First off, let me admit, that I have no choice but to believe that the answer to the question in the title is: yes.

It’s an article of faith.

Who can live in a world where the bullies and thugs, the greedy and manipulative, the powerful and the arrogant have won so decisively that it is pointless to hope – and perhaps work – for an alternative?

Who would dare raise children in such a world?

Or bother to get up in the morning?

In a post titled “A church so broad belief is optional” I two years ago argued that the ANC’s huge electoral support and attempt to straddle every social divide had an upside (as well as several downsides).

Here’s a (slightly edited) quote from that post:

Our society has a number of real and urgent fault-lines along which clashing currents are difficult to manage:

  • White versus black (versus Indian versus Coloured)
  • poor versus rich;
  • the employed versus the unemployed;
  • Zulu versus Xhosa versus Pedi versus Ndebele versus Sotho versus Tswana versus Venda;
  • Western versus African;
  • Urban, modern and fast versus rural, traditional and conservative.

The fact of the matter is that these divisions are not adequately represented in the formal political processes of parliament and government. There is no one party on one side of any of these divisions and mostly no one party on the other.

We are a society in which the formal institutions of democracy are new and tentative – and the divisions are threatening and profound. As many groups and interests as possible need to find expression in the national political debate – and the formal institutions do not yet adequately represent them.

As a second prize, an overwhelmingly dominant ruling party that attempts to play the role of a parliament of all the people, that attempts to speak with the cacophony of the thousand arguing tongues, is not all bad.

It’s just loud, noisy, confusing and unsettling.

This argument came to mind as I picked through the weekly English language press (Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Independent and the Sunday Times) this morning.

I do an exhaustive/exhausting reading of the English language weeklies every Sunday afternoon/night to produce a summary analysis for my main clients by Monday morning. It is an extremely painful task and I am always tempted to quote that famous Punch magazine cartoon from November 9 1895 by George du Maurier to describe what I really think of these newspapers. A bishop is dining, in a formal setting, with a junior curate:

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”;

Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”  

But I never actually say that, because there are always a few articles, features and editorials in all four of these newspapers that are truly excellent: well researched, well written and insightful; and it would be untrue and unjust – and a little arrogant – for me to suggest they all stink by virtue of being surrounded, as they are,  by rotten, ill-informed and sensationalist rubbish.

So back to the title question.*

The Sunday Times has Motlanthe rejecting Zuma’s deal of the deputy presidency in exchange for him (Motlanthe) not standing in the presidential race.

It’s a particularly poorly structured story (trying to get away with suggesting a whole range of things without actually saying any of them) although it is full of tantalising tidbits.

So lets take the hints (from all four of the mentioned newspapers) as real possibilities:

  • Motlanthe stands against Zuma;
  • Unraveling patronage networks, especially in eThikwine, open(s?) the possibility of driving a wedge in Zuma’s Kwazulu-Natal support base;
  • To strengthen his ticket against Motlanthe, Zuma offers Cyril Ramaphosa the deputy presidency;
  • Gauteng suggests Joel Netshitenzhe as part of the Motlanthe challenge – essentially to stand against Gwede Mantashe (who’s a cornerstone of the SACP support for Zuma);
  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela comes out more explicitly anti-Zuma (especially of his handling of Julius Malema) and supportive of  the putative Motlanthe challenge.

So what do we have there?

A Zuma, Ramaphosa, SACP ticket versus a Motlanthe, Netshitenzhe, Winnie, Malema ticket?

Oh Lord, give me strength.

Can’t we have a Joel Neshitenzhe, Cyril Ramaphosa ticket supported by Motlanthe and opposed by the ANC Youth League, Winnie Mandela and an unholy alliance of the Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga patronage networks? (I have written previously about Joel on this website here,  here and here.)

That desire is the moral and intellectual equivalent of arm-chair sports selecting. It would be nice … as would a leadership consisting of a young and vigorous Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu …

So quickly, before I go back to picking my way through the odorous wreckage of the four weeklies spread out on my table and floor (the soul-crushing banality of etv’s Sunday afternoon offering in the background and the Cape Town winter sun finally beckoning outside):

What happens at Mangaung will not decisively determine the character of the ANC.

Polokwane was billed as a major rescue attempt – saving the ANC from the dead hand of Mbeki and rolling back the power of the narrow BEE elite which was allied to the most predatory forms of global monopoly capitalism.

Polokwane was going to reinstill the movement with idealism, energy and enthusiasm and channel it into ‘a pro-poor strategy’.

Well, we know how that played out.

Mangaung, like Polokwane, was a result of a complex interplay of forces and contests that go deep into South Africa’s past.

I cannot honestly argue that Jacob Zuma is a better or worse candidate for the ANC or the South African presidency than Kgalema Motlanthe – although I accept that some people can and do (with a lot of enthusiasm).

However, politics is a matter of contingency. It really is the art of the possible … in this sense it is full of difficult compromises.

Any individual who finds him or her self in an ANC branch or region or leadership position, will be faced with choices that, when aggregated, will shape the future of the ANC and, quite possibly, the country. (The same is, of course, true for any South African, inside or outside the ANC.)

Those choices might be circumscribed – by history, by existing power structures and alliances, by the momentum invested by those who control the patronage networks and by wherever it is that the individual finds him or her self.

But if you are not going to throw up your hands in despair and retreat to your bed forever, if you are unable to cut and run, then you have an obligation to make some kind of decision and choice.

I do believe that what the ANC becomes matters – although what it becomes is not going to be determined at Mangaung or as a result of it being led by Kgalema Motlanthe or by Jacob Zuma.

(Note added a few hours later. On reflection, I might have empasised that the cartoon is even more apt for the ANC than it is for the English language SA weeklies … it was meant to be suggested, almost by my omission … but on reflection, I think I will spell it out … which I have now done.)

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