ANALYSIS: Why we’re doomed to bad leaders, and why you’re also to blame
The rot has been exposed, but don’t expect apathetic SA to shout 'treason' – we're too tolerant of corruption
With all the damning evidence tumbling out at the Zondo commission that incriminates senior ANC leaders in corruption and shows how they hawked the state off to their benefactors, opposition parties should be smiling all the way to the polls.
Certainly, the main opposition party should be romping to the election with a galvanised support base and hopes of wresting power from the ANC for the first time in the democratic era.
Yet, despite bombshells raining down at the inquiry over the past two weeks courtesy of former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi, revealing how a corrupt business empire paid bribes and protection fees to a president, a minister, ANC MPs and government officials, the political impact is minimal.
There is no indication of a surge in support for opposition parties as a result of the revelations – definitely not in the case of the Democratic Alliance.
If anything, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa continues to climb the popularity charts as the best bet to purge the state of corrupt networks.
The reasons the revelations are failing to move the needle is an indictment on the state of politics – and perhaps the value system in our country.
Simply a passing storm
There is no mass outrage at the betrayal of the ANC in selling off its electoral mandate because, sadly, there is latent acceptance that SA is inherently corrupt.
People have come to accept that the highest levels of the state, particularly the presidency, are deeply compromised and remotely controlled by business interests.
Therefore, Agrizzi’s testimony that former president Jacob Zuma received payments of R300,000 a month from Bosasa and that a serving minister in Ramaphosa’s cabinet, Nomvula Mokonyane, had her high life sponsored by the company, is simply a passing storm.
Both Zuma and Mokonyane loom large over the ANC, yet the party has faced no pressure over the past few days to suspend their participation in political activity.
This is indicative of another major problem. The ANC’s factional politics continue to hold the country hostage, forcing the nation to be tolerant of corruption.
It is no secret that Ramaphosa’s egg dance with his cabinet, particularly his having to retain shamed and incompetent people like Mokonyane and ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini as ministers, is based solely on the need to keep their faction placated.
Ramaphosa’s embracing of Zuma as some sort of wise elder at the ANC’s recent anniversary celebrations, while at the same time emphasising the devastation and misrule of the past decade, makes the president look like a hypocrite.
But the ANC’s internal dynamics are so imprinted on the national landscape that such duplicity in the name of party unity is part of the natural rhythm of politics.
Perhaps the biggest indictment on the state of politics is that many people prefer to stick by the ANC, irrespective of the horrific evidence emerging at the Zondo commission, because corruption is preferable to what the opposition parties have to offer.
The DA failed hopelessly to present itself as a natural home for disenchanted voters who found it unconscionable to stay with the ANC. The DA’s identity crisis, internal battles, policy turmoil and scandals in areas it governs proved repeatedly that it is not a viable alternative to lead SA.
There are also major turnoff factors that the DA leadership is wholly unable to manage. The one is the continued attempts by former party leader Helen Zille to present herself as an initiator of independent ideas that conflict with her party’s positions.
Her latest campaign for a tax boycott shows that the DA remains as chained to its nuisance former leader as much as the ANC cannot break free from its former president.
The racial dynamics and fallouts in the DA continue to fuel mistrust that a powerful white lobby pulls the strings and uses Mmusi Maimane simply as a cardboard cutout of a leader.
The biggest failure of the DA is that it has been unable to show the electorate that it would be better at governing SA than the ANC. In a post-Zuma era that ought to have been a walk in the park.
But weak leadership, continued blundering, the BEE farce and chaos in its municipalities all fail to inspire confidence.
SA’s third-largest party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, is progressively writing itself off as a major player on the political scene.
While the EFF instigated high-impact politics over the past five years, it began to unravel after revelations about its funding from the tobacco underworld, alleged benefits to its leaders from the VBS Bank heist, and kickbacks from a City of Joburg tender.
The EFF has resorted to wild rhetoric, hate politics and targeting of imaginary enemies in order to gain traction on the election trail.
The party raised its profile and won some support for its concerted efforts to hold Zuma to account. But in a country burdened by corruption and bad leadership, the EFF has not presented itself as being capable of cleaning out the state and ensuring good governance and effective delivery. Its leaders are instead prone to flip-flopping and petty politics.
Smaller parties and newcomers on the political scene are unlikely to make any significant impact on voting patterns.
The big danger remains voter apathy, particularly with the election campaign and the Zondo commission running parallel to each other over the next few months.
It is very possible that instead of firing people up to vote wisely for their next government, the explosive revelations of corruption will increase disillusionment.
The reality is that political leaders who betrayed voters have been exposed but not held to account for this.
The commensurate punishment for doing so ought to be treason charges.
The awful reality is that our nation is not making such a demand because we have become accustomed to corruption and poor leadership.
Our compromised value system means that we move on too easily, and that our country is doomed to remain burdened by unworthy leaders.
Hopefully the state capture inquiry and media exposures of political corruption will make voters more astute in their choices.
But these should also be a lesson that citizens should be more vigilant to guard the state against the enemies within it.