No honour in South African politics

Jack Bloom says the shadow of scandal is no obstacle to high office in the ANC

NO HONOUR IN POLITICS

I am always slightly amused that members of parliament and provincial legislatures are officially addressed as “Honourable”. Very nasty things are said in debates, but are always directed to “the Honourable Member”.

It’s a convention that keeps a degree of decorum in the house. But politicians are often very dishonourable.

This is especially so when they refuse accountability when caught doing wrong. It’s extremely rare in our politics for politicians to resign swiftly once they are caught out. The typical pattern is to deny or give poor excuses until eventually they are booted.

We therefore get the bluster of Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi after abusing his government credit card. He is totally shameless even after admitting that he has paid back R120 000 irregularly spent on this card.

This includes the inexplicable purchase of a painting at a McDonald’s restaurant. If he had any honour, he would have resigned long ago. And if his party bosses had any honour he would have been fired long ago.

At the ANC’s policy conference, Gauteng provincial secretary David Makhura called for all ANC members facing disciplinary charges to “step aside until processes have been completed”.

Yet days later he insisted that action on Mmemezi would only be taken after it was considered by the ANC’s integrity committee. Integrity should be an internal value and not need an enforcement committee.

The ANC invariably gives the impression that prominent figures will be forced to resign or be fired only when evidence and pressure is overwhelming. Its Northern Cape chairperson John Block was recently re-elected overwhelmingly despite facing charges of fraud and corruption.

The shadow of scandal is no obstacle to high office in the ANC as proved by the election of Jacob Zuma as President. Former Youth League leader Julius Malema now says that Zuma seeks re-election because otherwise he is afraid of going to jail.

Even conviction doesn’t deter popularity, as when Tony Yengeni got a hero’s send-off when he entered jail after being found guilty of accepting a bribe related to the arms deal. He was cheered by Ebrahim Rasool, the then Western Cape Premier, Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete and then Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

The signal given is that the only thing wrong with corruption is getting caught. This is why the ANC is pushing the Protection of State Information Bill which will criminalise possession of state documents that could expose corruption. It’s also why Zuma has tried to pack the prosecuting authority and police intelligence with loyal friends.

The tragedy is that Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane started off so promisingly when she insisted on the resignation of Agriculture MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko. The scandal was that she had taken her newly purchased official car home before it was insured, and then it got stolen.

To her credit, Nkomo-Ralehoko said “I sincerely regret this incident and apologise to the people of Gauteng”. Mmemezi has done far worse, but Mokonyane is now less secure in office so his political demise will be delayed. The real test will be whether he is comfortably redeployed or prosecuted for his misdemeanours.

Jack Bloom MPL is DA Leader in the Gauteng Legislature. This article first appeared in The Citizen.

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