The real tragedy in the Limpopo book scandal is how those accountable, both at national and provincial level, have arrogantly refused to take responsibility and resign. This is a classic failure of ethical leadership. The injustice and wanton disregard meted out to these children does not require any person with integrity to be persuaded to do the right thing and resign.
To characterise the crisis as a “shame” is to fudge the issue. It is a matter of criminal neglect.
The question is why was the situation allowed to deteriorate to this level? Why did the parents, school-governing bodies and teachers not raise the alarm bell earlier? The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has raised serious concerns about the poor level and quality of support received from the department of basic education. Workbooks constitute a critical element of such support but they have been silent about the crisis in Limpopo!
Another question is why the ANC showed paralysis on an issue central to its strategy of social transformation, poverty reduction and inequality?
On a basic level it comes down to the political governance and accountability structures we have built into our democratic dispensation. Building a society underpinned by good democratic values and governance takes time and effort.
Political accountability is a critical value entrenched in the Constitution and on a basic level we need to ask whether our electoral system has served us well on this question. Under the current system, the ability of citizens to elect representatives of their choice and hold them accountable is limited. The ruling party must show strength and the political maturity to urgently open the issue of changing the electoral system for discussion.
The ANC has consistently demonstrated that maintaining cordial relations with their alliance partners, including Sadtu, is more important than its responsibility to make difficult decisions and respond speedily and effectively to national challenges.
There’s a sense of relief that the ANC has finally recognised the sad reality that it’s facing a “crisis of credibility” and that decisive action is necessary to “reverse the negative tendencies eroding the political integrity and moral standing of the ANC among our people”.
The biggest obstacle to the ANC’s ability to honestly and decisively face this daunting challenge is the debilitating alliance partnership that handicaps and renders the party ineffective at critical moments — when difficult decisions are needed.
The alliance structure was a brilliant strategy for the single objective of defeating apartheid and replacing it with a democratic dispensation. Now that the ANC is the governing party, the need for strategic and policy flexibility required to deal with multiple national challenges is not possible under the current alliance structure.
The organisational renewal envisaged in the 2012 policy discussion document represents a giant leap of faith, but history does not provide us with confidence that its intentions will be achieved. The alliance partnership will always remain a hindrance to effective decision-making. The ANC must reposition itself as an effective governing party, totally in command of its brand image and policy-making mandate to achieve the vision of its organisational renewal plan.