Time for ANC members to speak out when democracy is at stake by Denis Goldberg (Sunday Times), 17 April 2016
Members of the party can no longer follow party orders to remain silent on Nkandla, writes Denis Goldberg
Dear Comrade Secretary-General
It seems to me that the demand from the national executive committee for silence in the ranks of the ANC is precisely the attitude that paved the way for the leadership, the NEC itself, the working committee, and the top six to allow our party to slide into disrepute.
Silence in the ranks might give the appearance of our movement "closing ranks", but it amounts to condoning the failure of all our elected representatives to uphold and defend the constitution.
Now you call on us to keep quiet again. What we need, comrades, is openness. Why should we be afraid of frank discussion about dishonesty in our ranks at the highest level?
Many rush emotionally to accept the president's belated apology. Yet, all his actions in response to the public protector's report prior to the Constitutional Court hearing were to ignore that report or attempt to sidestep it. "I did not ask for the improvements. Why should I pay?" the president publicly declared.
Our minister of defence then misled parliament by stating that the president's private homestead is a national keypoint and therefore was not subject to public scrutiny.
Our minister of police also generated a report rejecting the findings of the public protector.
Other representatives concocted unconvincing explanations for what were clearly not improvements of the security features of the homestead. No one was deceived by these attempts to evade the public protector's report. Please note that the president did not distance himself from these misleading statements. By his silence he approved of these actions ...
The president himself instituted court actions, at the taxpayers' expense, to avoid paying for the non-security upgrades to his home and, in the process, undermined one of the most important constitutional defences of our democracy: the public protector as an institution. As president, his office obliged him to defend that institution. As a citizen, it is that institution that secures his (and all of our) rights against government abuse, and he ought to defend it.
In the conflict of interest between himself and the state he consciously chose to favour himself. That was improper conduct. His decisions to oppose the public protector's ruling constituted an ongoing series of wrong decisions over several years. This was not one isolated incident.
The ANC parliamentary caucus misguidedly voted to exonerate wrongdoing by a member of our party, our ANC. I hope they now feel some remorse for that embarrassing error, which was a clear and conscious abuse of power to defend "one of our own" regardless of principle.
We who tried to raise questions on various matters employing the movement's own internal communications channels, "keeping it in the family", were ignored and not even given the courtesy of replies to our complaints. Our well-intentioned adherence to discipline, I now believe, in reality served the unenlightened, greedy protection of self-interest.
It is time to speak out, comrades! The democracy we fought for is at stake and our silence severely compromises our movement by implicating it in ill-advised, self-serving options chosen by the president.
There was a time when the ANC held the moral high ground. But we are now repeating an error committed by parliament before. State funds were misused in the "Travelgate" scandal and then our MPs voted to exonerate themselves. Now you want us to keep quiet as you exonerate what were conscious and deliberate abuses of power at the expense of our democratic principles.
Comrades, take note, the guarantor of our democratic freedoms are the Chapter9 institutions; bodies empowered to interrogate government actions and offer the citizen an avenue for redress. That does not imply that they are infallible! But that is why the constitution makes provision for such decisions to be appealed and reviewed!
I, too, call on the president to do the morally right thing ... We are called upon to rebuild the reputation of the ANC and our movement. We cannot pretend it has not been seriously damaged in the recent past. So, President Zuma, save us the continued embarrassment by standing down.
I believe our supporters will respond positively to a principled rejection of dishonourable and illegal conduct and the restoration of the ANC's reputation. Comrades, that demands new leaders who have not been utterly discredited.
A disciplined veteran comrade,
Denis Goldberg (Accused No3 in the Rivonia Trial)