ANC ‘step aside’ resolution will not make any difference - Businesslive

Mar 28, 2021
28 March 2021 - As I write this, I have no idea — though you do, now — of the outcome of the weekend meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) of the governing ANC.

Michael Morris

As I write this, I have no idea — though you do, now — of the outcome of the weekend meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) of the governing ANC.

This was a key moment, the point at which — as Shirley de Villiers wrote in the Financial Mail last week — “the ANC is set to finally make a call on its ‘step aside’ resolution — the decision that party members should relinquish their positions if they are facing charges, or their names are tainted by accusations of corruption”.

I can’t shake the feeling that, whatever the outcome — even the best possible, principled, outcome — it won’t matter.

I would go further and say that, unfortunately, the apparently well-meant efforts of (yet another) broad-church collective of anxious defenders of the democratic project — the Defend our Democracy initiative — won’t matter much, either.

Both the NEC decision and the at least interesting democracy initiative suffer from the same affliction; an unquestioned assumption that governing party policy is central to SA’s salvation.

We can kid ourselves that slightly cleaner government, and a slightly cleaner governing party, will make a difference. It won’t. It likely risks only preserving — or, worse, deepening — what is actually wrong.

This is not to say that the ANC is incapable of changing. But the mistake appears to be that too many imagine the party is incapable of overstaying its welcome because its ideological fundamentals are beyond doubt, for there are no alternatives.

Many thought the same in the 1980s of an earlier custodian of racial nationalism — and it held true for the National Party until, suddenly, history determined that it, too, had overstayed its welcome. The moment of crisis, then, was policy failure, and there is no reason to think the same is not true today.

Being invested enough to sign a public document asserting the virtues and importance of constitutional governance is, of course, indispensable to sustaining a free and stable society that cleaves to the rule of law.

But a sense of the misplaced confidence in preserving the broader nature of the state and the ANC policy that defines it is hinted at in the curious phrasing of the warning to justice minister Ronald Lamola by Defend our Democracy signatory the Rev Frank Chikane that democracy was threatened “because people don’t want to go to jail”.

We know what he means, sort of. But no criminals “want to go to jail”. It shouldn’t matter what they want; it’s not up to them to choose.

But beyond the hint of timorousness on the cracking-down-on-corruption front, what about the really serious policy threats to SA’s future as a stable, successful constitutional state? Will Defend our Democracy speak up on the Expropriation Bill, part of the ANC’s long-standing drive to strengthen state power against citizens?

Here is a measure that threatens all property (not just land or buildings), and, though claimed to be aimed at advancing “land reform”, does not address the fundamental requirements of much-needed reform, both in countryside and city — chiefly, extending property rights to those denied them in the past.

Will Defend our Democracy speak up about black farmers being denied title — a tragic perpetuation of past errors pointedly highlighted by the government’s own assessment, which referred to “recent policy shifts (that) appear to default to some of the key repertoires that were used to justify the denial of political and property rights for black people during colonialism and apartheid”?

If not, public doubt in the democratic project will fester, and with good reason.

• Morris is media head at the Institute of Race Relations.

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