Yazeed Fakier: Nene and the Moral Umbrella
The tragedy of the seismic Nene event is that those among the right-thinking public who for years have assumed they were able unquestioningly to identify the errant from the “squeaky clean” (as the Guptas have, oddly, been described elsewhere), now are forced to conflate both.
Nhlanhla Nene’s replacement by Tito Mboweni may have been largely welcomed for allaying the fears of the jittery financial market, yet his resignation also highlights the implications of how the former Minister of Finance could so duplicitously have continued to draw on the sympathy and succour of civil society’s moral umbrella – for years. This aspect reverberates wider than the single issue of Nene’s revelation that he had lied, and further consideration raises more elements that demand scrutiny. For example, who else knew about Nene’s compromising visits to the wily Guptas’ Saxonwold estate? If the EFF was able to uncover Nene’s wrongdoings, it should not be unthinkable that it may yet be revealed there were others in the ANC hierarchy who also were aware. And if so, is the possibility not feasible, then, that (heaven forbid) someone as ethically stainless as Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan himself may also have been aware, since Nene would not have operated in a void or as a singular agent in the finance cluster of the time? That is an obviously preposterous provocation, yet it is among the dizzying possibilities unleashed by the Nene revelation of his unsavoury dalliances with the Guptas and the lie he sustained. It has, furthermore, betrayed the efforts of the anti-corruption campaign by the loose coalition of civil society lobby groups which had taken Nene into their trust, blithely assuming him to be beyond reproach simply because he fell on the wrong side of former president Jacob Zuma and the Gupta cabal. Yet, with Nene’s fall surely must come the latest and final confirmation that hope for the future of the nation can no longer be entrusted to the governing party – the risk in doing so has shown itself to be too great, the call of filthy lucre too tempting for the ANC’s moral imperatives. This is, of course, a generalisation and there are, of course, many notable exceptions to this claim; those who come readily to mind include the likes of corruption-buster Gordhan himself, as well as outspoken comrades Trevor Manuel, Vytjie Mentor, Makhosi Khoza, Mcebisi Jonas and others who have put their careers and their very lives on the line challenging the systemic rot within their party, as well as confronting the corrupt behaviour of fellow party members and colleagues. Their efforts need to be lauded and should continue to be spoken up for and defended. But increasingly, the number of politicians of their moral fibre, standing and influence within the ruling party is dwindling, and examples of others exercising their backbone are few and far between. The question is – who’s next? Who else, apart from the well-known usual suspects, will reveal themselves in time to have been infected by the toxic tentacles of the Zupta octopus, whose reach reveals itself deeper into the bowels of the state apparatus with each weekly exposé. The tragedy of the seismic Nene event is that those among the right-thinking public who for years have assumed they were able unquestioningly to identify the errant from the “squeaky clean” (as the Guptas have, oddly, been described elsewhere), now are forced to conflate both. Those with faith in an ANC able to “self-correct”, would do well to remember – and not forget – that the President’s professed mission, that of rooting out corruption and kick starting the economy with the much-vaunted stimulus package, fights daily for breathing space with the other priority he has been mandated to ensure – unity in the deeply-divided ANC. With elections just months away, it is becoming harder for the president’s PR service to disguise that fact. And understandably so – it is a foregone conclusion that if the ANC loses, everyone across the board in the acutely dysfunctional, self-serving organisation loses, along with its assortment of hangers-on. The gravy train comes to a screeching halt, the trough runs dry, the free ride enjoyed by cadres who are under, non or ill-qualified for public service – and holding the country to ransom as a result – ends. Party hacks used to living off Zupta-blessed state largesse, who have developed in the process a concomitant taste for the high life, will have to return to good, old-fashioned, hard graft. For them, it is a fight to the death. The horrific regularity of political assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal is evidence of this, something the former KZN premier, Senzo Mchunu, has alluded to publicly on air more than once. Consequently, every uttering, every statement, every press release, every political development issuing from party headquarters needs to be viewed within this context. Perhaps then South Africans at large will be spared the disappointment of higher expectation, of the regular barrage of government bungling, of obfuscation and denial, of the casual arrogance of its incompetence. Moreover, the pool of political talent has shrunk so significantly that there is not much depth left to that echelon of character and quality leadership of the 1990s-era ANC, which so confidently steered its national democratic project through the republic’s stormy waters of generational poverty, joblessness, oppression and inequality, offering so much promise for its future generations. Gordhan and others of his philosophical school of thought are of the receding few from that era who remain “last man (and woman) standing” and we can only pray that Nene is the last of the wayward. But who can honestly say that they do not now also consider alternative possibilities with consternation, given the closed-shop that the ANC has been for years to the South African populace, where its innermost workings have been jealously privy to none but itself? Certainly, with that approach, the party has painted itself neatly into a corner of collective responsibility. During the turbulent 1980s, the respected anti-apartheid intellectual, the late Richard “RO” Dudley, of Cape Town, was asked what he thought might be a solution to the apartheid-instigated violence and mayhem convulsing the country at the time (and had eerie similarities then to the Zupta-rooted aftershocks currently sweeping the country ever closer to a reality of daily, low-level civil insurrection). RO’s reply was simple. “There is no solution under the apartheid framework,” he said. With Nene’s disclosure of treachery, now more than ever in our past, South Africans need to master the sickening detail of daily revelations spewing from the Zondo commission on State Capture, as well as the Nugent commission of inquiry into the hollowing out at SARS. There needs to be a sober acceptance of the inevitable: the 24-year honeymoon is over. The golden hour is gone, squandered at the altar of self-enrichment; the political marriage has failed. And there is no solution under an ANC-led government. DM Yazeed Fakier is a former deputy news editor of the Cape Times, in a galaxy far, far removed from its present incarnation. He is also former Communications Manager of the Centre for Conflict Resolution.