Voices of reason have found courage to criticise

15 November 2012 - 02:39 By Brendan Boyle
Brendan Boyle
Brendan Boyle
Image: The Dispatch

An optimistic view of the American election last week is that it signalled the end of the ugly polarisation driven by the Tea Party movement and the beginning of a return to rational government or opposition based on facts rather than hatreds.

If this is true, they still have a long way to go to undo the damage wrought by the fundamentalist Republicans who probably still think Barack Obama is a Muslim mole who rolls out his prayer mat in the garage after everyone else has gone to bed. They will continue to doubt the details of his birth and to hate everything he does just because he does it.

But the voices of reason on their right wing do seem to be taking their defeat as an opportunity to question the influence of those that even conservative analyst Michael Barone called "wackos, weirdos and witches".

Analyst and thinker Fareed Zakaria said in his CNN slot this week that he saw a repudiation of many of the sacred tenets of the extreme right about things such as rape, abortion and same-sex relationships.

"I hesitate to build a grand narrative out of all this, but the trend seems to be toward individual freedom, self-expression and dignity for all," he said.

People like Karl Rove and Donald Trump, who were so convinced by their own analysis that they could not accept even the slender 2.5% majority that went Obama's way, will continue to believe they were somehow robbed. But other Republicans are already concluding that their beliefs now represent a minority view in a kinder, more generous America, and are looking for ways to stay in the game.

On a simplistic level, I'd like to see the Republican Party disintegrate, but that would just be schadenfreude. Much better for that country - and because of its influence, the world - would be for the voices of reason drowned out by the fundamentalist howl of the Sarah Palin crowd to regain control and support a thoughtful, bi-partisan campaign to rescue the world's biggest economy.

Is it possible something similar is happening here? That is the optimistic analysis, but one resting on growing evidence, I think.

Thabo Mbeki was not the first former leader of the ANC to speak out, but his decision to break his silence on domestic politics and government was hugely important and, knowing the man insofar as we do, probably carefully considered.

"I must state that I have prepared this lecture deeply troubled by a feeling of great unease that our beloved Motherland is losing its sense of direction, and that we are allowing ourselves to progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis," he said in an Oliver Tambo memorial lecture at the University of Fort Hare.

"I, for one, am not certain about where our country and nation will be tomorrow and what I should do in this regard to respond to what is obviously a dangerous and unacceptable situation of directionless and unguided national drift," he said.

On Friday, we had writer and academic Njabulo Ndebele worrying in a speech in East London that the country had become lost in a frenzy of self-enrichment.

In September, ANC intellectual Pallo Jordan, who was on the frontline of the struggle when many of those claiming to lead the party now were still at school, sounded his own alarm about the group that is being allowed to claim leadership of the party and the country.

"The elective conference that the ANC holds at the end of the year must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership core that has the will, the moral courage and moral standing to take on the task of clearing corruption," Jordan said in a lecture to mark the Bhisho massacre.

"The perception of permissiveness in the ANC is because so many of our leaders and members are implicated in corruption," he said.

Perhaps most significant both because of his reputation and because the piece was run on the ANC Today website, was a critique by Joel Netshitenzhe.

"We need to challenge the notion that, where we have failed, it is because of the constitution and thus turn a blind eye to weaknesses of capacity, unbecoming conduct and sheer indecisiveness," he wrote.

"However, as this happens, the ANC needs to distinguish itself from the rest by not merely hanging onto the coat-tails of Tambo and invoking the history of the struggle. It should eloquently articulate the vision to which society should aspire. It should demonstrate its capacity to lead in the implementation of that vision, display ethical conduct and respect for public resources, and pursue unity in its ranks."

These are just a few of the voices of reason suddenly finding the courage to make themselves heard.

Many of the ANC's newly emboldened critics are people who, though not party activists, come from the struggle community and would be inclined to support the main agent of our liberation.

One such is Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza, who put his finger on the South African version of the Palin phenomenon that so damaged the Republican Party in the US when he wrote recently: "We face leadership that has raised mediocrity to a status of virtue.

"Our political leadership's moral quotient is degeneration. We have a duty to build and develop this nation and to call to book the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity, cannot deal with the complexity of 21st-century governance and leadership, [who] cannot lead," he said.

Woken perhaps by the corrupted morality that defends the squander of so many millions on President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla compound, and former defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu's habit of flitting about in chartered jets to avoid the inconvenience of business class, the rump of the once great ANC seems to be stirring. We just have to hope it is not too late.

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