Wake up, SA! Get more chutzpah, or we'll get more Guptas
Mcebisi Jonas: The ANC isn't going to change, so it's up to civil society to put SA back on track
State capture whistleblower Mcebisi Jonas has warned that SA has to develop innovative measures to prevent new corrupt networks from springing up and to “future-proof” democratic institutions against a repeat of the past decade.
“New forms of capture are taking root while we have our eyes wide shut. So it is very important that there is vigilance about understanding how these networks develop, how they sustain themselves, how they are fuelled, and what are the anchors that drive these networks,” said Jonas.
The former deputy finance minister said the commission of inquiry into state capture was a “good first step” to understand how corrupt networks became so institutionalised and powerful.
Jonas has been a key witness at the Zondo commission, testifying last month about how the Guptas tried to offer him the position of Finance minister and a R600m bribe. He is to return to the witness stand in a few weeks to give further evidence about the political hostility against the national Treasury and the pressure to approve the nuclear deal.
In a piercing speech delivered at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation 10th anniversary celebration at the weekend, Jonas challenged civil society organisations to snap out of their orientation towards the ANC and forge a new agenda in the interests of SA’s people.
Jonas said the ANC had lost its “moral and ethical and political high ground” and, because of the historical connection between progressive civil society organisations and the liberation movement, there is an “absence of big ideas” about how to advance the country’s interests.
He said civil society organisations should change course “to advance a bigger agenda for transforming society”.
Jonas said in the past there were shared values and no difference between the interests of the ANC and that of the country.
“But let’s face it, the reality is that given where we are as a country, we have that dichotomy that sometimes standing for the interests of the citizens, the interests of democracy and the interests of the country might mean standing against the interests of political parties.”
Jonas said much of the recent mass action and activism in civil society directed at corruption and state capture was actually about fixing the ANC rather than about saving democracy. For this reason, the election of new leaders in the ANC resulted in a tangible demobilisation among civil society organisations.
“After December, many people said: ‘We done. We have new leaders in the ANC, we done.’ The reality of the matter is that inequality remains, joblessness remains, and there are no big ideas about where society should go.”
While it was important to rebuild the ANC under its new leadership, there was a bigger agenda about saving democracy and ensuring that the interests of the country are protected and deepened.
Jonas said it sounded like a contradiction for him to be expressing such views on the platform of a foundation named after an ANC stalwart.
“I am saying it boldly because Uncle Kathy understood the dynamic connection between the interests of the party and the interests of society. He understood that at the point where they conflict, you go with the interests of society,” said Jonas.
“The challenge that I leave you with is that in order to ensure that we protect democracy, we deepen the struggle to advance democracy, to chart a new economic path in the country, we need a new orientation in civil society. That orientation must be to understand that in every revolution, the people are primary – everything else is secondary.”
Jonas said South Africans must keep perspective because it was easy to become despondent about the state of the nation with daily headlines about the recession, rising joblessness, crime and corruption.
“We must also acknowledge that our new nation has lost its way. South Africa is at a crossroads,” he said. “In the absence of fresh and big ideas the ruling party could easily turn to short-term populism to regain electoral support, at the direct expense of investment and employment. This could further reinforce the vicious cycle of declining legitimacy, reduced investment, rising unemployment and increased social tensions. This is the path we must avoid at all costs.”
Jonas commended the Kathrada Foundation for its work in promoting nonracialism and keeping society mobilised around the vision of the Freedom Charter.
“The ANC in many respects has been the anchor of nonracialism. Of course, now we cannot say the same because it seems to be gravitating in a different direction,” said Jonas.