We are about to celebrate Human Rights Day, a day that reminds us of the Sharpeville slaughter, a day that commits us as a country “never again” to repeat such an atrocity. Precisely for this reason, the Marikana massacre will render our Human Rights Day hollow until those responsible — who pulled the triggers, who gave the orders, whose economic interests were served by this mass murder, who held political power at the time — are held accountable. If Marikana spits and stamps on the memories of those killed at Sharpeville as part of the struggle for human dignity and social justice, then Nkandla pisses on their graves.
The Marikana massacre is a stark metaphor for who the “rainbow nation” not only works (an elite, non-racial minority), but also for who belongs to it (certainly not the poor, black, undereducated masses who remain so 20 years after democracy has delivered a few thousand politically-connected millionaires). It is a symbol of a society deeply divided by inequality, now greater than when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first post-apartheid president.
Nkandla speaks to rampant maladministration — whose potential dangers were first signalled by the arm’s deal — that is now manifested even at the very highest levels of our society: in politics, business, civil society, the police and prison services, even within the Independent Electoral Commission. Notwithstanding the ruling party’s empty rhetoric about “continuing to live out Madiba’s values”, and “doing everything in our power to deal with corruption”, the venality, the arrogance and the sheer scale of the abuse of public funds associated with Nkandla, reflect just how far the ruling party has veered from being a vehicle for “a better life for all” to being a ladder in a kleptocracy.
The Protection of Information Act mocks our democracy, preferring silence, self-censorship and genuflection to those in political authority rather than whistleblowing, robust investigation and the distribution of information that empowers citizens, perhaps calling them to action.
The Marikana massacre and the regular slaying of protestors, the widespread corruption and abuse of state resources and censorship are what we knew and would have expected of the apartheid regime. To think that a mere 20 years into our democracy we have come to this, a society governed by a new tripartite alliance of inequality, corruption and anti-democracy. Little wonder then that unions are rebelling, that former stalwarts of the ruling party are distancing themselves from the current shadow of the party’s former self, that once-loyal voters are considering other options.
Yet, notwithstanding its uninspiring electoral lists and the population of these by people with the most dubious records, there are many good people who are members of the ANC (some of who recognised the need to offer alternatives to the current leadership at Mangaung), a party that can count among its ranks a greater critical mass of leaders who can govern at local, provincial and national levels than most, if not all the other parties. The ANC also has more experience of governing at all these levels than all other competing parties and, as the incumbent party in most cities, provinces and at national level, has ensured that there are many government officials loyal to the party.
The ANC may not be with us “until Jesus comes”, but it will wield significant political influence over our lives as citizens for the foreseeable future. Marikana, Nkandla and the Secrecy Act, while having their roots in previous ANC dispensations, have all reached maturity under the current ANC leadership. It is in our interests as citizens, and in the interests of our country, that the current leadership of the ANC be replaced by good people, or at least by people who are better than the current crop.
The most effective way to make this happen is for the ANC to lose significant support at the forthcoming elections. This will strengthen the hands of those within the ANC who seek to replace the current leadership and perhaps rediscover its moral compass and steer the party towards a path more consistent with its liberatory ideals.
I have great sympathy for those who actively decide to boycott the forthcoming election in protest at what our democracy has become, at the less-than-ideal options available at the polls, at not knowing who really owns our political parties because of their anonymous funding. But Marikana, Nkandla and the Secrecy Act will happen again if the current leadership of the ANC remains in power. Not voting in this election will not change that.
I have much less sympathy for those who intend to spoil their ballot in protest. If one wants to make a statement against the political status quo, it would be more effective to hold one’s nose and vote for any opposition party as this will help to create the total number of votes out of which parties will receive their proportion of parliamentary seats. Spoiling one’s ballot may allow for personal catharsis, but it will do nothing to reduce the number of seats of the ruling party or help to correct its current path.
So, do the right thing for our democracy, for our country and for the ANC. Vote for an opposition party.