Peter van der Merwe
Peter van der Merwe

Time for the ANC to grow up

So the ANC is bleating about what it sees as an “unwarranted intrusion” into the private life of acting President Kgalema Motlanthe — who, it seems, suffers from the Bill and Jacob syndrome of being pathologically unable to keep his hands off women he is not married to.

In fact, that bastion of sense and logic, the ANC Youth League, has gone so far as to accuse the media of waging a “concerted effort” to create a crisis around Motlanthe’s personal and private life. ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu says the “the levels of attack expose the immaturity of media coverage of politics in South Africa, which subjectively and repulsively define leaders of the ANC outside organisational mandate and process.”

Several points come to mind. For one, it is high time the ANC grows up. If anything, Mr Shivambu’s garbled rhetoric exposes the immaturity of a ruling party that can’t take the heat in the vibrant democracy it fought so hard for. And in a democracy, a free press will expose the human frailties of its leaders. Get used to it, or go into gentler pursuits, like creating vast BEE conglomerates.

It’s also a little rich for Mr Shivambu to talk about “the immaturity of media coverage of politics”. In his mind, and that of his masters, a mature press clearly shuts up when elected leaders dip their fingers into places where they shouldn’t. Sorry for you, Floyd. The media doesn’t really give a hoot about the ANC’s organisational mandate and process. All they care about is leaders who are accountable for their own behavior. That’s what a mature media does.

Sure, every politician has a basic human right to privacy. I don’t want to know what Mr Motlanthe had for supper last night, when last Jacob Zuma had a domestic tiff with one of his umpteen wives, or who wears the pants in the Zille and De Lille households (although I have a strong suspicion).

But the moment you run for public office, you should know that you are implicitly binding yourself to a certain moral and ethical code. After all, you are effectively representing a larger body of people and, if you want to lead politically, you must be prepared to have certain aspects of your life held up to scrutiny. In other words, you have to set an example. And if you don’t, you should leave politics.

For a start, let us not kid ourselves for one moment that politicians actually attempt to keep their private lives private. On the contrary. They talk to the media at every opportunity. They pose for pictures, often with their families. They go out of their way to present an image of their private lives. If that image is less than accurate, they are lying to the people who elected them. And if a politician will lie about one thing, why won’t he lie about others? And if so, that is something I am fully entitled to know, Mr Shivambu. Whether you like it or not.

But here’s the real deal about Kgalema Motlanthe’s “private life”. If it is, in fact, true that he has sexual relations with women other than his wife, it says a good deal about his attitudes to women and people in general. Those attitudes — let’s call them exploitative and unliberated, at best — are what informs his every decision as a political leader. Do I want decisions of national import taken by a man who shows a willingness to use people to support his own ego? I don’t think so.

So here’s to South Africa’s media. Long may they act as the conscience of a political class that thinks it can do whatever it likes.