"Go easy on him, his political career in the ANC is finished."
So said an ANC leader to me in 1996 when I pushed for the harshest sanction by the Gauteng Legislature against ANC MPL Oupa Monareng who had been convicted of attempting to bribe a policeman after allegedly being in possession of a stolen car.
The courts gave him a suspended sentence and fined him R3000, but he had also brought the Legislature into disrepute. After much debate, the all-party Privileges Committee suspended him for three months.
He was also fined R3000, but his suspension was really a holiday as the rules did not allow us to stop his pay. Monareng should have slid off into obscurity, but the ANC sent him to parliament in 2004, and chose him to co-chair the committee on the removal of the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Vusi Pikoli.
It would be hard to imagine a more unsuitable appointment.
A convicted criminal sits in judgment on the fitness for office of a man who received the 2008 international prosecutor of the year award.
Monareng's was the worst breach of the MPL's code of conduct, but the sanctions available to us were unfortunately mild. It was essentially a moral rebuke, but was not taken seriously by the ANC.
I have puzzled long and hard as to why the ruling party has so little regard for setting a good example in how its public representatives behave. It's not just the tolerance of criminality, such as the lack of effective action against MPs implicated in the Travelgate scandal. It's also the insensitivity of indulging in lavish entertainment and expensive overseas trips when so many are unemployed and hungry.
There seems to be little appreciation that every unnecessary upgrade or extravagance means less money for better services for the poor.
There's also the coterie of bodyguards that many Ministers and MECs insist on, and the high-speed blue light brigades that terrorise other motorists. Speed limits just don't apply to such self-important people. It's the arrogance of power, but also an entitlement mentality.
The same ANC leader who told me to go easy on Monareng also said that in the early post-liberation phase we needed to be less harsh on those who failed to adhere to the highest ethical standards.
My contrary view was that we should be stricter so as to set the standard upfront. ANC Deputy Chief Whip Bulelani Magwanishe defends Monareng's appointment by saying "the standards that some people advocate are so high that no-one can meet them".
What is so impossibly difficult in avoiding the appointment of a convicted criminal to such a sensitive position?
There seems to be no sense of shame about this at all, but this is probably too much to expect from a party whose senior leaders turned out to bid farewell to former ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni when he went to jail for fraud and corruption.
In self-critical moments, however, the ANC has berated the lack of "revolutionary morality", as when Kgalema Motlanthe declared in 2005 that "the central challenge facing the ANC is ... our cadres' susceptibility to moral decay occasioned by the struggle for the control of and access to resources".
I suspect that the problem with "revolutionary morality" is that it is devoted to the collective, rather than individual conscience. Its end goal is the "National Democratic Revolution" that seeks to control everything by means of party deployments that increase opportunities for the abuse of power.
There is no substitute for individual accountability and responsibility. The path to rectitude is that elected representatives should never forget who put them in office.
It should always be "how can I best serve the people", not "look after me, I'm an MP".
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