It’s an age-old dilemma: what do good people do when the powerful movements that they cherish
demand they do bad things?
There is often incomprehension at the fealty that the ANC continues to command.
“When will the scales drop from the eyes of the true believers? When will ANC voters vote with their minds and not their hearts?” goes the refrain. But the ANC’s critics mistakenly conflate two distinct groups: ANC members and ANC voters.
ANC voters have indeed deserted the party, as the party’s sagging election turnout numbers attest.
ANC adherents, like the supporters of any strongly ideologically based movement, find it difficult to walk away. Their identities are so tied to the cause that to sever ties is simply inconceivable.
The ANC does not accept lightly anything less than the unswerving faith of its top members, but apostasy, although not punished by death – as it was in early Christianity – comes at a price. Those who won’t obey unquestioningly, who publicly doubt edicts, or think the constitution outranks the party, get short shrift.
That the costs can be incredibly high are made clear in two recent books by ANC stalwarts. Themba Maseko, former head of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), and Ivan Pillay, a former top official in the SA Revenue Service (Sars), tell harrowing tales of the personal and professional costs that political excommunication entails.
In his book, For My Country, Maseko traces his lifelong commitment to the party, until he made the mistake of refusing to facilitate the state looting of Zuma and his cronies, the Gupta clan.
The Unlikely Mr Rogue recounts, through the eyes of his wife, Evelyn Groenink, Pillay’s commitment to the ANC from boyhood to eventually help set up the world-class compliance systems that made Sars a bulwark against the rape of the state coffers during the Zuma years.
The trajectories of these two men are compelling. Stripped of ideology and doctrine, it’s about an age-old dilemma: what do good people do when the powerful movements that they cherish demand they do bad things?
Maseko joined the struggle at 13 and operated as an underground activist during his school and university years. In 2006, he was made CEO of GCIS and the following year he was dispatched by Zuma to the Gupta’s compound.
When he refused instructions to divert the government’s entire advertising budget to the family’s media company, he was forced to leave. It almost destroyed him.
“I became a professional, political and social leper,” he writes, “shunned by friends and enemies alike.”
Pillay’s alienation traces a similar path. His honest approach to corruption made him the target of a massive smear, as running a criminal “rogue unit”. He and his colleagues were forced out of Sars and took years to clear their names.
Maseko says he will always love the ANC. Pillay also still appears to be a true believer.
While the values embodied in the ANC’s lodestar elders are gone, “perhaps the North Star can be dusted off. It may be a bit grimy but it has not disappeared”.
SA needs the political equivalent of the Reformation that upended Christianity. It needs a Luther-like figure who, instead of fawning over the presidential signet ring, will nail an alternative vision to the Luthuli House door.