Original values can safeguard 'new' South Africa against any Zimbabwe option

31 January 2008

Willem Landman
Chief Executive Officer
Ethics Institute of South Africa

We have to bring our consumer patterns in line with the demands of sustainable development and respect for nature. In that way, unforeseen good can come from existing ills.

Three books, which I read during the holidays, deal, in turn, as it were, with our past, present and future.

Such a time perspective can help one to come to grips with the mess of events – the ANC’s Polokwane conference, the trials of ANC president Jacob Zuma and police commissioner Jackie Selebi, and the energy crisis.

In his book The state vs Nelson Mandela, Joel Joffe, then the attorney of the Rivonia accused, sketches events behind the scenes during the Rivonia trial.

What is striking is the moral bankruptcy and, at the same time, the evilness of aspects of the apartheid state.

Everything was thrown into the fight to undermine the accused through underhandedness. One reads of physical wants, eavesdropping, cooption of the media and the nastiness of the state prosecutor, Mr Percy Yutar.

Against this stand the moral values of the broad freedom movement, personified by its leaders at the time – Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu.

They placed high ideals and values for the building of a good and just society above self-gain and self-enrichment.

In that process, they were prepared to make enormous personal sacrifices. They repeatedly sent the advocates for the defence into directions that placed their own lives at risk for the sake of the moral values that they wanted to see materialising in society.

We find the moral values on which a good society can be built in our history. There are the social values of the Freedom Manifesto, which eventually found expression in our Constitution – a deeply ethical document, which lays down the value building blocks of our society.

Moreover, there are the personal values of integrity and service delivery exemplified by individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi, Koos de la Rey, Emily Hobhouse, Cecilia Makewane, Nelson Mandela and others.

The second book is Andrew Feinstein’s After the party, which gives us an unsettling moral insight, from the inner circle, into the transformation of the ANC from a freedom movement to a political party. In particular, he raises questions about alleged large-scale corruption with regard to the arms transaction.

The current power-delivery fiasco makes the arms transaction even more unsettling, because, in 1998, arms and, thereby, the interests of the party and certain advantaged individuals were chosen above infrastructure and the general interest.

Wonderful democratic commitments to transparency and anti-corruption were stranded on the rocks of the arms transaction.

Here and there, someone is accused, but we do not know the truth of the larger picture. Although the ANC has launched an investigation, it will lack credibility unless it is the precursor an independent commission.

In short, Feinstein shows us how the ANC’s handling of the arms transaction stands in sharp contrast to the moral and political values of its own tradition, as exemplified by the Rivonia leaders.

The third book is Peter Goodwin’s When a crocodile eats the sun, in which he describes his visits to his country of birth, Zimbabwe, particularly the farm occupations and the country’s disintegration under President Robert Mugabe.

When one reads of the power failures and infrastructural collapse in a country that, in many respects, was a model for Africa, one cannot but ask whether this can also happen here.

Our country’s decisions, however, are not in the hands of a certifiable despot, and our democratic institutions and civil society still stand firmly against the abuse of power. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and what will happen is partly in our hands.

There are bad signs, such as the ANC’s party-political attacks on the Scorpions and the media. And is the power crisis perhaps the tip of the iceberg of creeping disintegration of the infrastructure in health care, education, roads and law enforcement?

Even a few months ago, the current chaos and scrabbling for emergency plans to deliver electricity could have been prevented. To be caught, besides all the other woes, by wet coal is like sitting with the proverbial Biblical lamp without oil.

The economic crisis that is consequently facing us would have caused any respectable government to fall, and managers in the private sector would have been fired.

We cannot afford to rely on plodding ministers, such as Mr Alec Erwin, minister of public enterprise. He must make room for someone with the necessary expertise and skills. In that way, we shall follow a different path to that of Zimbabwe.

Appointments and empowerment in the engine room of Eskom and other state institutions must occur within the confines of the requirements of the task in question. In that way, we shall avoid the Zimbabwe option.

Our government leaders must return to the moral values that gave rise to our Constitution.

Those values are in tune with the building of a good and successful society through unselfish, honest service.

Each one of us also has a duty to contribute solutions, even if we feel that we have to protect ourselves, because others have let us have it.

We have to adjust our attitude and bring our consumer patterns in line with the demands of sustainable development and respect for nature. In that way, unforeseen good can come from existing ills.