If you have paid much attention to the ANC’s responses to controversies it has been embroiled in (usually due to its leader and current South African President, Jacob Zuma), it should be pretty clear to you that, with the ruling party’s reaction to the Public Protector’s report on the president’s Nkandla compound development, the ANC has left our reality and its claim to power seems to be based on a modern version of the ancient Divine Right of Kings. If your history knowledge is a little limited, here is a refresher. According to Wikipedia:
The divine right of kings, or divine-right theory of kingship, is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm, including (in the view of some, especially in Protestant countries) the Church. According to this doctrine, only God can judge an unjust king. The doctrine implies that any attempt to depose the king or to restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act. It is often expressed in the phrase “by the Grace of God”, attached to the titles of a reigning monarch.
To say Advocate Madonsela’s report is damning is probably an understatement. As Constitutional lawyer and academic, Pierre De Vos commented on The Daily Maverick in his article titled “The president and Nkandla: No ignorance, no bliss”:
President Jacob Zuma has consistently claimed to know little about the taxpayer-funded aspects of the construction at his homestead near Nkandla. As the Public Protector Report on Nkandla makes abundantly clear, the president was intimately involved in (and had extensive knowledge of) the state-sponsored aspects of the construction at his private home. Claims to the contrary are therefore untrue.
The full extent of the Nkandla scandal only becomes apparent when you carefully read all 447 pages of the Report. Although the Public Protector made damaging findings in her Report about the unconstitutional and unlawful actions of President Jacob Zuma and about the improper benefits derived from the Nkandla construction by President Zuma and his family, it is only when you study the full Report that it becomes apparent to what extent the President was directly involved in the scandal.
The Report has triggered new calls for the president’s impeachment and, although I am not holding my breath (the ANC controls a majority in Parliament and will probably block the opposition parties’ efforts to have him impeached), removing Jacob Zuma from power would be the right thing to do. Unfortunately, this is not how the ANC sees it.
General Secretary Gwede Mantashe’s responses to the report are infuriating. On the one hand, Mantashe makes some of the right noises and stated that:
All those people must be brought to book, they must be pursued. And that excludes nobody.
When asked whether the ANC would hold the president accountable for his misdeeds, Mantashe reportedly said the following:
I don’t know who told you the president has not been called to account … or won’t be called to account. You are making a particular assumption.
He reportedly continued with this statement which, to me, is a classic illustration of just how much the ANC conflates itself with government, on one hand, and the people the government is answerable to:
If there are issues that the president will have to answer, the ANC will be able to call the president to answer questions on any matter.
Yes, the ANC should hold its members accountable for their misdeeds as members of that party but this goes far beyond an ANC member simply bringing the party into disrepute. What the president has done is bring this country into disrepute by abusing his position very publicly and at great cost (the Public Protector regards him as liable to the National Treasury for roughly R250 000 000 which is roughly US$ 23 000 000 and which could build a significant number of homes, schools and clinics). He is, first and foremost, accountable to South Africa’s citizens. The ANC is similarly answerable to its voters for at least a decade of misplaced trust.
After essentially saying that this is a matter the ANC will handle as an internal matter, it disingenuously tries to create distance between itself as a political party and its members’ wrongdoing. According to The Daily Maverick’s article titled “ANC on Nkandla Report: A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”:
Mantashe conceded that the ANC was concerned about the negative publicity the Nkandla issue was having on its election campaign. But that did not mean the ANC would drop below 60% in the poll. Mantashe also said the ANC would not apologise for the findings in the report. “The ANC does not have a house called Nkandla. It has a house called Chief Albert Luthuli… If there is a need for an apology, it can’t be the ANC. If need be, it can be from the president or it may be by the relevant ministers.”
So which is it? Is “ANC” just a synonym for “Government of South Africa” or isn’t it? As for its concern about the negative publicity the report may have on its election campaign, it should be concerned. The report has highlighted the most flagrant abuses of power since the arms deal which tainted President Zuma’s administration before it even began.
The ANC generally doesn’t take hard lines on issues which potentially harm it and seems to prefer to have its allies make the controversial points instead (vaguely plausible deniability if you are an ignoramus) and the South African Communist Party rose to the occasion with this gem:
The SACP is extremely concerned at the manner in which the Public Protector has handled this (Nkandla) investigation which, we believe, has compromised certain fundamental principles of justice, fairness and therefore the credibility of the investigation. The use of the media in particular to leak the earlier report and the habit of making comments on an incomplete process have all negatively affected and unnecessarily cast aspersions on the person of President Jacob Zuma.
Instead of a critical assessment of President Zuma should remain in office, we have misdirection and mirrors with disbelief that “the person of President Jacob Zuma” should have aspersions cast about it. It is as if no person should criticise the president, as if he and his party are above reproach. Remember that description of the Divine Right to Kings in Wikipedia? This part stands out, just substitute “God” with “ANC” and “king” with “president” (not an unreasonable proposition if you consider how the ANC responds to criticism of its anointed leader):
According to this doctrine, only God can judge an unjust king. The doctrine implies that any attempt to depose the king or to restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act.
The tragedy is that the ANC’s leadership is more concerned about its own interests to be transparent and act with any real integrity. Instead it relies on slogans, Struggle songs and old allegiances as justifications for ruling, not accountability to citizens or merit.
A greater tragedy is that the majority of its supporters are ignorant of what the ANC really stands for or simply don’t care because it is in power and being in power is all that matters to them. When the party doesn’t perform, its supporters will protest and kick up a fuss but it all seems to be part of a dance. When South Africans go to the polls (well, as many as are willing to go to the effort considering how worthwhile they perceive the exercise to be) in May, they will probably hand the ANC another hefty majority for another five years.
Hopefully they will show their displeasure by reducing the party’s majority a little further away from the two-thirds majority required to legitimately rewrite parts of the Constitution to better suit its agenda. You have to keep hope alive because, without it, you might just realise that this isn’t how truly democratic governments function. At least in our reality.
Image credit: Assembly of Chiefs, Kumasi — Coronation Day from the National Archives UK’s collection on Flickr Commons.