Re-Imagining Tools Needed To Discourage Corrupt Practices In ANC
At face value, the resignation of the Minister of Finance on Monday, 8th October 2018, may have set a precedence, or standard that would need to be upheld, or improved, by other ANC leaders.
This begins a renewed culture of ethical leadership, taking responsibility for one’s actions despite being legally innocent, in the absence of a conviction.
By Cde Bayanda Mzoneli, African National Congress King Nyabela Mahlangu Branch (Ward 5), Tshwane Region, Gauteng Province
“An increase in corruption, factionalism, dishonesty, and other negative practices that seriously threaten the goals and support of the ANC. That these practices contradict and damage our mission to serve the people and use the country’s resources to achieve development and transformation. That corruption robs our people of billions that could be used for their benefit.
That the lack of integrity perceived by the public, has seriously damaged the ANC’s image, the people’s trust in the ANC, our ability to occupy the moral high ground, and our position as leader of society. That current leadership structures seem helpless to arrest these practices, either because they lack the means or the will, or are themselves held hostage by them.
At times we do things that are not according to ANC or government policy, or not legal or constitutional, and wait for courts to correct our actions. Our association with, and the closeness of our leaders to, business people facing allegations of corruption.”
The ANC did not wake up to these developments in 2017 at its 54th National Conference.
Just after the dawn of democracy it observed these negative tendencies, captured by President Mandela in the Political Report to the 50th National Conference held in 1997.
“Remarkably, it would seem that our very victory over white minority rule has created the basis for some among us to take advantage of the new political opportunities the people’s triumph has created, to work for the weakening and destruction of this very movement, the ANC.
We say this because a number of negative features within the ANC and the broad democratic movement have emerged during the last three years. We have an inescapable responsibility to attend to these matters frankly and decisively in defence of both our movement and our revolution.
One of these negative features is the emergence of careerism within our ranks. Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification.
Accordingly, they work to manipulate the movement to create the conditions for their success. In reality, during the last three years, we have found it difficult to deal with such careerists in a decisive manner. We, ourselves, have therefore allowed the space to emerge for these opportunists to pursue their counter-revolutionary goals, to the detriment of our movement and struggle.
During this period, we have faced various instances of corruption involving our own members, including those who occupy positions of authority by virtue of the victory of the democratic revolution. These have sought either to steal public resources or to export financial tributes from the people in return for services to which the people are entitled and which those in authority are legally and morally obliged to provide.
This is not surprising in the light of what we have already said in this report about the entrenchment of corruption in our society in general and the consequent desperate desire to accumulate wealth in the shortest possible period of time.”
In spite of his optimism at the time, twenty years later, the situation did not improve.
In the intervening period between the 50th and 54th National Conferences, the ANC continued to observe the accumulation of negative tendencies. These it characterized as “sins of incumbency” in discussion documents towards the 2010 National General Council (NGC). The 2010 NGC Discussion Document titled “Leadership Renewal, Discipline and Organizational Culture”, highlighted that “These tendencies have become so persistent and widespread that they in fact represent a shadow culture and subcultures, which co-exist alongside what the movement always stood for. It draws on ANC history and symbolism and like a parasite, uses the membership, and the very democratic structures and processes of the movement, to its own end. Furthermore, both ‘old ‘and ‘new ‘members and leadership echelons at all levels are involved, increasingly leaving no voice in our ranks able to provide guidance.”
In spite of the comprehensive assessment and self-reflection made in the 2010 NGC, a snowball of negative tendencies grew in size and speed. It picked up all “sins of incumbency” in its path, and became an insurmountable avalanche. The 54th National Conference noted that, “current leadership structures seem helpless to arrest these practices, either because they lack the means or the will, or are themselves held hostage by them.”
It may be speculated that one of the contributing factors that allowed the cancer of corruption to fester was the reliance on codified statutory provisions. Thus unless, or until, a member had transgressed the code of conduct and referred to the disciplinary committee, they were innocent no matter how grave the allegations implicating them may be. Furthermore, unless or until, a member had been convicted by a court of law, and exhausted all possible appeals, they were innocent no matter how grave the charges against them in an ongoing court trial.
In one view, this may be perceived as lack of accountability by those accused, due to their failure to take responsibility for their (alleged) actions and distance the organisation from their deviant behavior, at least until they have cleared themselves. However, if the ANC is an organisation of activists, one of the defining traits of the members would be fighting injustice, including against oneself. Hence the reliance on justice as codified in statutory provisions of law or the code of conduct.
Many have abused the codified statutory provisions that define justice to evade accountability, as much as is legally possible.
On the other hand “an increase in corruption, factionalism, dishonesty” observed by the 54th National Conference meant that had it been allowed that an allegation be a sufficient reason to take punitive measures, canards could have been sown about opponents in a way that would have been destructive to the organisation, especially using the gullible media.
For two decades, the ANC relied on that with sufficient mourning about sins of incumbency, its members would miraculously grow a conscience to behave ethically, and in spite of that there was no codified code of ethics.
Other than the multiple organs of state that were setup to fight corruption, the ANC only first took action in 2012, at its 53rd National Conference, when it setup an Integrity Committee. Unfortunately, the parameters of integrity that this committee would have to protect were never codified, thus leaving it with no teeth, and its actions subject to debate.
However, the ethical tectonic plates are shifting.
By historical coincidence, the 54th National Conference took three resolutions that happen to intersect in a way that places the ANC at the crossroads. These are;
- “Implement the NEC resolution on state capture, including the expeditious establishment of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry.
- The establishment, composition, powers and functions of the Integrity Commission should be provided for in the ANC Constitution, to be finalized as soon as possible by the NEC.
- Mandates the NEC to drive a sustained programme of organisational renewal and report on such to the NGC.”
At face value, the resignation of the Minister of Finance on Monday, 8th October 2018, may have set a precedence, or standard that would need to be upheld, or improved, by other ANC leaders. Particularly those that may appear in the same Judicial Commission that the former Minister of Finance had appeared in. What makes the development even more significant is that the Zondo Commission has an intended lifespan that goes up to 2020, which covers what is likely to be one of the most difficult elections for the organisation.
In the public domain, if the other possible conspiracy theories are discounted, the Minister of Finance resigned following his apology for an error of judgment of agreeing to meet a vilified, but not convicted family of business people at their residence a handful of times.
Had the ANC moved quickly on the establishment, composition, powers and functions of the Integrity Commission and driven a sustained programme of organisational renewal, it could have developed a perspective on the Judicial Commission on State Capture. This would have helped guide its cadres in handling the evidence emerging from the commission.
The failure of the ANC NEC to timely develop a perspective on the Zondo Commission have left a climate of uncertainty for its leaders on how to handle evidence led in the Zondo Commission. And whether to expect the same standard set by the former Minister of Finance.
Without preempting the outcomes of the Zondo Commission, the evidence that is led in it is likely to broadly fall into 5 categories in terms of its implications for cadres of the ANC, as in the table below.
|1||The Clean||Those who are neither affected nor implicated||None|
|2||The Good||Those who were approached but refused or never to cooperated||None|
|3||The Dirty||Those who may be implicated due to having enabled corruption by commission or omission but did not benefit in any way. They executed instructions based on power relations and failed to refuse to act unlawfully, or stopped cooperating later, after initially cooperating.||Apologise, and take remedial action, depending on the gravity|
|4||The Bad||They did not only enable corruption but were primary, or through third parties were secondary, beneficiaries of corruption (joined the trough)||Resign, if still holding a position of responsibility|
|5||The Ugly||Those who initiated and benefitted in corruption||Resign, if still holding a position of responsibility|
Table 1: Preliminary Categories Zondo Commission implication for individuals cadres
Based on these categories, the former Minister of Finance, using the publicly available information, falls in category 2, but has resigned. That makes matters really tricky for all the categories, except category 1.
The preliminary perspective on Zondo Commission outlined in Table 1, or an enhancement of it, could be handed to the Integrity Commission for enforcement. That would not in any way interfere, or second guess the Commission, but it would be a useful ANC internal mechanism to manage the implications of evidence that is led in the Commission for itself. There may be further action that would need to be taken based on the Zondo Commission Report when it eventually concludes its work.
At the same time, the ANC ought to exercise reasonable caution not to be carried away by the media hype, which risks swinging the pendulum too far, where good comrades are lost to the organisation, particularly those who may fall in Category 3 in the table. Those comrades should not get the same treatment as those who had the motive, and ultimately benefitted in the trough.
In the meantime, the ANC leaders, and members, would have to unite and defend the set perspective that would be enforced by the Integrity Commission, instead of defending or vilifying fellow members along the enduring residual factional lines.
As is evident, this begins a renewed culture of ethical leadership, taking responsibility for one’s actions despite being legally innocent, in the absence of a conviction. It is an opportunity to halt the race to the bottom, where leadership structures seem helpless to arrest these practices. Either because they lack the means or the will, or are themselves held hostage by them. It is an opportunity to deviate from practice observed by the 54th National Conference of “waiting for courts to correct our actions.”
Missing an opportunity to put renewal into practice would be disastrous. Renewal would remain a slogan that is mouthed by everyone while inaction prevails on the pretext that no one can cast the first stone because everyone has their “smallanyana skeletons.”
As part recognition of the need for renewal, the Strategy and Tactics adopted at the 54th National Conference states:-
“The ANC needs to demonstrate in actual practice its commitment to speeding up fundamental transformation. For this, it should shore up its own capacity, honestly identify and correct its weaknesses and revitalise its public image. Bland reassurances that are then negated by the very conduct of leaders and members will worsen the decline; and, among the people, they will merely generate irreverent humor.”
There are additional matters of reflection for which the ANC NEC ought to give guidance on in the context of renewal.
The vilified, but legally innocent, business family may not always have been a villain (they had no conviction at the time of writing). There may have been a time in history, no matter how far back, when they were just a business family, which no one would have guessed would be villains in future. Other matters in the public domain suggests that there may be other businesses that are evolving to become villains, if not already evolved, such as BOSASA, and the VBS Bank. This has huge implications for deployed ANC cadres and senior managers in various state institutions.
It is common course that for various reasons, business entities and other establishments such as NGOs, routinely invite government leaders to meetings, seminars, conferences, gala dinners and all sort of events. Cadres who receive invitations neither have the capacity, time, nor the bandwidth to do thorough background checks on those who invite them, especially as the invitations are largely time bound. They are also unlikely to have the foresight that a business that appears clean at the time of the meeting request, may latter turn into a villain. There are no tools available to make such judgment calls with perfect accuracy.
The evidence led by the former Minister of Finance suggests that there may have been nothing wrong in meeting businesspeople given the nature of his deployment.
The common comradely practice among cadres is meeting stakeholders or individuals by referral. It is not unusual for one comrade, in an effort to be helpful, to refer someone needing information or assistance to a cadre whom they believe is relevant or would be helpful. This has worked for decades, including during the struggle for liberation. The network of trust among comrades is one of the enduring strengths that have made the ANC Alliance a reliable force and an effective tool in service of the people.
However, just as askari’s would setup comrades by abusing their trust during the struggle, some comrades abuse this trust to benefit their associates. These may abuse the trust network to benefit themselves even without the knowledge of the referrers. Most of the cadres in categories 2, 3, and to a lesser extent 4 in Table 1, would have been victims of abuse of this trust.
The ANC ought to help its cadres by developing guidelines for engagement in a way that does not create a social distance between government and good corporate citizens, while ensuring corporate citizens with bad intentions fail to capture individuals in the state. Without such guidelines, a lot of good comrades, who act in good faith, would, inadvertently, be caught in the cross hairs malfeasance, and in hindsight would be perceived as having erred in judgment.
In the medium-term, the ANC would have to develop a comprehensive Code of Ethics that will be enforced by the Integrity Commission. For obvious reasons, the fifth iteration of the Code of Ethics would be grades better than its second. Hence there is greater benefit in developing the first iteration sooner.
The Code of Ethics would have to take into account the perceived, or real, power relations that often lead to silence of those who may wish to resist unethical directives of their seniors. The ANC would have to be innovative, as the power relations that are embedded in the patronage system are often an enabler of negative tendencies.
It is not too late for the ANC to self-correct and proceed on a path of renewal. Like most renewal occasions in nature, the process is unlikely to be smooth sailing, and may have its casualties, but it is urgent and necessary action for the ANC to survive, as the 54th National Conference warned; “Organisational renewal therefore is an absolute and urgent priority, and we may go as far as to say, to the survival of our great movement.”
Like good sailors, the ANC has to tactically, and innovatively, adjust its sails to navigate through the tumultuous winds of the ongoing hurricane.
Cde Bayanda Mzoneli is a member of the African National Congress King Nyabela Mahlangu Branch (Ward 5) in Tshwane Region, Gauteng Province
- ANC 50th National Conference Political Report, 1997
- ANC 54th National Conference Report and Resolutions, 2017
- Leadership Renewal, Discipline and Organizational Culture, ANC NGC 2010 Discussion Document, 2010
- Strategy and Tactics of the ANC, 2017
- Commission and Committee have been intentionally used interchangeably in this text in reference to the Integrity body as both the 53rd and 54th National Conference Reports use these interchangeably.