Sunday, March 1, 2009



Sunday Times Editorial
Feb 28, 2009

The list of the ANC’s top 100 candidates for parliamentary seats, which was released this week, underlined yet again the ambiguity of the party’s policy on corruption.

On the one hand, we have ANC president Jacob Zuma promising clean government, with zero tolerance for corruption and strict adherence to performance targets, and on the other we have the nomination of convicted fraudsters and failed administrators at the top of the party list.

As we report elsewhere in the paper today, this year’s election will be decided by a new breed of voters not steeped in the history of the struggle for liberation.

They are looking for leadership that will make the best of South Africa’s many possibilities in a challenging, modern world. And they are not willing to condone corruption and incompetence in recognition of unwavering party loyalty.

Because the leadership of most parties is dominated by political veterans, the values of an age now past tend to dominate the nomination processes. The result is the election of a cohort of candidates increasingly out of touch with the needs and character of our 21st-century society.

The ANC’s election manifesto makes the fight against crime and corruption one of its five priorities for the period to 2014. It declares unequivocally: “Corruption must be stamped out.” Yet, the top 100 nominations include Zuma, who still has to stand trial on 18 main charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was given a suspended jail sentence for using ANC paraphernalia to defraud a bank; Mnyamezeli Booi, who is on trial for alleged fraud involving parliamentary travel privileges; and former MPs Bathabile Dlamini and Beauty Dlulani, who were fined in a plea-bargain arrangement with the state for misrepresenting private holidays as official travel and forced by their party to resign their seats.

Also on the list are Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, whose term as health minister constitutes probably the greatest iniquity of Thabo Mbeki’s curtailed presidency, and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who has failed so spectacularly to rebuild the Department of Home Affairs.

To nominate these party stalwarts for responsible office is an insult to voters — and a blunt contradiction of Zuma’s pledge this week that public servants who fail to perform will be dismissed.

The ambiguity is not confined to the current ruling party. The Congress of the People, which claims to oppose all the worst traits of the ANC, this week offered Alan Boesak — who served a jail term for fraud involving the personal use of international development aid funds intended for children and victims of the apartheid police system — its candidacy for premier in the Western Cape.

The same party is willing to also put Peter Marais, a political buffoon who was once a spectacularly incompetent Cape Town mayor, on their list for parliament because he is perceived to command a few votes.

With the possible exception of Madikizela-Mandela, who might be ruled ineligible because of her record, these people are not barred by any law from seeking election.

Being eligible for office does not mean being suitable, however. In the modern, functioning democracy that this year’s first-time voters are entitled to expect, these people should be out of the running simply because they are not fit and proper candidates to represent the nation.

Boesak served his time in prison and received a pardon, so his record is now clean. But that does not mean he is the right man for the job of premier. Actions have consequences that, short of that which constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, must be borne.

Political parties owe it to those they purport to serve to nominate leaders who are capable, caring and honest. Instead, they continue to rank candidates according to the length and loyalty of their service to the party. And we are offered a selection of often tainted party hacks whose party records are mistaken for competence.

Young South Africans who will go to the polls for the first time next month do owe a debt to the men and women who liberated them from the appalling tyranny of apartheid. The government has failed miserably in 14 years of freedom to properly secure the comfort and dignity of those who fought for our liberation with prompt and adequate pensions, housing and medical care.

But seats in parliament and the cabinet are not an appropriate retirement plan for struggle veterans.

The clear-eyed new electorate wants leaders with energy, integrity, intellect and a genuine will to serve. Whether they are poor and unemployed or the emerging middle class of tomorrow, they deserve no less.