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This is a quick aside before getting onto the more riveting topics of the May 7 elections, service delivery protests (and their search for a Gene Sharp handbook as well as the predictions of the Davies J-curve), the platinum strike, Julius Malema’s sequestration hearing in the North Gauteng High Court this morning (and the pressing matter of whether this could bar him from becoming a member of parliament in terms of section 47c of the Constitution) and the truly interesting Ipsos comparisons of the demographic characteristics of supporters of the ANC, the DA and the EFF.
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings**
Over the weekend a young, close relative of mine wondered aloud why South Africans continued to vote for the ANC.
The child explained to me late on Saturday night that the ruling party was an institution so obviously bereft of redeeming features that only a person on drugs could possibly continue to vote for it.
“Why don’t they vote for another party?” asked the child in exasperation.
I have to admit that while I recognised the opportunity was begging for a cautious and loving Socratic exchange, I couldn’t raise the enthusiasm to give more than an exhausted ‘who’s they‘, followed by a quick retreat and request a continuation in the morning.
The next day, having completed the obligatory 52 hours (I think that’s about how long it takes?) of newspaper reading, I found myself sitting beside the same child watching Adventure Time on television.
When the charming, nuanced, off-beat and deeply intelligent (in comparison to other media I had been consuming that morning) cartoon was over, the child switched off the television, turned his angelic face towards me and asked: “so, about the ANC …?”
I cleared my throat and gathered my thoughts.
“White settlers from Holland” I began, gazing into the middle distance with a faintly sad expression on my face, as if watching the mournful parade of our history playing out in my mind, “first came to South Africa in 1652 and many bitter struggles were fought over land and cattle.”
Jumping ahead somewhat I went straight to the nub: “On January 8th 1912, chiefs, representatives of people`s and church organisations, and other prominent individuals gathered in Bloemfontein and formed the African National Congress. The ANC declared its aim to bring all Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms.”
Okay, I’m messing with you … that’s a cut-and-paste from ‘a brief history of the ANC’ on the organisation’s website.
However, I find it significant that I had to open the web page and read some of the highlights from there. Somehow the essential story, the glorious history of the glorious struggle for freedom and democracy, the dead heroes, the banners, the flags and the songs, sounded tired and clichéd and faintly hackneyed as I ran through it without much real enthusiasm.
But I still argued the toss. It was not surprising that most black South Africans who were registered to vote would still be voting for the ANC (and, btw, ‘most black South Africans registered to vote’ was still probably ‘most South Africans of voting age’ given both our demographics and our 77% voter registration). The ANC led the fight against Apartheid. The ANC has presided over massive and ongoing redress in favour of black South Africans since 1994! A few bad eggs in the leadership do not change that.
The child raised a litany of objections: ‘Zuma’, ‘Nkandla’, ‘the arms deal’, ‘police violence’, ‘judicial – and other – appointments’, ‘the diversion of billions of rand into the coffers of fat cats and the party itself’, ‘governance failures’, ‘the Traditional Courts Bill’, ‘borderline homophobia’, ‘the impending Zuma/Putin nuclear caper’, ‘growing intra-ANC violence in contestation for increasingly lucrative political jobs’ and ‘increasing state sanctioned violence’ – duh!
(I suspect the ‘child’ is imaginary, a clunky rhetorical device … also, ‘duh’ means ‘give me a break’, or ‘don’t waste my time with the stupid and obvious’ – Ed)
The child’s arguments asserting the extremely putrid state of the ruling party became louder as did my insistence that the majority of voters were not brain-dead zombies acting out a destructive and unconscious impulse.
From the vantage point of this Monday afternoon I worry that I sounded a little like a master of ANC Apologetics ; but the child, delightfully, sounded like a shorter, skinnier, cleverer and more charming Wilmot James.
I obviously didn’t answer the question why do the majority of South Africans still vote for the ANC? to the satisfaction of he who asked it – although I am equally satisfied that I can understand why a majority of normal, sane black South Africans, acting in their enlightened self-interest, might vote for the ANC.
However what I didn’t say in the argument with the child is that I am also sure that along the path down which the ANC is currently travelling, with Nkandla (the political/economic/security faction rather than the homestead) leading the way, awaits a place or a moment at which the ANC will lose the support of the majority of free thinking, free voting* South Africans. Of this I am convinced. I think that moment is some distance ahead – only conceivably first appearing in 2019.
But who walks blindly towards catastrophe, when it is visible, predicted by one’s own forecasting, evident in every stumble along the deteriorating path?
Think about the ANC as having a brand value. Think about the forces that operate within the ANC as a kind of political market. I am hopefully expectant that that market will automatically self-correct … that the brand is so valuable that the threat of its loss will trigger a protective impulse, will mobilise the many who have much to lose if their asset continues to be led and used in the manner it is being led and used by its incumbent central leadership.
Obviously the incumbent leaders of the ANC will not willingly lose control. The consequences for this particular crew would be more negative and profound than, for example, a similar loss of control was for Thabo Mbeki. Also the incumbent leadership has a security/intelligence/street-fighter thing going that could make it a vicious and dangerous opponent of any serious movement for renewal within the party.
Finally, I imagine that the fewer votes the ANC receives in the May 7 election (which I don’t see being fewer than 60% of the total) the more likely and vigorous will be an attempt to change the organisation’s current trajectory and leadership.
(I am not going to run all of that passed the aforementioned child – he will, with some justification, roll his eyes and say whatever.)
* I use the “free thinking, free voting” qualification because it is not an eternal given that we will remain, as we have been (only briefly, since 1994) free, or relatively so, to think and vote as we please.
**’Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ comes from Matthew (21:16) recalling the words of Jesus, who was in turn referring to Psalm 8 - from the King James Version, a widely admired (for its literary value) English translation of the Christian Bible … that’s for any readers in a geographical, cultural and/or technological location so remote that even Google cannot help them as it has helped me fake that I knew the full origin of the phrase before I sat down to write this morning.
I will make a decision on the caption competition soon, but meanwhile here is my latest news update and summary – the Madonsela story continues to grow and, frankly, should be encouraged to.
The Public Protector clashes with Zuma’s security chiefs
On Friday state security agencies abandoned their urgent interdict in the North Gauteng high court attempting to prevent the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela from a limited release of her report into the R206 million upgrade of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla private residence. However Nathi Mthethwa (Minister of Police), Siyabonga Cwele (Minister of State Security) and Thulas Nxesi (Minister of Public Works) have indicated that they still expect Madonsela to bow to their various ‘security concerns’ – something the feisty Public Protector is unlikely to do. (She was speaking a few minutes ago, bemoaning the fact that she ever handed the report to this cluster of … securorats? … catch a preliminary reports of that here.)
Madonsela has used the security cluster intervention to ensure that a new key piece of evidence becomes public, namely that Jacob Zuma privately appointed Minenhle Makhanya Architects (who had no security clearance) to run the Nkandla project, but that the company was paid (upwards of R18 million) by the state. It will be increasingly difficult for Zuma’s security chiefs to sustain the argument that their ‘real’ concern about the report relates to whether it (the report) compromises the president’s security or, in fact, that the upgrade was essentially or mainly about the president’s security.
Jacob Zuma might be the quintessential survivor, but in the lead-up to a national election the strong indication that he and his family have personally and directly been the recipients of irregularly redirected state resources could be a serious problem for him and his party. The Sunday Times (17/11/2013) lead editorial is headed: “A suspect president and his questionable lieutenants” … the degree to which Jacob Zuma’s excesses make the ANC look bad is the degree to which he is vulnerable.
The EFF – running out of red berets just as Julius Malema goes on trial for fraud and corruption
The dilemma faced by Julius Malema’s new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), is that while the new party appears to be performing well there is a real possibility that some of the leadership could be in prison before the 2014 election. City Press, in its front page lead story (17/11/2013) reports of the growing EFF support: “(t)hey can be seen wearing their red berets on street corners, in public places, hangout spots and even at funerals where they go to recruit new members”. The Sunday Independent, however, points out that Julius Malema will go on trial for fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering at the Limpopo Magistrates Court today – and that 3000 EFF supporters were expected outside the court.(Julius’s case has since been postponed till September next next year – which means he will be firmly in the running next year.)
I have had to constantly upgrade my estimates of how the EFF might perform in the 2014 election. I previously indicated my rough forecasts and promised that from time-to-time I would update my view. Well, here is my latest guesstimate:
To do as well as I indicate here the EFF would have to pick up previous ANC defectors (from Cope and the UDM) as well as a significant number of first time youth voters. The EFF remains the part of the story about which I am least confident – although strictly none of these figures can pretend to any scientific validity. A strong performance by the EFF (built as that party is around a rejection of Jacob Zuma and a rejection of the economic status quo) could set off a shockwave in the ruling party.
Cyril Ramaphosa on a ‘social compact’
Cyril Ramaphosa gave an interesting address to the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (dated November 17 and available as a pdf on Mistra’s website) where he usefully summarised government’s and the ANC’s position on economic development – namely that ‘a social compact’ is required.
The full address is well worth reading, but the essential point (from a financial market perspective) is the statement that:
“Significantly, perhaps most importantly, business needs to focus on building an economy that delivers sustainable returns to all stakeholders over a longer term, eschewing the chase for high profits in the next quarter.”
Earlier, he says:
“The commitment to greater capital investment demonstrated by government needs to be matched by a similar commitment from the private sector to invest in productive capacity and to contribute to employment creation.”
Ramaphosa’s ‘social compact’ is another, perhaps more sophisticated, version of mining minister Susan Shabangu’s comments during an exchange with Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland at a recent conference in Australia:
“Investors must realise they have a responsibility to the country and cannot work to a bottom line that has no heart or soul at all … They have to understand there are various socioeconomic needs of the various partners … If investment will not improve the quality of lives — and recognise that workers also need to live decent lives — it will not be able to bring stability in South Africa … We are a country that, in the past, saw investment coming in that never contributed to ensure that the future of workers would be better.”
Shabangu’s and Ramaphosa’s comments indicate an economic strategy that consists primarily of insisting that private business surrender up the investment, employment and social spending that it is, supposedly, withholding. It indicates a poverty of economic understanding in government and the ANC that is deeply unsettling.
Bits and Pieces
- Next weekend the Democratic Alliance meets in a special federal council during which the party is expected to attempt to deal with tensions around support or otherwise for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. As the DA’s black membership grows the party will come under ever greater pressure to support both employment equity and black economic empowerment more generally. It is my view that this is a baseline assumption in South African politics – and the DA either will not break through its racial ceiling or it will shift on this policy matter.
- Winnie Mandela, in an interesting interview in the Sunday Independent (17/11/2013), claims that Nelson Mandela has lost his voice – and is only able to ‘communicate with facial gestures’. She also said “the “poorest of the poor are seething with rage and whether our government is aware of the anger of the people, I do not know.” She also said: “I can’t blame Julius for what he has done because we, the ANC, are responsible for that … we would be foolish to think he is not a player or that he is not changing the political landscape … these are very dangerous and worrying times.” Winnie Mandela’s political affiliations are a good weathervane of the degree to which the ANC is – or isn’t – fragmenting. She is likely to stay within the ANC, at least while her ex-husband lives.
- The Business Day today (18/11/2013) reports that moves are afoot in Cosatu to suspend or expel the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Jacob Zuma’s key critic in Cosatu and Zwelinzima Vavi’s key ally). If the Jacob Zuma aligned faction achieves the objective of getting rid of Numsa and Vavi it is likely to precipitate the formation of a competing union federation and, possibly, a new political party of the left. The moves against Numsa seem like the actions of a weak and authoritarian core and are unlikely to achieve a unified and strong ‘ruling alliance’. In fact I suspect that the opposite will be the case.
That’s a pity, because his comments were more sensible and readable than those of his comrades – although still misguided and, ultimately, dangerous, as I shall argue.
It’s difficult not to lump into one basket the various hostilities emanating from government and the ruling alliance towards the media.
Aside from the aforementioned arrest, and several high-profile verbal attacks on the press, there is the Protection of Information Bill wending its way through parliament and the ANC’s own proposed ‘media tribunal’ up for discussion at that organisation’s National General Council in a few weeks time.
Here for a link to the ANC’s extraordinarily badly written and poorly argued document (Media Diversity and Ownership) proposing the media tribunal. Here is Jeremy Gordon’s irritated criticism of the document on the happily trending rightward Politicsweb. Here, for those with time on their hands, is the tedious Protection of Information Bill.
I think the impression that the ANC and government are engaged in a concerted effort to make the media more compliant is indisputable. The fact that they are doing what governments, ruling parties and “the powerful” do in all places and at all times does not mean they should not be criticised and watched carefully and suspiciously. It just means that we should be less breathless and astonished when we do the criticising and watching.
So before Cronin’s piece gets drowned out by the sound of jackboots let us examine the points he makes.
Firstly he correctly points out that the major newspapers have had a nasty few weeks – he mentions Business Day apologising to General Nyanda for shoddy journalism in a story “alleging intended corruption in the suspension of his Director General”. He points out that The Times carried an apology for a story alleging that Blade Nzimande had called for the jailing of journalists (catch a cached version of the original stupid story here – frankly The Times deserves whatever punishment they it gets for that trashy headline!)
Cronin interestingly chooses not to mention the City Press being forced by the Ombudsman to apologise to ANC Treasurer General Mathews Phosa – see that here. It is possible that his deadline missed the release of the Ombudsman’s order, but he may not have mentioned it anyway because his point is that the self-regulatory mechanisms are inadequate – that what we need is a tribunal answerable to parliament.
Where Cronin deserves credit is he then lists the various problems he and his comrades have with the media that a media tribunal is not designed to address:
- the “narrowly anti-ANC oppositionist stance” of much of the “print media”;
- failing to balance the “watch-dog” role with other roles like providing “ordinary citizens with accurate information”;
- the centralised ownership of big newspaper “corporations” (a matter he thinks would be better addressed by the Competitions Commission);
- The foreign ownership, especially of the “Independent” newspapers, which has resulted in working capital draining out of these organisations to support loss making operations in other countries;
- the “trashy tabloid” character of much of the print media, that results from the profit imperative being imposed on the newsrooms.
For Cronin, the ‘media tribunal’ is somewhere that:
… members of the public, including (but not only) high-profile personalities, can take concerns around grievous misrepresentation and unethical reporting …
without having to go to the expense and difficulties of the courts.
Now if that was all there was to it we would all pat Jeremy (Cronin, not Gordin) warmly on the back and add our support to the tribunal. There are two linked issues, however, that I would like to take up with Cronin.
Firstly the tribunal is not argued in anything like the terms that Cronin argues in the gigabytes of documents and criticism that come from his comrades and their various organisations – just throw your eye (as certain South Africans are wont to say) over the aforementioned execrable Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity document. In amongst all the bullying and bombast is every single argument that Cronin disavows.
So are we meant to accept the media tribunal for the sensible reason that Cronin advances or reject it for the outrageous and dangerous reasons his comrades advance?
The second issue I wish to take up with Jeremy Cronin is more subtle but actually gets my goat in a more profound way. In a thousand different ways Cronin presents himself and the ANC as the wronged victim of the powerful, centralised, foreign owned and corporate print media. This is big business imposing its arrogant will on the democratic movements of the people and the workers.
That is, quite frankly, rubbish. It is time that Cronin woke up to the reality that he is the powerful one and/or the representative of the powerful. I get that big business is going to be selling its line into the public consciousness every chance it gets, but it will take a lot more than Cronin’s innocent belief in his own good intentions and the good intentions of his comrades to convince me that they are, in fact, not the bigger of the problems that confront us and our media.