Bayanda Mzoneli for ANC Deputy President 2022
South Africa

The allegations limbo: where careers of the uninnocent go die

In Catholic tradition, the purgatory “is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.” Catholics maintain that, “because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.

The ANC and, since it claims to be a microcosm of society, the society, is in a transition. For most of the post-1994 period, as the cancer of unethical conduct continued to grow within the ANC, and society. The multicultural nature of SA society meant that there were, and still are, gray areas in which there was no universal agreement, and by extension condemnation, of certain types of conduct.

This problem was compounded by that unethical or immoral conduct was subject to subjective lenses employed by the ever changing factions within the ANC, and their, wittingly or unwittingly, accompanying media sympathisers.

As a result, for most of the time, the cancer worsened. The only universally accepted determinant of misconduct were formal tribunals internal to organisations, or the courts of law. As long as a person was not convicted, they were innocent and could be treated as innocent no matter the allegations against them.

But as things got worse, and with it the condemnations, a combination of factors conspired to mark a turning point. For the ANC, the 53rd National Conference in 2012 took a decision to establish an integrity committee. For society, cancel culture got to SA shores. Though differently applied, and by different actors, both these mean that a conviction by a court of law, or a formal organisational tribunal, is no longer the only determinant of guilt or innocence of one.

Cancel culture has resulted in people losing their ability to earn to a living, or having such ability diminished. An allegation is made, followed by outrage, outrage leads to action by either employers or business associates of the accused. While it might have its place as an instrument of accountability, cancel culture does not always have the sense of proportionality. The consequence does not always match the alleged transgression, it usually errs on the side of disproportion. It also tends to no have clear nor fair process of verifying the veracity of the accusation. The other effect of cancel culture is eternal punishment, with little to no opportunity to serve a time-bound punishment or rehabilitate and repent.

For the ANC, the process that was intended with the establishment of the integrity committee continues to evolve. The 55th National Conference in 2017 further refined a decision on leaders having to step-aside when criminally charged.

Most of these developments are perhaps necessary to pull society back from the direction it seemed to be headed. But as it often is the case, in SA the pendulum tends to swing too far from end to end.

There is a growing category of people whom after the allegations are made against them are left in the equivalent of a purgatory, where they are neither innocent nor guilty. Often they are also not on trial in any court of law nor organisational disciplinary structures, meaning they do not have an imminent possibility to have the allegations against them tested so that they are cleared or convicted. In this state of being uninnocent, they are condemned to eternally suffer, since prospects of earning a living are diminished, as anyone who associates with them may be accused of overlooking the allegations against them. This allegations limbo is populated by people from everywhere, including politics, business, government, unions, etc.

But unlike the souls in the purgatory, no one can atone for the people who are in the allegations limbo. Some are permanently condemned to remain in it for the remainder of their lives. Their careers are dead. Even those who might be eventually cleared, after a lengthy stay in allegations limbo, would still be regarded as uncouth by those who may doubt the process that cleared them.

Some allegations may start as harmless office or social media gossip, and grow into newspaper headlines, that force the hand of those the accused is associated with. The accused has no practical means of responding to the allegations. In the eyes of many, they will remain guilty until, they die.

For disambiguation, there are those who deliberately escape justice, by resigning from organisations or institutions that have the possibility to adjudicate on their innocence or guilt moments before the process is instituted. Most of the people who do that do not deserve any sympathy, with a few exceptions where the adjudication process would have been unfair or had a predetermined outcome.

Of course matters such as these are of little concern to most people, until the day allegations, founded or unfounded, eventually engulf them. Some of those who are lucky enough to never have such a misfortune may never have an opportunity to truly reflect on the matter, including considering how things could be done differently to lessen the suffering of those who encounter the misfortune of being in the allegations limbo. Instead a few of them will continue to mercilessly lynch those whom against allegations are made.

Sometimes the lynching is worthwhile, particularly where allegations are of serious transgressions such as rape and gender based violence, where public support may aid victims. But other times, the lynching, without verification is undue.

Hopefully, as societal ethical and moral suasions continue to evolve, society will soon get to the equilibrium that will depopulate the allegations purgatory, and the accused can either be cleared and get their lives back or be convicted and serve the sentence proportionate to their transgressions.

Bayanda Mzoneli is a public servant. He writes in his personal capacity

NB: This article first appeared on City Press on 21 November 2021 –

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