OPINION | ANC branch chairs cannibalising own ‘masses’

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu
Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu
Image: Alon Skuy

We have, sadly, become used to political leaders being callow, deceitful two-faced liars who fill their boots at the expense of the poor people they claim to represent. It is a 21st century reality.

We laughed at the time, but some of us are reminded of that former Mpumalanga premier, Ndaweni Mahlangu, when confronted about appointing three dodgy MECs to his provincial cabinet back in 1999, said – without any shame or irony: “It is acceptable for politicians to lie”.

So last week the Gauteng ANC – which loftily told President Jacob Zuma in the run up to the 2014 election that he was so scandal-soaked and so ethically challenged that it would be best for him to steer clear of the province because he would cost the party voters – elected Qedani Mahlangu as part of its provincial executive committee.

Everyone now knows Qedani Mahlangu. Despite the howls of protest from her officials in the provincial department of health she, as the then Gauteng MEC, went ahead and moved hundreds of patients from certified mental health facilities into uncertified, unregistered and inadequate facilities, some of which were private homes.

Patients died – 144 of them. Some died of neglect. It was so acute that some of these patients died of hunger and thirst.

Some were abused.

Mahlangu blamed everyone but herself.

Yet it is this person who the ANC has re-elected to a position of power and responsibility.

Now, it is not David Makhura, the ANC provincial chairperson, or his deputy Panyaza Lesufi, who appointed her to the provincial executive committee.

It is ordinary ANC delegates from branches and regions of the ANC across the province who lobbied for her and elected her last weekend.

This distinction is important.

Earlier this year President Cyril Ramaphosa – on one of his power walks in Soweto – went walking down the street with Qedani Mahlangu by his side.

Now this was not shocking to see. It may have been sad and disappointing, but it wasn’t shocking. He is a political leader. They bend that way, mostly, these political leaders. Expediency is part of the game.

But the people who voted for Qedani Mahlangu last week are the real ANC.

They are the branch chairmen and secretaries. They are the “masses of our own people”.

They are the ones who, every five years, go to ANC conferences and tell the likes of Jacob Zuma or Ramaphosa where and how they are going wrong.

They are the ANC.

Their vote for Mahlangu sends a clear message: we will put a party leader far above the needs of the society we live in. We are about one of our own and not about the people.

That message is clear and unambiguous.

One can buy the “well, Brian Hlongwa is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” story because it has some inkling of truth in it.

But in the case of Mahlangu you just have to read former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s damning summation in his Esidimeni hearings last year and there is no doubt whatsoever that Mahlangu deserves no role in leadership.

We should stop making a distinction between the good ANC and the bad ANC. The rot is too deep, too ingrained within the party.

The so-called good ANC is just the lesser of two devils.

The good ANC is the ANC that does not even think twice before voting for a person such as Qedani Mahlangu.

It is the same ANC that voted Mduduzi Manana onto the ANC national executive committee just two months after he was convicted for beating up two women.

It is the ANC that voted for Zuma in 2007 and 2012 despite knowing he violated his friends’ daughters.

Indeed, if you really want to get ahead in huge parts of the ANC, it seems, then you have to show that you are ready and willing to behave scandalously.

The lesson from the Gauteng ANC’s election of Mahlangu is that the snake is not just rotting from the head down as it did under Zuma. A huge chunk of the body of the organisation is rotten and wants to continue in such a fashion.

It is simply mind-boggling that any decent party would vote for a Qedani Mahlangu to its leadership corps.

Yet the ANC just did.

I don’t think any message could be clearer.