South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), will hold its elective national conference this December in Mangaung.
Given that the scourge of corruption in the country has derailed the realisation of ideals such as a better life for all and access to justice, it is critical to reflect on the growing culture of corruption and intolerance to dissent within the ruling party.
As an organisation the ANC strived for the realisation of democratic values, but it is these same values that are under threat in the current dispensation.
Divisions within the ANC became apparent after the Polokwane conference and these divisions have fuelled vicious disagreements that have in some instances resulted in violence and even murder.
Although several officials from the time of former President Thabo Mbeki have been found to have misused their power and engaged in corrupt activities, there is a widespread perception that high-level corruption has become more overt and blatant under President Jacob Zuma.
Numerous high-ranking officials within the ANC and individuals working in a variety of institutions have been suspected of corrupt activities, but in most of the cases these officials have yet to stand trial. The integrity of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is called into question regarding allegations of corruption given that this entity has been found to selectively prosecute individuals.
On 17 July the former Mayor of the Rustenburg municipality, Matthew Wolmarans, was found guilty of orchestrating the murder of Moss Phakoe, who was a councillor in the local municipality.
Phakoe had compiled a dossier containing evidence of Wolmarans's corrupt dealings. Prior to his death he had submitted the dossier three times to the office of Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC, but the allegations were not investigated. He also met with President Zuma regarding the allegations, but the matter was considered an internal political dispute rather than a criminal matter that should be settled by the court.
Two days before he was killed he had met with the former minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, and Wolmarans. At this meeting he handed the document to the minister and said to Wolmarans, 'Hurt me, but don't kill me.' Wolmarans and his bodyguard were sentenced to 20 years in jail and life imprisonment respectively, but if the allegations had been taken seriously and Phakoe had been provided with sufficient protection his death might have been averted.
The fact that Phakoe's calls for an investigation into corrupt activities implicating the former mayor and his cronies were ignored by those in the top echelons of the ANC is a poignant example of how corruption, specifically involving those seen to be loyal, is condoned in the party. This raises questions about the integrity of the current crop of leaders.
The issue of the integrity of individuals holding powerful positions has again come to the fore in the case of suspended prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach.
At the time of her suspension by the NPA, Breytenbach was the regional head of the specialised commercial crimes unit and had relentlessly pursued the corruption case against former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
Breytenbach took the NPA to the labour court in an urgent bid to have her suspension lifted. Judge Hamilton Cele dismissed her case, noting that, 'The applicant has not shown the existence of any extraordinary or compelling, urgent circumstances to justify a final declaration of the unlawfulness of her suspension.' However, Cele went on to state that the proceedings in the dismissal challenge had demonstrated that if the NPA was to exercise its right to discipline her for the charges she had been suspended for, it may actually be 'flouting' and 'frustrating' the investigations ordered by the North Gauteng High Court into the suspension of Mdluli, in which Breytenbach would likely be 'vital'.
The judge further noted that, '[i]f she is found guilty and dismissed, she will be handicapped from utilising the tools of the trade that she might need in these investigations' and, 'the justice sought to be striven for in the matter of General Mdluli would have been seriously compromised'. This gives some credence to her assertion that her suspension was meant to deter her from charging Mdluli.
Connected to the issue of corruption is a culture of intolerance and impunity that is splintering the party. The implication of high-level officials in the assassinations and attempted assassinations of whistle-blowers and other dissenters is a worrying trend in the political culture of the current administration.
In 2010, there was an upsurge in politically motivated killings in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga with some of them linked to corrupt 2010 Soccer World Cup tender awards. The media has also reported that political intimidation is especially rife in KwaZulu-Natal.
There are many other examples of abuse of power and the failure of the current administration to hold those responsible accountable. The culture of corruption and impunity within the ANC is worrisome and it is crucial to expose these practices in the interest of guarding the ethos of democracy and accountability.
Increasingly, it is becoming clear that those institutions that have the responsibility to hold every citizen accountable, including the political elite, have failed in the case of the powerful and the well-connected, who disregard the rule of law without regard for the possible consequences. This has contributed to undermining the effectiveness and legitimacy of a range of social and legal institutions.
In the long term, the erosion of the legitimacy of a range of institutions such as the police, the NPA and others will be an obstacle to the consolidation of democracy and the strengthening of these entities.
A vibrant democracy with robust institutions is pivotal to the betterment of the lives of all South Africans, particularly the poor, and when such institutions fail in the realisation of their mandate the ideals of equity and justice aspired to in the constitution are under severe threat.