When silence is a betrayal


“There comes a time when silence is a betrayal”, Martin Luther King Jr immortally remarked.

With the continuing testimony by a number of ANC functionaries at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry, it becomes clear that state capture was facilitated to a great extent by the initial capture of the ruling party. The admission by former minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi that under Zuma, the ANC NEC was paralysed, is quite revealing. For the ANC to continue insisting that the party is not on trial at the commission is disingenuous. The factional dynamics of the party are also at play with those with a new-found conscience to spill the beans pitted against those who see the commission as a spanner in the wheel and thus label it as a “gossip” and “poetry” forum.

It would therefore be naive to characterise the likes of Pravin Gordan, Mcebisi Jonas, Barbara Hogan, Ramatlhodi and others as national heroes and heroines as they only chose to come out when they were cast out of the party inner circle. In his testimony, Ramatlhodi even confessed to having offered to “guard” Zuma and had his overtures rebuffed. It can be argued that his spilling of the beans is not motivated by any national interest but owes to his snubbing. On the other hand, the likes of the native formerly known as Jimmy still insist that the Guptas were the best thing that happened to South Africa since Madiba. Testifying at the commission, former government spin doctor, Mzwanele Manyi, came across as someone who believes the Guptas still have a meaningful role to play in South Africa and that they are unfairly targeted.

Manyi’s supporters in characterising the commission as a gossip forum include the Ekurhuleni Executive Mayor, Mzwandile Masina, who it will be remember prior the Nasrec conference had vowed he would resign in the event Cyril Ramaphosa won the ANC presidency. He has since had a change of heart propped by the privileges of office. Another supporter in this bashing exercise in Andile Lungisa who was convicted of assault for hitting a fellow council members with a glass jar during a fracas at the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. Should he not be in jail? Completing this rogues’ gallery is Tony Yengeni of the waBenzi fame who was convicted of fraud for his arms deal role.

The common thread that runs through the testimony of most witnesses is that they were mostly ostracised during the Zuma years and can be regarded as having an axe to grind with the former president. It is clear the Gupta state project divided the ANC right down the middle with those who put up some resistance bearing the brunt of ostracism. However, they chose silence over speaking out to safeguard their own privileged positions and remain in the party.

Writing about Albert Geyser, the Afrikaner theology professor and Dutch Reformed minister who was defrocked for refusing to biblically justify apartheid, political analyst Prince Mashele asserts, “true virtue is not when a man defends his own interest, but when he endangers his life in defence of others.” Gordhan and others placed their own interest and those of their party first before those of South Africans. Through their silence they allowed malfeasance to fester. This silence is what emboldened Zuma to outsource his executive powers to the Guptas ensconced in the knowledge that his comrades in the ANC would close ranks.

The efforts of Gwede Mantashe to try and defend the integrity of the ANC in the face of testimony to the contrary, will not wash with most South Africans. The ANC and not only Zuma, committed the ultimate betrayal by selling South Africa to the Guptas and thus has no integrity left to speak of. As for those who were complicit with their silence, it would be worth cramming the words of Martin Luther King Jr when he said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

As we head towards the 2019 elections, South Africans must never forget.

Nathaniel Lee is a social commentator with  a keen interest in educational and political issues.