Quote of the week

Universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll is one of the foundational values of our entire constitutional order. The achievement of the franchise has historically been important both for the acquisition of the rights of full and effective citizenship by all South Africans regardless of race, and for the accomplishment of an all-embracing nationhood. The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity.

Justice Albie Sachs
August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3
8 December 2006

Does Mbeki think corruption is a problem or not?

In his letter from the President, Thabo Mbeki today blasts the newspapers who publish stories of corruption about ANC leaders. President Mbeki refers specifically to the story published last week in the Sunday Times that hinted that cabinet ministers such as Naledi Pandor was involved in corrupt dealings involving Gautrain.

He points out that this story is sensationalistic and, let’s admit it, wrong. He then concludes that “the most outrageous untruths” about the ANC and its members’ involvement in corruption is published because of a racist mindset prevalent among many in South Africa.

I have in the past made the point that a central and permanent feature of the racism experienced by black people over many centuries has been the stereotype that as black people we are inherently amoral and corrupt. Thus some in our country and elsewhere in the world know it as a matter of fact that our government is bound to be amoral and corrupt.

Because of this, it is very easy successfully to market all manner of deliberate falsehoods about the ANC and our government, counting on the stubborn persistence of an insulting stereotype to give credibility to the most outrageous untruths.

President Mbeki does, of course, have a point. One only has to listen to phone-in programmes on the radio to know that for some among us (as the President would say) the ANC or by extension black people are terminally corrupt because of the colour of their skin.

This is a master narrative that seems to be deeply embedded in the DNA of some South Africans and I think newspapers often, without even knowing it, pick up on this and make scandals where none exist. The Mail & Guardian has in the past published “scandal-type” stories that did not seem to contain any scandal at all.

The problem is, however, that corruption in government (but also in private business – think about Bret Kebble) does occur and is often exposed by the newspapers. In fact, almost every week there are new stories in the papers about councellors stealing money or giving contracts to friends and family and those implicated hardly ever bother to deny the specifics of a story.

Instead they often vilify those who expose the corruption, calling them racists or alleging some dark conspiracy, only to be proven wrong later. Recal Tony Yengeni who took out a full page add in the Sunday Times claiming that the allegations against him was a racist plot only to find himself behind bars.

I always check on the response: did the ANC leader or official deny the specifics of a charge or did he or she merely heap abuse on those making the allegations? Jacob Zuma, for example, has NEVER denied the specific allegations against him. He only proclaims his innocence and blames the media and dark forces.

It is far too easy for President Mbeki to point to one mistake by a newspaper and then to imply that all allegations of corruption against the ANC and its leaders are based on racism. It’s a good high school debating strategy but surely the President of a country should do better.

What about Oilgate? What about the recent funding scandal about the ANC’s investment company who was awarded several government tenders. Not a peep from the President about these issues, perhaps because these are not as easily dismissed as the stupid Sunday Times story.

President Mbeki’s position is also inconsistent because only last week he railed against people joining the ANC to get positions and contracts – the worst kind of corruption which is often exposed by the media.

It seems to suggest the most troubling mindset: if one is the leader of the ANC one can berate those in one’s party for being corrupt, but if a newspaper exposes corruption it is inevitably because of a racist agenda. Once again, it sends a signal that the party is more important than the people.

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