumalanga.
But on the subject of avarice, the manifesto, rather remarkably, favours virtue over vice. It provides an anti- corruption pledge which could easily be a stick-and-paste job from Transparency International or Outa.
The ANC manifesto promises: “We will actively promote a culture of integrity. We will ensure that leaders and members of the ANC and those entrusted with public responsibility are uncorrupted, honest and self- disciplined with clear values ...”
Barely a day had passed after the impressive mass launch of the manifesto by Cyril Ramaphosa in Durban than the document began to unravel – and this time not by the pesky press or opposition picking holes in it, but from leading lights in the ANC itself.
On the Reserve Bank issue, both the president and his finance minister rushed to reassure restive market watchers that the “single line” in the manifesto should not be read literally. Party secretary-general Ace Magashule, who apparently was on a mischievous frolic of his own with the wording, insisted this meant the bank would be “nationalised”. Ramaphosa insisted it would not.
The president advised that the manifesto pledge was simply “a wish and aspiration” and there was no intention to tamper with the SARB’s independence. “Diverse in their discordant unity” could be the slogan of the ANC this election season.
But when it came to rowing back and parsing the meaning of words, the anti-corruption pledge in the manifesto began to resemble Bill Clinton’s strangulated explanation of his below-the-Oval-Office-desk acts with Monica Lewinsky. Readers of a certain vintage might recall that the US president, charged with perjury when he lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, insisted that his statement that “there is nothing going on between us” was truthful (despite stains of his DNA on her dress). In his exquisite explanation, “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”.
Clearly channelling his inner Clinton, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa stated that the party would not “account for members who acted wrongly or corruptly in their personal capacities”. Think about this marvellous distinction for a moment: imagine, just theoretically, that a cabinet minister or senior official takes a bribe to advance the interest or bend the tender for the bribe-giver. Is it personal or political or business?
Of course, as the front page of the Sunday Times provided in lurid detail, there is nothing theoretical about this example at all. No fewer than three current cabinet ministers are implicated in massive bribe taking. Most notorious of all is the hapless and hopeless and ethically hobbled minister of environment Nomvula Mokonyane. She, who once accused white people of “urinating on our democracy”, was revealed by the whistle-blower on Bosasa, Angelo Agrizzi, to have insisted on liquor-laden Christmas hampers and other freebies from an essentially criminal enterprise. Plus, on his version to the Zondo commission on Monday, a R50,000 monthly Bosasa payment over a 14-year period.
The same minister – an arch Zuma defender, it might be recalled – vowed in April 2017, “let the rand fall, we will pick it up”. On Agrizzi’s uncorroborated testimony, she certainly picked up a lot of rand herself.
And that is the just the small stuff. Far more troubling in terms of the “new dawn” and “clean sweep” approach of Ramaphosa is that while the Guptas belong to the Zuma era, the egregious Watson family clearly has, by his own acknowledgement, ties to the current president and his family.
In fact, while it is always dangerous to take any party political manifesto at face value, just imagine for one happy moment if you could rely on the anti-corruption pledge (see above) in the ANC document. On the face of it, the lists the ruling party is currently finalising would be drastically thinned. Instead of being bloated by ethically challenged or even indicted fat cats, they would be politically anorexic and might be difficult to ever complete.
Another ANC spokesperson (Dakota Legoete) tried mightily in a weekend interview to place the square peg of so many criminal suspects likely to adorn these lists soon into the round hole of the manifesto pledge.
Nuggets from his interview with Chris Barron include these gems: to be excluded from the list one must first be convicted by the ANC disciplinary committee, or else be convicted by a court of law (presumably exhausting all appeals first). And the arbiter of all this will be the secretary-general of the party, Ace Magashule (himself a fast Gupta friend and fingered in the Free State dairy scandal). No problems if damning testimony is laid before the Zondo commission: “Its processes are incomplete,” he offered.
Dreary and depressing though all this appears, take comfort that in the city that gave a home and political base to the hugely admired Barack Obama, Chicago, corruption is the grease that wheels its politics as well. The adage of that city’s politics applies – with interest – to the damning testimony spilling out at the Zondo commission: “The real crime is what is legal.”
The big and essential difference though is that in Chicago and Illinois the politicians – including four of its past seven governors – get investigated, indicted, convicted and go to prison. Perhaps that also merits a line or two in the ANC manifesto. Unless the party secretary-general were to doctor that too.
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