Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-03-05 Reporter: Editorial

One Comrade, One Company



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-03-05



Web Link


One comrade, one BMW; one comrade, one tender.
Bugger the grassroots; scramble for the boardroom
Tear off the T-shirt; put on the pin-stripes

Ten years on, how the African National Congress chant has changed. This week, we delve further into the heart of ANC Inc to reveal the extent of business involvement of the ANC Youth League. It is an investigation that has taken many weeks to reveal the maze of corporatism that is now the league.

Financial services, mining, forestry, property ... there is hardly an economic sector the young comrades of the ANC have not done, or at least tried to do, a deal in. Such entrepreneurial zeal would leave the likes of Richard Branson gob-smacked; though we dare to think it must have the league's progenitor Anton Lembede, who is the memory behind Lembede Investments, the league's holding company turning in his grave.

Whereas Lembede, Oliver Tambo and the other leaders of the youth league spent their time driving campaigns to make politics mass-based, their successors have presided over an era of unprecedented turn-off from organised politics by young people.

It will not affect the ANC in this year's election, but come the 2009 and 2014 elections, their lack of attention to the detail and strategy of politics will be sorely felt.

Politics aside, for that is a matter of interpretation, what else is wrong with the youth league's corporatist deviation?

The league's secretary general Fikile Mbalula said this week that he is acting in his personal capacity. It is a rationale that comes up again and again. It is used to explain how ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe and treasurer general Mendi Msimang moonlight as oil traders with the secretive businessman Sandi Majali. It is used to explain why ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama is also part of a consortium vying for big deals.

The argument is that the ANC leaders are also citizens free to do business; that to query their shareholdings is to encroach on private space. This is nonsense, because they are also leaders and paid officials of the ruling party. Business leaders are not lining up to do business with them because of their acumen with a balance sheet, or knowledge of the oil industry, or ability to run a mine.

Their attraction lies in their tantalising proximity to power; in their perceived ability to swing a tender; in their knowledge of how the ANC works and thinks; in their ability to get a feisty policy softened.

That a wily party like the ANC cannot see what is happening is equally gob-smacking; but quick profit often blinds people to principle. The ruling party needs to get right out of business; its officials must choose between business and politics they cannot have them both.

A carrot and stick approach could work. For democracy's sake, we need to give serious thought to following the social democratic models of funding political parties in more wholesome ways.

And the stick: political parties and their office bearers should be barred from business to get back to the trenches.

Why they had to crush Aristide Jean-Bertrand Aristide was re-elected president of Haiti in November 2000 with more than 90% of the vote. He was forced from office on Sunday by people who have little in common except their opposition to his progressive policies and their refusal of the democratic process. With the enthusiastic backing of Haiti's former colonial master a leader elected with overwhelming popular support has been driven from office by a loose association of convicted human rights abusers, seditious former army officers and pro-United States business leaders.

It is obvious that the characterisation of Aristide as yet another crazed idealist corrupted by absolute power sits perfectly with the political vision championed by President George W Bush. Though this is not to ignore his failings in office: his corruption and use of militias to fight his battles.

The vilification of Aristide has been carefully prepared by repeated accusations that he rigged the elections in 2000. But an exhaustive and convincing report by the International Coalition of Independent Observers concluded that "fair and peaceful elections were held" in 2000 and, by the standard of the presidential elections held in the US that same year, they were positively exemplary.

A major reason for the vilification of Aristide is that he never learned to pander unreservedly to foreign commercial interests and stuck to his guns over wages, education and health.

He remained indelibly associated with what's left of a genuine popular movement for political and economic empowerment. For this reason alone, it was essential that he not only be forced from office but be utterly discredited in the eyes of his people and the world.

As Noam Chomsky has said, the "threat of a good example" solicits measures of retaliation that bear no relation to the strategic or economic importance of the country in question. This is why the leaders of the world have joined together to crush a democracy in the name of democracy.

Guardian Newspapers 2004

With acknowledgement to the Mail and Guardian.