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The ANC’s Integrity Commission – Agent for Change or Shameless Election Window Dressing?

The ANCs Integrity Commission

The ANC’s Integrity Commission – Agent for Change or Shameless Election Window Dressing?

South Africa loves a good Commission.

The Zondo Commission is a prime example.

It took over four years, 300 witnesses, 3 170 summonses, 8 655 530 pages of documents and approximately R1 billion worth of taxpayer’s money to investigate and report on allegations of State Capture, corruption and fraud in the public sector.

Eventually, in a damning series of reports, multiple incidents of state capture were revealed to have taken place within South African government departments and state-owned enterprises during the presidency of Jacob Zuma.

And yet, despite proving that many senior officials routinely broke the law, and making recommendations for the prosecution of close to 1 500 key players, very few have ever been arrested, tried, or imprisoned for their crimes.

Clearly undeterred by this spectacular lack of tangible results and a complete absence of any kind of return on investment, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula recently announced the establishment of the Integrity Commission with all the enthusiasm of an excited toddler brandishing a new toy at Christmas.

I can’t be the only one thinking that the timing of this development is suspicious, to say the least. And yet I’m sure it’s merely the first in a series of credibility red flags that will ultimately surround the Commission.

2024 marks the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections. It also happens to be the year of national and provincial elections in our country.

ANC supporters will say a lot has changed since April 27, 1994. Opposition parties will counter that much of that change has not been good.

Raw data by the Social Research Foundation (SRF) puts electoral support for the current governing party at a shade over 45%. This corroborates the results of several other polls, including some by the ANC itself, that predict national support for the party will fall below 50% for the first time during next year’s elections.

What to do, what to do…?

Aha! Let’s introduce another Commission! That’s sure to swing the pendulum back in the ANC’s favour.

And so, the Integrity Commission was born.

The ANC has said it believes the Integrity Commission will play a crucial role in sanitising the ANC’s image leading up to the 2024 elections.

An interesting thing to say, don’t you think?

Not “The Integrity Commission is a show of our commitment to rooting out wrongdoing by government officials once and for all.” But rather, “We need to do some heavy-duty window dressing so that we look squeaky clean in the run-up to the elections because we need voters to love us again.”

And to add to the general air of WTF, Mbalula goes on to say, “We can no longer protect wrongdoing. We have been through shielding and protecting each other, but now we have mechanisms in place as a party to deal with wrongdoing should any one of us be implicated.”

So, he happily admits that there has been “shielding and protecting” in the past. No shame, no apology, no accountability. Just a casual admission and a vague promise not to do it again.

Sadly, I have absolutely no faith that this latest promise will be kept any more rigorously than any of the others in what is a depressingly long list of broken commitments.

If you cast your mind back to when Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as the leader of the ANC in 2017, you may recall he stated, “Corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment and inequality” and that “we must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks.”

Six years later, we’re dealing with the consequences of more corruption and abuse of office than you can shake a stick at.

So, forgive me if the establishment of the Integrity Commission, and yet another promise to take action against corrupt individuals, doesn’t fill me with much hope.

The past few years have shown that certain members of the ANC are experts at making the right noises at the right time, but not so great about actually following through on any of it.

As Ismail Momoniat, Acting Director General of the South African National Treasury, says, “The worst legacy of state capture is that it not only changed the culture of the public service …. but weakened the ability of the state to make and implement decisions.”

And if the government is pinning all its election hopes on the feel-good factor of the establishment of the Integrity Commission, it may be in for a rude awakening.

Voter apathy – particularly amongst South Africa’s younger people – is at an all-time high.

A study by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change revealed a concerning trend of low and declining turnout among young voters in the 2021 local government elections.

According to the study, 90% of the 18- 19-year-olds who were eligible to vote for the first time in those elections, didn’t even register. The figures are only marginally better – just under 20% voter registration – in the 20- 25-year-old age group.

Yet in the over-40 age group, voter registration was over 90%.

This could well be attributed to the fact that, after 30 years of so-called democracy, the “Born Free” generation is completely disillusioned with the performance of a party with which it has no personal historical link.

For Tebogo Moalusi of Rise Mzansi, 2024 represents the new 1994.

“Things must change,” he says. “We have run out of time and the real question we must ask ourselves is: What is the cost of doing nothing? That, for me, is a scary prospect. We cannot wait until 2029 to try again. By that time, things would have deteriorated so badly that it will be difficult to turn the ship around. That is why 2024 is our 1994 and bigger.”

Many older voters, on the other hand, steadfastly continue supporting the party they see as having liberated them from the atrocities of Apartheid.

And yet, generally, support for that very party has never been so low.

Sadly, as much as I desperately want to believe initiatives like the Integrity Commission will be successful in helping to eliminate the corruption that has become endemic in South Africa, I find myself feeling significantly more cynical.

Does anyone really think another toothless commission will change anything? Do we really believe this is anything other than a thinly disguised way to hide corruption even more efficiently thanks to the Commission being allocated an official budget?

This is not just the opinion of a tired, disillusioned and frankly gatvol white man.

South Africa’s opposition parties have also expressed their scepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Commission, accusing the ANC of not having acted against corrupt officials in the past and being more concerned with protecting its own interests than actually serving the public.

And yet, supporters of the Commission remain defiant in the face of its critics.

Its chairman, party stalwart Frank Chikane, said, “We can’t have an integrity commission just for the sake of it. Mbalula, like any other party member, must know even as the party deploys them, that if you do wrong, you will be held accountable. The ANC will defend its integrity and not defend its members.”

The 2024 elections will be the decider. Will voters see enough to convince them to give the ANC another chance, or will they vote with their feet and support the opposition?

I for one am desperately hoping sanity will finally prevail and that the trees will at last stop voting for the axe simply because it has a wooden handle.