By MPUMELELO MKHABELA in Sowetan Live
SOMEWHERE in the Pacific Ocean there is an island called Papua New Guinea. It is populated by tribes called Wantoks, a pidgin version of "one talk" or people who speak the same language.
Francis Fukuyama, the American philosopher, has written about this island in his tome, The Origins of Political Order. Papua New Guinea, Fukuyama observes, has hundreds of mutually incomprehensible languages.
Most citizens of the Papua New Guinea highlands have never left the small mountain valleys in which they were born.
Their lives have revolved around the wantok populated by each tribe, in competition with other neighbouring wantoks.
The Wantoks people are led by a Big Man. No one is born a Big Man, nor can a Big Man hand that title down to his son. Rather, the position has to be earned in each generation.
The title falls not necessarily to those who are physically dominant, but those who have earned the community's trust, usually on the basis of ability to distribute pigs and shell out money and other resources to members of their tribe.
The Big Man must constantly be looking over his shoulder, because a competitor for authority may be coming behind him. Without pigs to distribute he loses his status.
If the Big Man, according to Fukuyama, can get elected to parliament, he uses his or her influence to direct government resources back to the wantok, to help supporters with things like school fees and burial costs.
From the standpoint of many foreigners, Fukuyama writes, this behaviour looks like political corruption. But from the standpoint of the island's traditional tribal social system, the Big Men are simply doing what Big Men have always done: to redistribute resources, including pigs, to their kinsmen.
The net result is that Papua New Guinea is now worse off in terms of development than it was under Australian colonial rule.
The people of Papua Guinea are enjoying an empty shell of freedom. They have failed to sustain democratic institutions.
Generation after generation, citizens of Papua New Guinea are socialised into the politics of influence peddling through the currency of the pig. It is easy to laugh about this country and ask: what kind of citizens give so much political weight to an otherwise filthy animal? Well, it's classic pork barrel politics.
Key societal decisions, including the election of political leaders, are dependent on the distribution of patronage.
The politics of pigs look literally too far from the southern tip of Africa, where our Republic is situated. But the truth is that the politics of pigs are increasingly dominant in our country. You could swear we are playing catch-up with Papua New Guinea.
We have our own pig transactions. Simply replace the word "pig" with "bribe", then you realise the extent of the rot.
We may not have reached the point where an individual or a political party can bribe a large part of the country to keep a government position. But we are getting there. We seem to be travelling that road faster than we realise.
In fact, it is already happening, albeit indirectly. The ANC is used as a middle man or a political merchant organisation through which the patronage transactions are done. One does not need to prove their worth in terms of the values they stand for in order to be elected to positions of power.
All that people and their groupings do is structure deals to enable them to milk state resources once a member of the group has taken over power in municipal, provincial and national government.
Judging by concerns raised by the ANC about the conduct of its leaders and factions, there is no doubt the politics of the pig have infected the ruling party.
The party's organisational renewal document makes some interesting observations to this effect.
Under the sub-heading "subjective weaknesses", the document states that the political life of the organisation revolves around "permanent" internal strife and factional battles for power.
This strife is about the "contestation for power and state resources". It has nothing to do with how to implement policies of the party. This situation, the document says, has shifted the focus of the ANC members away from societal concerns and people's aspirations.
"These circumstances have produced a new type of ANC member, who sees ill-discipline, divisions, factionalism and infighting as normal practice and necessary forms of political survival," the document says.
The document advocates "drastic measures and consistent action" against these negative tendencies to "restore sanity and root out anarchy".
What the document does not say is that ordinary citizens are affected by the desecration of state institutions.
The poorest of the poor, the most in need of a capable and compassionate state, are now victims of a state that has basically been goggled out by the politics of pigs.
Like the ill-discipline in the ANC, the strange conduct of our political leaders in abusing state institutions and threatening the Constitution has become "normal".
And when some leaders are told they are a "strange breed", they threaten those who speak the truth, all in an effort to suggest that our political situation is the best, it's "normal".
This kind of behaviour finds its expression in all corners of our society.
And so when Corruption Watch releases statistics that show that one in four Joburg drivers have been asked for a bribe by the city's cops, this is met with denial.But dig deeper, and you will find that the denial is not genuine. The authorities are just surprised that someone sees anything wrong with what they regard as "normal"