21 YEARS AFTER "FREEDOM :" SOUTH AFRICA'S CANCER OF CORRUPTION AND 'CULTURE OF CONCEALMENT'
By Danny Schechter. Editor, Mediachannel.org
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA: Twenty one years after Nelson Mandela walked free, corruption has become the issue du jour in South Africa.
Even president Jacob Zuma who narrowly slithered out of a corruption trial before his election is blasting corruption in the ranks of the African National Congress which came to power as the morally superior alternative to an apartheid regime that shamelessly used the wealth it controlled to benefit Afrikaners and deprive the black majority of services.
"Let's make a plan," were the code words members of the all white National Party used to scheme ways of stealing state resources to benefit themselves, a cozy reality overshadowed by the vicious racial policies that outraged the world.
As the ANC prepared to win power democratically, there was concern among leaders that a deprived black majority might feel it was "their turn" and thus, their right to cash in on their political victory. Some of their leaders would soon be adopting the deceptive language of making "plans" as well.
On election day in l994, while millions were at the polls, I sat in the empty ANC Headquarters board room, in a building once owned by Shell Oil, and interviewed the late Joe Slovo, an ANC leader, a lead negotiator and former head of the movement's military wing, who worried even then about the dangers of his comrades seeking to profit personally.
"If we are seduced by the fleshpots," he told me for the film, Countdown to Freedom, that I was making on the election, "we will be finished."
Fast forward to 2011, in the post Mandela and Mbeki era, and Slovo's fears are now an acknowledged problem turning into a crisis that is splitting the ANC into factions and adding tensions to its long term alliance with the COSATU unions and the Communist Party.
While the ANC's Youth League is demanding nationalization, its leaders like Julius "Juju" Malema have reportedly been on the take, profiting from what Archbishop Desmond Tutu called "the gravy train." While they play the blame game seeking nationalization of the mines, youth unemployment skyrockets with youth leaders not making that a priority.
COSATU's chief, Zwelinzima Vavi, has been speaking out against a "predatory state on its way to becoming a banana Republic." He denounces those who use the "levers of the state" to enrich themselves with high salaries, fancy cars and juicy government tenders/contracts that has led them to be ridiculed as "tenderpreneurs."
In several high profile cases, top ANC leaders moved smoothly from politics to the private sector without flinching an eye. They took care of their needs and their comrade cronies. Upward class mobility displaced racial justice as their key concern. A leader of the mine workers in the fight against apartheid now runs McDonalds. Others became CEO's of conglomerates and investment groups.
While individual corruption is pervasive with a former National Police Chief found guilty of having been in business with a Mafioso gangster, and former ANC Defense Minister implicated in a multi-billion dollar arms deal with lots of illegal commissions and payoffs that have yet to be prosecuted, there are deeper institutional issues that are even more worrying because of what South Africa's great writer Njabulo S. Ndebele calls a "culture of concealment," the antithesis of transparency and accountability.
"The desire for and its concomitant culture or concealment are now spreading throughout the body politic, partly through proposed concealment legislation, partly through a militarized and brutal police force, partly through the patronage of cadre deployment, partly through the willingness of the voter to keep hoping, and partly through official self-righteousness in which truth is equated with government pronouncement."
Mamphela Ramphele, a black power activist in her youth turned respected academic and World Bank official, fears that "South Africa's young democracy is much more vulnerable and at greater risk than established Middle Eastern countries." She blames the failure to transform South Africa's educational system that has "left our young people at the mercy of those promising quick fixes."