Protest Watch

Anti-corruption marches, an opportunity not to be wasted

Picture of the future?
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The anti-corruption marches this week, or maybe later, offer South Africa a unique opportunity to reunite as a nation and are an opportunity not to be wasted.

Nothing, as the liberation struggle on both sides of the divide at the time has proven, unites people better than a common enemy. There are clear signs that in the crippling phenomenon of widespread corruption across a multitude of societal formations, the organisers of the marches have identified a new common enemy.

The breadth and depth of the coalition of civil organisations, across many other divides, coming together to take part in the effort in a way unprecedented since the advent of South Africa’s democracy in 1994, testifies to this. It also points to the development of a new national vision of building a better future for all.

There are also signs that this spirit is developing on a wider scale. Something of that was present in the fact that education trade unions, which are otherwise far apart in terms of special interests and philosophy, joined forces in the dispute over the administration of the Annual National Assessment tests (ANAs) in schools.

Sadly, politicians, from Minister Angie Motshekga to the Democratic Alliance (DA) as official opposition, failed to identify this new reality. It is turning out to be a missed opportunity to create a platform for cooperation across interest-group divides and to put school-level education on a new improved trajectory.

If something similar is going to happen with the anti-corruption marches, it will not merely be a mistake, but a huge tragedy. And, as we reported last week, could also turn into a disaster.

Delay

At the time of writing there was still uncertainty about whether the marches, now planned for 30 September, will again have to be postponed for another 14 days, to ensure a National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) certificate, turning it into a ‘protected strike’, is in place.

Also not known at the time of writing, are the reasons why Nedlac has insisted on the 14-day delay.

The certificate, applied for by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) as one of the anchor organisers of the marches, will ensure that members who take part are exempted from possible disciplinary action by their employers.

It is important to remember that the marches are not only aimed at corruption in government and/or state structures but also at the “other side of the coin”, the private sector.

Hopefully Numsa has it wrong when it claims that it is “convinced that Nedlac has been captured by forces within and outside government opposed to the march, by using technicalities to undermine and sabotage it”.

Now is not a time to hide behind petty “technicalities”, but rather to recognise the opportunity to turn things around by creating a broad national dialogue towards building a better future. In fact, it could make a huge positive contribution towards such a dialogue if organised business should urge its members to voluntarily give employees permission to participate in the marches.

Government reaction

For some time now the governing African National Congress (ANC) alliance has been talking the talk of fighting corruption. Implementation, however, has been extremely thin on the ground and reactions to reports from institutions like the Public Protector are sending out contrary signals.

To be fair, lately there seems to have been an uptick in steps like suspensions and investigations on the bureaucratic management front. However, follow-through in terms of harsh sanctions have been spotty at best and holding political functionaries responsible, just about non-existent.

In the unhealthy, almost incestuous, relationship between political party and state administration and the clash of interests in the relationship between government and trade unions under alliance rule, the scene has become immensely complicated.

There are forever wheels within wheels. Clashing interests within the alliance and ever-present power struggles, for instance, had a huge influence on how Minister Motshekga and the Provincial Ministers of Education dealt with the dispute over the ANAs.

Add to this the fact that, at this stage anyway, President Jacob Zuma’s end of his two unsynchronised terms as of head of state and as leader of the ANC, is fast approaching, and it becomes even more complicated. Talk is rife of succession battles, power struggles between competing factions and jockeying for positions of influence.

On top of this also comes the contamination of unintended consequences of the special relationship between members of government and particular business interest, best illustrated by the constant controversies surrounding the Gupta family.

Against this background it is probably to be expected that party, or even factional, interests will mostly enjoy preference over broad national interest.

It can only be hoped and prayed that government, in the case of the anti-corruption movement, has some contingency plans in place not only to manage the marches but to capture its energy to place the national debate about the future on a new positive trajectory of renewed hope.

If not, the country must prepare itself for an increase in the kind of protests experienced last week at Magatle in Limpopo where people dug a trench across a major arterial road.

by Piet Coetzer

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