A senior journalist from one of our reputable newspapers recently asked me: “How did the ANC lose its moral compass so soon?” “That is precisely the mistake we make”, I responded. “The ANC never had a moral compass; apartheid was the enemy and our fight against it did not necessarily make us morally righteous.” Like the nationalist party before it, the ANC victory was about the seizure of power, about control and ownership of the economy, and about racial domination. How else do we make sense of the Auditor-General and Public Protector’s regular reports of billions of rands worth of corruption going into the personal pockets of deployed cadres?
Looting of the state’s coffers for personal enrichment; stealing the country’s mineral wealth for black economic empowerment; and using the procurement process for the primitive accumulation of wealth, have become a national pastime. The conflation of state and party is ingrained in the ANC’s DNA. Commanding eternal loyalty for liberating us from Apartheid is precisely the entitlement that brutally destroyed Ghaddafi a few days ago.
Already in 1990, Paul Trewhela wrote:
“The next hot spot for the ANC was in Zambia, where the headquarters of the ANC was based and where most of the leadership was living. This was in 1980. MK cadres, who had been drilled for months in ‘communist ideology’ of the Soviet-East European type to denounce all luxuries and accept the hazards of the struggle, here came into direct confrontation with the opposite way of life lived by the ANC leaders. It became clear that the financial support extended to the ANC was used to finance the lavish way of life of the ANC leadership. Corruption, involving rackets of car, diamond and drug smuggling, was on a high rise.”
Corruption and rank consumerism have become the hallmark of ANC governance and it started in exile already, continued by Thabo Mbeki’s government and perfected by Jacob Zuma’s administration and his family. The more children the president produces, the more wives and mistresses he accumulates, the more he feels entitled to create Zuma millionaires all over the show.
For every billion stolen, services and resources are denied to the poor. The effect is fewer clinics and less health-care, fewer police and more crime, fewer houses and more informal settlements, fewer schools and poorer education.
To say “that the ANC never had a moral compass” is perhaps unfair. When the ANC was formed in 1912 against white minority domination, it did, rightly, occupy the moral high ground. After most indigenous revolts and uprisings were cruelly crushed by the colonial regimes, black leaders came together before the formation of the Union, to unite and represent all Africans, regardless of tribal affiliations in the hope of engaging government more seriously about the black franchise.
Most of its leaders were missionary-educated, Christian, and valiantly fought against the pass laws, the Land Act, migrant labour, restrictions on their mobility, and so on. By the 1940s, it adopted more militant strategies, marked by the formation of the ANC youth League in 1943. The ANC now embarked on a range of subversive and unconventional strategies to overthrow white rule. It was probably during the 70s and 80s that the ANC’s morality was most tarnished and the slippery slope towards the Quadro camps in Angola, Mozambique, and Lusaka began.
It was the left versus the ultra-left; the Marxists versus the Trotskyites; the Charterists versus the Nationalists; the socialists versus the capitalists. And these fights were vicious. Paul Trewhela exposes Quadro in gory detail; and the biographies of Mbeki and Zuma alert us to the tensions prevalent in the high command. The deep rivalries between Nelson Mandela and Govan Mbeki on Robben Island are known and it was during the 1980s that ANC’s moral compass started going awry.
Often when liberation movements confront a common enemy, all eyes are on the enemy, and very seldom on its opponent. That was the case with the Spanish Civil War, the Marxist Leninist Struggle against imperial Russia, the Latin American struggles against Spanish colonial rule, and the African struggles against colonial rule.
A closer inspection of liberation movements, of the ideologies that drove them, and of the militant strategies to overthrow their oppressors, reveals that the hubris of liberation leaders and their followers is often overlooked. It is this hubris that is troublesome.