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Solly Moeng: A decade of false starts and self-enrichment

Jan 05 2020 10:01
Solly Moeng

In addition to the usual discussions about what has gone wrong, we should expect 2020 to be the year during which several new political formations are established ahead of South Africa’s own version of 'mid-term elections', the 2021 local government elections.

We shall probably see a number of new off-shoots from existing parties, including ones that are set to be started by some known names who left their parties in recent months, some in seemingly choreographed tandems for maximum effect, following unresolved intra-party differences over policy direction and the philosophical misalignment of political egos.

Let us not be fooled: political offshoots have been happening ever since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy, when the likes of General Bantubonke Holomisa left the ANC to form the United Democratic Movement with former National Party politician, Roelf Meyer, who subsequently left politics.

We also saw Patricia De Lille leaving the Pan Africanist Congress to form the Independent Democrats, which she subsequently led as it began to take in water into the open cargo hold of the Democratic Alliance (DA), at the invitation of Helen Zille.

De Lille later left the DA to form another party, Good, whose viability held long enough to enable De Lille to slide over into the open arms of the African National Congress, which now employs her as a national government minister. No one has mastered the art of playing the South African political field like De Lille has.

Elsewhere, disgruntled Mosiuoa Lekota left the ANC with a handful of former comrades, following the removal of former president Thabo Mbeki, to form the Congress of the People (COPE), which almost died an instant death thanks to an almost bloody fight by Lekota and his former comrade, Mbhazima Shilowa, for the leadership of the party and control of its finances.

Those who thought COPE would be the last time that anyone walked away with a chunk of support from the ANC were wrong. It wasn’t very long before the governing party’s then-powerful youth league president, Julius Malema, was kicked out for what can be summarised as insubordination.

He didn’t go away quietly. In forming the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Malema took a substantial youth following that used to provide the governing party with assurance that its entire left flank was well guarded by the combination of trade union federation COSATU, the South African Communist Party, the ANC Women’s League, and the ANC Youth League. The formation of the EFF left the ANC exposed.

In between the formation of all these new parties over time, and during the notorious floor-crossing era, countless South African politicians – arguably driven by personal ambition and constantly following the side of their bread that looked buttered – have changed political colours so often that many could be forgiven for having forgotten where they started.

The change that we need

Very little, if any, of the above was done by individuals who had the interests of South Africa at heart, placed ahead of personal political ambitions and the insatiable hunger to control public resources.

But despite all these false starts, as post-apartheid South Africa battles a still-ailing economy, crippling unemployment and hobbled state-owned enterprises, what it has not seen yet is a true new beginning. This must come in the formation of a new party or, perhaps better still, a civil society movement that will be a true national unifier to stop our collective dream from further deferment.

Such a party will not be formed by disgruntled politicians leaving existing parties for having failed to get their way in an argument, for having lost an election, or for having been overlooked in a deployment that could have ensured that their nests are feathered for many more years to come.

And it mustn’t be formed out of anger for any existing party, including the ANC; but out of love for South Africa and its diverse nation. Its core drive wouldn’t be to constantly tell South Africans what they already know about state capture, other forms of corruption and the rampant abuse of public office that has become arrogantly normalised with impunity by those in power. It must be solutions driven.

Rescuing SOEs

A buffer zone will be needed between SOEs and other state institutions, on one hand, and politicians on the other hand.

South Africa could never be healthy without well run SOEs, irrespective of whether such SOEs are partially privatised or not. Simply changing CEOs without saying a word about the need for politicians overseeing them – also euphemistically referred to as ‘shareholder representatives’ – to step back and allow properly constituted boards and management to ensure such SOEs deliver real value, instead of constantly extracting it, to South Africans, will not help.

Forever recruiting politically pliable boards and employing new management without honest discussions about the fundamental changes that must happen for real turn arounds to be achieved is a waste of resources and of South Africans’ time.

The changes that are needed are unlikely to happen while the governing ANC feels untouchable, seemingly believing that South Africa belongs to it to do what it wishes with it and despite the general frustration of South Africans over the repeated failures of recent years.

Checks and balances

In the future, all attempted political interference in state tenders must be considered reportable crimes and dealt with as such.

The proposed checks and balances must ensure that officials in various state institutions, especially those involved in procurement, remain open to scrutiny through transparent processes that involve third, independent, parties, under certain circumstances, to ensure that decisions are made only in the interest of the public, not self or political masters.

It would also be naïve to expect politicians to refrain from trying to influence government tenders without pushing harder and faster for absolute transparency in political party and politician funding. The toxic link between party funding and government tenders must not be left unchecked.

Party funding is, arguably, the least discussed evil sitting alongside greed at the source of South Africa’s unhealthy levels of corruption. It is at the peril of our young democracy that we pretend it carries no harm. 

We would be foolish to begin a brand-new decade trying the same, failed, methods and people while hoping for different outcomes.  

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

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