“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’
But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”-Martin Luther King Jr.
I usually do not subscribe to the notion that ours is a sound and functioning democracy. Hence I wouldn’t even involve myself in the ‘constitutional’ questions raised against the current seating head of state and his executive. However, I have become compelled to, this time around. And my point of reference is the question of President Jacob Zuma adhering to the remedial action stated by the Public Protector Report on Nkandla.
The question of Nkandla and particularly the President’s response to it, reflects the moral makeup and state of the South African Executive. A while ago, in response to his erstwhile party’s scathing attack on an interview he made on SABC. Black Consciousness firebrand and former EFF MP, Andile Mngxitama raised an issue against the now prevailing culture of unaccountability and maintaince of conspiracy silence on matters of principles and morality. This culture has eroded our sense of what’s right and what’s not, so much that even the higher echelons of the ruling party has remained mum on the questionable transactions involving Nkandla. This extends beyond Nkandla as it includes the Marikana Massacre, where the executive’s complicity was also left unaccounted for.
But what has caused this erosion? It is the elevation of expediency over of a sense of what’s right, the relegation of conscience to make way for political convenience. The President and his executive have deliberately ignored the moral questions surrounding the Nkandla issue. The logic driving this refusal is one undergirded by not complying with actions supported by the opposition parties. Complying with the Public Protector’s report will be tantamount to cowing to the pressure off EFF’s #PayBackTheMoney campaign. What is however perplexing about this political stance of the African National Congress’s and it’s deployed executive is its constant lamentation that the Democratic Alliance seeks to rule the country via the courts, thus reversing the democratic gains achieved since 1994. This is perplexing because the ANC as the self-proclaimed arch-heroes of the ’94-miracle claim to love this democracy so much that it is willing to undermine and tear-down the democratic institutions that form the basis of this very same democracy. To paraphrase Slavoj Zizek, with ‘friendly’ defenders like this, our democracy needs no enemies. The political expedience that comes with defying political positions supported by either the EFF or the DA is necessary than the moral legitimacy of complying with the Public Protector’s remedial action.
Yet for me, this political fundamentalism obscures the correct moral standpoint of the #PayBackTheMoney. It misses the opportunity to create a culture of transparency and accountability, which will go a long way in protecting this democracy the ANC so much claims to love and regards as its brainchild. In his Notes towards the Definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot remarked that “there are moments when the only choice is between heresy and non-belief – i.e., when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split.” This is the position in South Africa today. Only a new ‘heresy’ – represented at this moment by #PayBackTheMoney– can save what is worth saving of the 1994 legacy: democracy, respect for the people and public resources , accountability etc.
In conclusion, President Zuma should stop side-stepping a moral question of when and how is he going to adhere to the Public Protector’s remedial action by continuously reducing it to an administrative issue through raising technicalities. Rather he ought to do something that is neither safe for him nor politic for his party but one that is right for this country and democracy.