I once wrote here that poverty and lack of education were the biggest enemies of democracy.
In hindsight, that list was incomplete, and I apologise. Another enemy of democracy is amnesia, especially collective amnesia. We are not dealing with a nuclear family of enemies of democracy, but an extended one.
Now, state capture is gone, right? We’re being led by a new set of politicians (sort of) who seem to be doing the right things (some things), right? They have removed state capture-implicated people (some of them) from key positions and replaced them with new faces.
One even famously told us and the world – in front of television cameras – that she and her people did not care if our currency were to drop in value and our credit rating were to be downgraded to junk status as a result of state capture-related grand theft and poor governance. Said politician remains in our national Cabinet, and we continue to fund her lavish lifestyle. Don’t even ask what value she could be adding to the new dawn that is intended to clean up the mess she was part of.
It’s a good thing President Cyril Ramaphosa saw fit to offer what I imagine was a sincere apology to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for the disrespect he experienced during the ANC-shielded kleptocratic Zuma presidency. Were I the Arch, I would have asked the president for assurance that the next time the Dalai Lama wished to visit, Minister Malusi Gigaba – back in that same position of influence – would ensure his people in foreign missions rolled out the red carpet, to make out for repeated snubs in the past, instead of frustrating His Holiness’ visa application, with one eye glancing in the direction of Beijing.
Defending the indefensible
If there has been a general apology to us, the people of South Africa, by the ANC for consistently defending the indefensible during the nine years of Zuma’s devastating presidency, I haven’t heard it. And that worries me a lot. It worries me because I feel as though I am sharing a home with an abusive lover who has not openly acknowledged that the abuse he subjected me to over the years has marked me for life, and he has not said he will not do it again. Instead of a clear mea culpa, he is spoiling me with expensive gifts, thinking I will be blinded by glitter until the cycle of abuse resumes.
The ANC has also not told us, the people of South Africa, that as part of the new dawn, they would renounce the inexplicable intention to withdraw South Africa as a signatory to the Rome Statute. They have not told us who would stand to benefit from such a withdrawal. Would it be the long-suffering people of Africa, or the despots who lord it over their affairs (and blame the West when asked to explain their actions)?
It will be to our collective detriment if we let a combination of amnesia and Ramaphoria prevent us demanding a formal stop to the madness.
Many were excited when, at the State of the Nation Address (SONA), the president made his “Thuma Mina” call, as a way to rejuvenate government’s image for all South Africans and embrace those who were made to feel like unwanted children during the Zuma presidency.
Thuma Mina was not announced during the January 8 statement, an ANC platform. South Africans outside the ANC began dusting off their CVs, waiting for a possible call to national duty after the SONA, only to discover that Thuma Mina would be narrowed down to party political level, handed over to none other than Fikile Mbalula – another loyal Zuma defender – to run with.
It was an opportunity lost for rallying all South Africans around what had been a chance for much-needed social cohesion and goodwill building following the Zuma years. Whoever convinced the president to move this campaign from the national presidency to Luthuli House made a big mistake.
Regaining lost reputational fortunes for the ANC after the Zuma years will take much more than Thuma Mina. The ANC needs to face us openly and acknowledge that it was wrong to defend Zuma for all these years. It must tell us what systemic changes it plans to put in place to ensure none of its leaders – should it regain the electoral clout it once enjoyed – will ever be able or allowed to do to our country what Zuma did.
Behaving like an abusive lover instead of acknowledging wrongdoing is not good enough. It is time to say “Never, never, and never again.”