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Pallo Jordan’s exit: Cutting off our thingamajigs to spite our watchamacallits

Pallo Jordan’s political self-immolation is tragic. To lose him from Parliament and the ANC’s influential national executive committee, following his exposure by the Sunday Times as lying about his academic qualifications, is a blow for the country.

The conventions of political honour – an oxymoron if there ever was one – demand an abject apology and, having misled the electorate, that he resigns his parliamentary seat. Instead Jordan appears, whether through shame or pique we do not know, to be withdrawing entirely from public life: he has resigned from the party and on the convenient grounds that he did not deliver his weekly contribution, he has been fired as a columnist by Business Day.

That is tragic. Not because the nation is deprived of the ‘intellectual’ that the media labels him to be. South Africa has a surfeit of so-called intellectuals, including former president Thabo Mbeki and the entire front bench of the South African Communist Party – historically the ‘brains’ of the ANC – and look where that’s got us.

Jordan’s departure is tragic because he is a decent man with a common sense political approach that has been largely unconstrained by ideological straitjackets. He is a democrat who has consistently placed principle before party obedience and race loyalty.

Those are qualities in short supply in today’s ANC, especially following the absence from the fifth democratic Parliament of the likes of Ben Turok, Max Sisulu, Kgalema Motlanthe and Trevor Manuel. The Zuma ANC is a morally challenged institution and it is a sad irony that the departure of Jordan for an old lie – ‘a 30-year Faustian bargain‘ is how he described it – will increase, not decrease, the ANC’s ethics-lite quotient.

Whatever the personal vanities that caused Jordan to claim non-existent academic qualifications, including a PhD, there is no compelling evidence that he benefited financially from his lies. Face it, there is plentiful evidence that the ANC is not overly concerned about academic credentials in making appointments – President Jacob Zuma, a man with only the most rudimentary schooling, was chosen by the ANC as the party and the nation’s highest leader.

It is a wan and naïve hope that Jordan’s resignation sends out a powerful message on accountability, which will somehow shame the ANC into behaving better. The ANC, it should be clear by now, has no skaam.

One needs look no further than Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s chief operating officer, who lied about passing matric and thus lacks the most basic academic qualification nominally necessary for the position he now holds. Not only is he hanging on to his lucrative job – his salary increased from R1.5-million to R2.4-million this year – but the SABC board is appealing the public protector’s ruling that Motsoeneng should be replaced within 90 days.

The Zuma ANC is scandalously corrupt and entirely unrepentant. Zuma himself is in the sixth year of doing nothing much other than fending off maladministration actions against him and his ministers. The self-imposed absence from the corridors of power of Jordan, the only ANC national executive member who was publicly and unsparingly critical of the spending on Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, removes one of the few remaining voices of conscience in the ANC.

This is not to argue that Jordan’s lies should not have been exposed. Nor that there should be no consequences to his lies. But the schadenfreude at his fall is distasteful and the moral absolutism of a baying media mob that sees his exile from public life as somehow being fitting punishment is ludicrous.

And after all, at the most banal level, the ANC needs all the brainpower it can hang on to.

Take this week’s announcement by the government that it has ‘put on ice’ a nifty little device that makes stunningly simple and hygienic the process of male circumcision. The target was to use the device in 4.3-million circumcisions next year.

Not only does male circumcision reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV, but when performed ineptly as part of coming-of-age rituals causes the annual hospital admission of hundreds of initiates, dozens of whom die or have their penises amputated.

The health ministry’s move is based on a call by the ANC’s alliance partner, trade union federation Cosatu, for a boycott of all Israeli products and the device, inconveniently, is an Israeli invention.

I think it’s called cutting off your thingamajig to spite your whatchamacallit. With the likes of Jordan gone, expect to see more of it.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • William Saunderson-Meyer

    This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.