(Written March 2014)
It has been suggested that systematic corruption thrives on organisational weaknesses in which the perpetrators can exploit conflicting incentives; discretionary and monopolistic powers; and a culture of impunity. And it can be seen that in some societies systematic corruption has become the norm; while in others, when (for personal gain), the political leaders of that society are prepared to take the government down that slippery slope, the general population has been able to reject this influence and opt for ‘clean administration’.
It is not clear to me what it takes for a population to rid itself of systematic corruption when it is at such a watershed…, just as it is not clear to me whether or not a sufficient number of honest members can presently be found in the ANC to counter the systematic corruption that has been encouraged by the Zuma administration.
It was while reading extracts of the Public Protector’s report on how the South African president had managed to spend over R200 million from the public purse on his private home at Nkandla that I was reminded of another leader who, also through an insidious system of patronage, had rebuilt his family home with “his accumulations in office”. The thing that reminded me of Sir Robert Walpole (1676 – 1745), the ‘First Minister’ of Great Britain, was paragraph 6.35.1 of the Nkandla Report; a section detailing minutes of meetings to show how Zuma had lied about his not knowing how any of it came about. And the minutes that caught my eye were those in which the president’s personal architect, Minenhle Makhanya, “indicated that he was advised by the President that the households to be relocated (to make way for the expanded Zuma homestead) ‘is waiting for a family member to arrive before relocation can take place’”, and later, that “(Zuma) had requested to be informed about the delay in their relocation from the site”. These minutes were noted not because they provide yet further evidence that the South African president was lying, but that this was not the first time the little guys had been moved away because they spoiled the view from a grand house.
In 1722, then at the height of his powers, Robert Walpole had the original Village of Houghton demolished…, to make way for the lawns that were to surround his lavishly rebuilt home, Houghton Hall. In the BBC series, A History of Britain, Simon Schama can be seen next to the stone marker that shows where the original village had been located, certainly since 1086. And what links these two events in my mind is that in both cases they reflect an astonishing arrogance on the part of the owner of the mansion. Was it not enough that these men had helped themselves to obscene amounts of public money to serve their self-interest, to live in excessive luxury, and to make a grand show of their personal power? Did they really have to rub it in by getting rid of the little guys? See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JidE-4k3Io
Of course, Walpole’s political power did come to a sad and lonely end when, in 1742, he was pushed out of office. The sycophantic network he had created vanished into thin air but by then he had made a significant contribution to his country. He had stabilized a nation exhausted by war and the travails of royal succession. He really did lead and allowed for the development of the first modern parliament. Under his watch, Britain prospered as never before and the words “Rule Britannia” took on a meaning that spawned pride, nationhood, and prosperity. Zuma, on the other hand, has presided over a shrinking economy in which the personality of the country’s president is a very bad joke. The dancing, smiling, beguiling president of South Africa offers no leadership, nor does he instil confidence in the people who are at a political crossroad. Worse, there is a very real danger that the Zuma legacy may well be that of systematic government corruption in which the ANC’s Protection of State Information Act will play a pivotal role in keeping future presidents out of jail… unless there are sufficient numbers of good people in the ANC to put an end to this abuse of power.
The critical question at this time in South Africa, is whether the membership of the ANC has what it takes to return to its ideals and to elect a President who does not need to spend millions on lawyers to keep him/her out of jail? Does the membership of the ANC have what it takes to elect a President who does not give his/her friends special privileges to land their private aeroplanes at the country’s military airbases, and a President who does not have the arrogance to push the little people off the land…, as an expression of personal power?