David Forbes: Spare us the decorations, Prof – what crumbling SA needs is a structural overhaul
Adam Habib may think he has the answers, but he merely spouts more elitist claptrap. By DAVID FORBES.
We must formulate a public position to guide Cyril Ramaphosa in his “discussions” with President Jacob Zuma regarding the president’s imminent exit, Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib asked us in Daily Maverick. My 13-point response represents hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of ordinary South Africans.
We certainly can’t leave it to the ANC to decide how Zuma must go. To say that Ramaphosa has been “unfairly criticised by political analysts and commentators” is to ignore the enormity of Zuma’s crimes and the consequences on all South Africans.
1. Zuma has betrayed the country and its people. He has allowed personal greed, political ambition and patronage to run rampant over his duties and responsibilities as president of the republic, and he sold out the country. That is treason. This is the first and foremost serious charge he must face. The evidence is overwhelming and getting him convicted should be expedited under a new national director of public prosecutions once the illegally appointed Shaun Abrahams has been replaced.
2. The ANC is putting party interests above those of the country (again). It is incorrect to argue that the peace of the country depends on the ANC “managing the transition”. The ANC has repeatedly proven that it cannot manage succession well, and it is not up to them to manage it. It is up to Parliament to resolve the issue through impeachment or a vote of no confidence. People are extremely unhappy and angry at all this closed-door nonsense and that secrecy surrounding Zexit. The ANC has about one million members out of a population of 55-million. It cannot be left to the governing party to get rid of a traitor “politically”. Too much is at stake for the rest of us. Let Parliament decide Zuma’s fate.
3. The ANC has lost the trust of the people. The results of the party’s December conference shows that nearly half of them support the corruption, theft, lies, patronage and patriarchy that dominates the ANC and the country. Therefore, they cannot be trusted – and further, it is utopian to believe that a small majority under Ramaphosa can reverse their fortunes and put the ANC back on “the good path” of morality, incorruptibility, gender equality and genuine policies to reduce poverty, inequality, create jobs and end corruption.
4. What is needed is to grasp the nettle, however painful it may be for all of us. Surgical precision is required to cut away the diseased parts – and that takes balls. For Habib to claim we may face violence or civil war is to continue to try to manage the continuation of the neoliberal capitalist system we have in this country. That system, of which he is a major representative in his post as Wits vice-chancellor, is a bitter betrayal of the principles of the Freedom Charter, of the ANC’s stated slogan of “A Better Life For All” and the desires of most people to advance our fledgling democracy into a country we can be proud of and which cares for all its citizens equally. Habib is dreaming if he thinks Ramaphosa can “refashion” the ANC to rebuild our economic, political and institutional foundations. And it is insulting to the nation’s citizens to say we “don’t have to worry about these issues” and can make “glib statements” while downplaying the nearly 50% of ANC conference delegates who supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
5. The trite platitudes about “building bridges”, “recalibrating the future”, “political will” and, of course, neoliberal “pragmatism” have no place in a post-Zuma South Africa. We’ve heard them too often to believe this rubbish any more. Discussing a pardon for Zuma is like whitewashing treason and criminal syndicates as being as harmless as breaking the speed limit. We are risking the security of the country if Zuma and his cronies are not punished for their misdeeds.
6. Our Constitution is the supreme law of the land and it says that everyone is equal. Habib should reflect on the elite of which he is a part, and try to understand why elites are not good for the country, the economy or our politics. I would have thought the Zuma cabal that has ruled us for 10 years would have convinced him, but it seems he believes an ANC elite can turn around the country. Zuma is a citizen of the Republic of South Africa and he must be tried for all his crimes and, if found guilty, sent to jail. Trying to put the idea in our heads that the trials would drag on for 10 to 20 years is more nonsense, especially if he is not granted state funding for his legal defence. If he had made an error while president and was taken to court, it would be understandable, but when he used taxpayers’ money to further his criminal aims and enrich himself, a state-funded legal defence becomes illegitimate and even more scandalous. No, Prof, “peace is not a sufficient outcome for Zuma’s pardon”. It will only embolden his cronies. If his henchmen stoke the fires, we need the police and the army to do their job. They would be well supported by the general population and any insurrectionist moves would likely collapse, like the white right wing in 1994.
7. There is a reason for the saying “cut off the head of the snake”. The truism is that once the “big man” is gone and his financial support is cut off, and if his key henchmen are arrested and charged, we may well see a period of peace, much like South Africa in the 1960s after Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki and others in the ANC leadership were jailed. This would give the government of the day time to begin a new culture within the public service and take important steps to strengthen institutions, decrease the powers of a president and create stronger oversight in Parliament that would defeat corruption, patronage and patriarchy.
8. The assertion that “political spectacle without sensible, deliberate conversation” got us to where we are today is correct. However, Habib would do well to admit it was this spectacle at leadership level that led us here. And that leadership level was the Top Six of the ANC, their delegates to Polokwane, the leaders of the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League, the veterans and the ANC’s tenderpreneurial elite. The ANC has been without any real political acumen for years, and it shows in the calibre of their cadres, who believe that kicking older women in the back is the sort of political action their seniors will approve of. Facing a general election in just more than a year, the ANC is never going to “cleanse” itself of the thugs, crooks, thieves and wrongdoers in their ranks, because they need the votes if they want a chance of staying in power. The ANC elite and their hangers-on are never going to fix the problems everyone keeps harping on about, simply because this would threaten their own means to wealth and power acquisition. The debate, therefore, must shift towards a new system with better checks and balances, and an end to the ANC’s dominance of the political conversation. Habib’s hopes to “advance social justice in a programmatic way and implement in a manner that builds social coalitions and mobilises society across divides” is 100% unattainable in an ANC government and could only begin to be built once the political landscape is radically altered.
9. Correctly, Habib admits there is a place for “mass action” (he doesn’t get beyond a vague phrase) and “societal mobilisation” (equally opaque), and sees a very long time frame that will “cascade” into an “inclusive democracy”. I have to disagree. If we are to avoid a revolution of the poor (not even against the ANC, but against all the different elites that are sucking at our country’s resources and goodwill), then structural change is urgently needed.
10. The road we have been on leads to a dead end. There is no point in pursuing it until we hit the brick wall. There is such an entrenched culture of patriarchy, personality leadership, consumerism and greed that it is going to take a massive effort by all South Africans to embrace a new path. It must begin with unity, not just within the ANC but among all South Africans, to work hard together to create the South Africa we all hoped for in 1994. This will require the support and co-operation of big business, an end to exorbitant executive pay, an end to illegal capital outflows, bigger taxes on corporate giants and penalties for wrongdoing, and a commitment to social development at all levels. From the government it will require a severe revision of the Ministerial Handbook to remove 90% of perks for MPs, the slashing of a bloated Cabinet, the removal of all secrecy surrounding political party funding and the changing of our constitutional system to progressively implement constituency politics while sharply reducing the party-list system. Citizens will buy in as soon as they see action.
11. “Sustainability” is not going to happen until we make it happen, and we need to change the parameters of our social and economic measurement from GDP to the Gini coefficient and teach our budding economists and CEOs that remuneration, foreign investment and shareholder returns are not going to be sustainable at current levels. If we could reduce foreign illegal outflows by just 25%, and corruption by the same number, we would have hundreds of billions of extra rands to build houses, create jobs and reduce inequality. Of course, if we could reduce it by more, things would really begin to happen. The question is, why are our so-called leaders not working towards this goal, or mobilising our institutions, banks and so on, to fight these scourges?
12. What is required is a society-wide debate and the strengthening of political movements (as opposed to political parties). Political parties have passed their sell-by date (just look at how Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders were able to mobilise large, loyal movements within their own parties, and Emmanuel Macron in France was elected by a movement not a party). The same goes for trade unions. When we have such massive unemployment, the mobilisation of a trade union movement that is fragmented by ANC politics is no longer possible. But if the unemployed were mobilised, we would have a movement of millions that would be able to change the structure of our economy and politics. Without deep structural change at the heart of our economic and political model, SA is doomed to remain mediocre and poor.
13. Crime equals punishment. Therefore, there is no way the crooks who have stolen our country’s assets and made a shithole of us can get away with it. We, The People, have a duty to ensure they are all brought to justice, and we, The People, must find a way forward for our country, because all our “leaders” have been unable to. And it is time for elites to understand that their language of elitism – “development”, “progressive”, “inclusive”, and so on – is just the same charade we hear at Davos. It’s just a lot of noise signifying nothing. DM
David Forbes is an independent filmmaker, writer and activist