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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.)
Well it is certainly not Julius.
Last night his expulsion from the ANC and the ANC Youth League was confirmed by the ruling party’s national disciplinary committee.
His ‘fixer’, secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, was suspended for a year – making any attempt to ‘rule-by-wire’ difficult. The appeals committee chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa also confirmed the three-year suspension of the other key Malema ally, Floyd Shivambu.
Malema is out of the game and I don’t expect to hear much from his traditional defenders, Tokyo Sexwale, Thandi Modise, Mathews Phosa, Fikile Mbalula, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni. They are going to be exploring other strategies … more about that below.
Malema has been sunk by a combination of his own hubris and of bad luck. He might still be greeted like a rock star by striking Numsa workers, but he just doesn’t have the gravitas to coalesce a radical alternative to the ANC around himself.
I expect he is going to be busy trying to keep himself out of prison on tax evasion and corruption charges for the next several years. It’s a stitch-up, but he has made so many mistakes that it has been a relatively easy one.
The strategy of his core group is going to have to be to make as much noise in the lead-up to Mangaung as possible. They are good at this, earning their colours in the trashing of Mbeki in the lead-up to Polokwane. But that time around they were coached and backed by Zuma and his cronies and by the SACP and Cosatu … which makes the Nkandla Crew’s huffy outrage at his conduct a little difficult to swallow … this time Malema and friends are on their own and their backs are to the wall. I cannot see them achieving a momentum that could realistically effect the outcome of the Mangaung contest.
So what could threaten Zuma?
The word on the street is that with KZN and the Eastern Cape wrapped up Zuma is unassailable going into Mangaung.
But Mangaung is a long way away and the street is not always right. Our TV screens have been resplendent with the big-boned ladies cutting Zuma cakes and singing Zuma songs – but in our parochial soap opera version of Götterdämmerung the chubbier maiden hasn’t even started singing. (Here is a discussion of ”it aint over till the fat lady sings”.)
I have assumed that the main threat to Zuma’s relection at Mangaung is the unlikely possibility of the National Prosecuting Authority reinstituting fraud and corruption charges against him.
This remains a threat, but a more serious and immediate one seems to be emerging around what appears to have been a widespread sacking by Zuma’s security chiefs of at least one secret fund allocated for clandestine anti-crime operations.
The tip of this iceberg is the accusation that crime intelligence boss and apparent Zuma ally Richard Mdluli had his children, wife and girl-friends listed as agents to be paid out of the fund.
The next layer of the iceberg sloshing at sea level is the accusation that police minister Nathi Mthethwa used the fund to pay for aspects of the renovation of his country home.
Below the surface is a looming mass of allegations that many, perhaps most, of the ANC security commissars – the closest of Zuma’s allies – have been using this and similar funds as automatic teller machines.
It is the fact that Richard Mdluli has been reinstated – despite these serious corruption allegations and even more serious allegations that he murdered a love rival – that rings the really big red alarm bells. I think Jeremy Gordin hinted the loudest and the most eloquently that it is definitely worth considering that the protection is coming from the very top and must be motivated by the possibility that Mdluli has the goods on Zuma … catch that story here.
There is no successful drawing of a link from this scandal directly to Zuma, but if I look at the renovation of his house and the character of the empire he is building in Nkandla I must wonder whether the proceeds of the looting of this intelligence fund – and of a host of other stores of cash dotted about the security establishment - have flowed upwards and if they have, how high?
If Zuma is derailed – and I have this as a “Black Swan” possibility only* – Kgalema Motlanthe is waiting in the wings. I am under the impression that the Motlanthe alternative is being deliberately kept alive and viable because of the real risks of the main candidate drowning in his own sleaze.
Of course there have been consistent attempts to flick dirt in the general direction of Motlanthe – and some of it has stuck … and some of that for good reason. He was central to efforts to secure oil allocations from Saddam Hussein for ANC donor Sandi Majali and ‘has never fully answered questions about his role in the Iraq/UN oil-for-food scandal as well as the Pamodzi loans, hoax emails and Bell Helicopter parts for Iran scandals/disputes’. There is a useful ‘dusting off the alternative’ article on Motlanthe in last week’s Mail and Guardian … catch that here.
(Note: I realise from the comments section below that it is possible to think that I am suggesting that the transmission mechanism by which such a corruption crisis could bring down Zuma is via a court case. That is not what I meant .. anyway that would take too long to play out to impact upon the process. Such a crisis could bring Zuma down by motivating a broad coalition of groups and individuals within the ANC – specifically those who have been backing Motlanthe, but with new anti-corruption allies … and ANC patriots desperate to save their organisation - to choose the alternative. I think there is much militating against this outcome, but I discuss that below.)
A Motlanthe alternative would be unlikely to risk its own credibility by treating Malema any differently from how he has been treated by the ANC disciplinary process.
The final line of appeal is to the National Executive Committee of the ANC – but there Malema’s potential allies need to concentrate on battles they can win … not on hopeless causes.
Looking towards a further horizon, perhaps 10 or 20 years on, no-one should be surprised to see Julius Malema – older, wiser and more dangerous – back in the game. His instinctive feel for the tactics of political mobilisation are unparalleled – it is his grasp of strategy and principle that have let him down this time around.
But for now the game moves on and our attention needs to shift away from the activities of those who wish the President harm and onto the harm he might do/have done to himself.
* A “Black Swan Event” is a metaphor developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book The Black Swan and refers to events with a disproportionately high-impact which are both hard-to-predict and rare.
A good friend of mine in New York* recently put me on to “A Song of Ice and Fire” – a seemingly endless series of swords and sorcery novels by George R R Martin.
This is the crack cocaine of fantasy fiction but it is also a surprisingly brilliant study of politics and power vacuums.
The fictional edifice of the “Song of Ice and Fire” is built around the consequences of the death of a powerful king. In the aftermath the kingdom collapses into factional chaos, pretenders to the throne contest for power and war rages across the land.
Scheming power-brokers manipulate and assassinate their way through the dysfunctional court as provincial lords and petty “hedge nights” ransack, pillage and rape “the small folk” all across the Seven Kingdoms.
What an excellent metaphor.
The demise of Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007 and the political cycle towards Mangaung in December 2012 is our own Song of Ice and Fire and the intrigue and viciousness in the ANC’s internal struggle feels like it is being run by the Lady of Casterly Rock, Cersei Lannister – but you will have to read the books to fully understand how apt and awful that comparison is.
Two weeks ago the increasingly excellent City Press published the following schematic of what it sees as the individuals in the main factions contesting for power at Mangaung (using Malema as the proxy for the broader conflict):
(see at the end of the story for my optional key to that graphic)
One of the problems with factional battles like this one is that it is not always possible for the participants to choose which side they are on – or, in fact, whether to be on any side at all.
As the powerful interests clash in the Ruling Alliance there can be no ‘innocent bystanders’ or anyone above the fray. A factional dispute like this one is a bit like the Cold War used to be. It imposes itself upon the whole structure; every forum, every election and every policy debate gets forced into the dominant paradigm of the overall contest for power.
One of the dangers – with this analysis and with the more general struggle – is that it is increasingly difficult to work out what each side stands for and how they might differ from each other.
When we use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as the proxy for the broader struggle it is easy to portray the challengers as the most voracious faction, fighting for the right to loot the state and dominate patronage networks. The problem is that the incumbents, certainly Jacob Zuma himself, can hardly be portrayed as the good and brave king to Malema’s dastardly evil knight.
There are shades of grey here that we are going to need to have a more subtle sense of as we get closer to whatever compromises might emerge at Mangaung.
It’s best not to act as a cheerleader for any one faction or part of a faction in a struggle as complex as the one unfolding within the Ruling Alliance. And while today’s heroes can be tomorrows villains and vice versa I would still use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as a rough guide to who the most dangerous enemies of our democracy are. Malema himself is a bit player, just the most visible aspect of a fight that is much deeper and more involved than his personal future. But he’s a useful proxy, nonetheless.
One of the pay-off line from A Song of Ice and Fire is a phrase that is the perfect warning to give the players in the ANC’s internal conflict:
‘In this Game of Thrones you win or you die.”
But George RR Martin has another device that he keeps repeating, threateningly, as the lords and knights struggle and murder each other for the throne.
“Winter is coming”, he keeps warning, constantly reminding the reader and his characters that there are much greater threats than the outcome of their brutal squabbles.
Winter is coming.
* That’s Tony Karon, editor at Time Online and expert on all things Middle East. He tells me he has also, several times, used metaphors from A Song of Ice and Fire, including: “Goldman-Sachs are like the Lannisters — no matter who’s on the throne, they’re always on the Small Council.”)
(My schematic key to the graphic – not required reading, and a little bit cobbled together: the friends are Mathews Phosa, ANC treasurer general and previous premier of Mpumalanga, one of the ANC’s top six, National Working Committee (NWC) member and a member of the 81 person National Executive Committee (NEC); Fikile Mbalula, previous ANC Youth League president, currently a head of campaigns in the ANC as well as minister of sport in government – highly effective in both positions he is being pushed by this faction to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general – on the NWC and NEC; Tony Yengeni, fraud convict and ex-ANC speaker of parliament (during which time he was caught defrauding parliament by accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for the arms deal while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal), ex-member of the ANC underground, tortured by Apartheid police agents in the late 80’s. He is on the ANC National Executive Committee and on the National Working Committee; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela convicted fraudster, wicked step-mother of the nation, she who famously said “with our boxes of matches and necklaces we will free our country”, prime ANC populist who was married to Nelson Mandela and struggled bravely while he was imprisoned, but later accused of several human rights abuses …. and has taken every opportunity to identify herself with Julius Malema and his various calls for nationalisation and expropriation of “white owned” property. On the NEC and generally still influential and symbolically powerful as any member of the ruling party; Siphiwe Nyanda chief of staff of ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later head of South African National Defence Force (in which capacity he was regularly accused of being a significant recipient of some of the billions paid in arms deal bribes) and lately minister of telecommunications from which he was fired by Jacob Zuma during an avalanche of accusations that he had illegally enriched himself by getting R55m tenders from Transnet for his security company (GNS or General Nyanda Security) – also eviscerated by the media for his extremely expensive habits and choice of vehicles as a minister – on ANC NEC and NWC; Tokyo Sexwale, has long been thought to be the power behind the Malema challenge, although little evidence had been presented to prove this – and he was recently reported as referring to Malema as “that loud mouthed young man” – he was a popular premier of Gauteng when the fell foul of Thabo Mbeki machinations in the late 90’s, he withdrew from politics and became a successful business man – now reported to be extremely wealthy (through the company he founded, Mvelaphanda Holdings) – he has returned to politics and threw his hat into the ring in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007 indicating that he would be prepared to take the ANC presidency if he was so nominated and elected. Instead Jacob Zuma became president and ended up appointing Tokyo as Minister of Human Settlements – a difficult position in which he has appeared to perform adequately – his wealth makes his election to the ANC top spot a difficult road …. but his determination and deep pockets make him a serious challenger; Cassel Mathale, premier of Limpopo and the closest of close allies (business and politics) to Julius Malema – the Limpopo province is beset by very high levels of cronyism and tender abuse by senior ANC politicians …..; Nomvula Mokonyane – surprised to see her on the list, premier of Gauteng and former housing minister – she has conflicted with another very powerful player Paul Mashetile (ANC Chair in Gauteng) who I would have thought was closer to Malema that she – she is on the NEC (ex-officio, which means she wasn’t elected there); Baleka Mbete, ANC Chairperson, NEC and NWC – powerful … conflicted with Zuma and Motlanthe over whether she could keep the Deputy President post she help under Kgalema Mothlathe’s caretaker presidency – which put her in conflict with the Zuma camp at the start of his government in 2008; Sindiso Magaqa Secretary General of ANC YL and powerful Malema henchman.
And foes: Jeremy Cronin; key ANC intellectual and deputy secretary general of South African Communist Party (SACP) – as well as effective deputy minister of Transport – he has been the main intellectual opposition to Malema taking him on around mine nationalisation (accusing him of dishonestly fronting BEE interests and being interested in plunder) and on his general populist politics which Cronin and the SACP characterise as racially chauvinistic and even “proto-Fascist” comparing Malema arc explicitly to Germany in the 1930’s on the ANC NEC; Gwede Mantashe powerful ANC secretary general who also holds the position of SACP Chairman – he is one of the main targets of the Malema fronted faction as a leading voice against cronyism in the ANC – the push from the right is to replace him with Fikile Mbalula who is probably the best organiser of the opposition – Mantashe is gruff and famously speaks his mind, a characteristic that has put him in conflict with the most voracious cronies – in the ANC and the trade union movement – NEC and NWC …; Malusi Gigaba – ex-President of the ANC Youth League, but now adequate minister of Public Enterprises (but not about to shoot the lights out) in Zuma’s cabinet – gradually assumed to role of being a key defender of Zuma and the incumbents against the Malema battering-ram on the NEC; Blade Nzimande – top Secretary General of SACP and (adequate minister of higher education) – came in for a lot of flack from Cosatu for not focussing on building the SACP as well as for his expensive choice of cars as Minister, NEC and NWC; Collins Chabane – key intellectual and minister in the presidency (monitoring and evaluation) – respected ally of Zuma, opposed mine nationalisation – ANC NEC and NWC; Angie Motshekga - minister of basic education (shaping up well) and ANC Women’s League president … denies she recently suggested that one of the solutions to current crisis was dissolution of the ANC Youth League – NEC and NWC; Mathole Motshekga – ANC Chief Whip in parliament (always a powerful position) and law lecturer at Unisa in his spare time. ANC NEC … maybe opposition to Malema thrust is a family affair?; David Mabuza; Mpumalanga premier and ANC chairperson recently accused by ANC Youth League of “interfering” in the Youth League politics i.e. backing Lebogang Maile to replace Malema and the recent ANCYL national conference … a challenge that fizzled – he is on the ANC NEC; Lindiwe Zulu, senior foreign affairs official previous Ambassador to Brazil, close Zuma confidant and powerful behind the scenes player building his image abroad …. she ran into flak from the ANC YL for appearing to back the MDC in Zimbabwe against ZanuPF. She is also close link with Angola for Zuma. ANC NEC.)
Following a previous post: The Limits of Politics I want to argue that what the ANC is becoming is less a function of the failings of its leadership and more a consequence of the titanic forces of social change.
The past and present history of the African National Congress could be characterised (in shorthand) like this:
National Liberation Movement
The ANC arose out of the fact of the prolatarianisation of an African peasantry and the deepening national oppression of all black South Africans – only codified in Grand Apartheid in 1948 but stretching back much further.
What the ANC was was a natural expression of the changing pattern of the oppression of Africans (and other black South Africans) between 1912 and 1994. One way of understanding the shape, raison d’être, policies and leadership of the ANC during this period is to trace the history of the strategy and tactics of the pre-Apartheid and Apartheid states.
Each phase of ANC resistance to colonisation and apartheid – from the initial polite depositions of the early years, to the militancy in the 50′s, the banning in 1960, the crushing of the organisation’s internal structures, the launch of the ‘armed struggle’, the imprisonment and exile of its leadership, the playing catch-up after the 1976 explosion, the United Democratic Front as an internal wing to prevent Coloured and Indians being won over to a National Party strategy leading up to mass protests, negotiation – was mirrored in the changing structure of the society.
This is not to say the ANC was a perfect expression of all aspects of African resistance or that, in turn, such resistance was a perfect response to national oppression. The shape that all things assume is always a complicated expression of subjective and objective factors and this is true too for the African National Congress.
The forces that ended Apartheid
Of course the struggle for freedom of South African people and their organisations (and their allies around the world) is one way of understanding what brought about the end of Apartheid.
But another is to ask: what was Apartheid trying to control, for what end – and why did it fail?
Apartheid was ultimately a system of law, repression and inducements designed to deflect African’s economic and political aspirations away from white owned and controlled South Africa – for the purpose of securing white economic power and security.
It ultimately failed because Africans “voted with their feet”. The National Party was trying to legislate (and police) against the collective desires and actions of millions of people. But Africans would not have their aspirations diverted to the geographical or the political Bantustans. In the face of fines and brute force Africans kept coming back to the cities, the bright lights, the markets, the chance of work and the chance to do business.
To avoid complicating this further, let me say my own shorthand understanding of what was happening (and the timing of what was happening) is the South African and global economy were growing in ways that required an educated and settled workforce and this in turn raised for African South Africans the realistic possibility of being ‘settled’, ‘educated’ and, ultimately, of achieving a better life.
Apartheid and National Party rule constituted a barrier to the swelling aspiration of African South Africans – particularly for property, assets, homes and the right to work and live where they pleased.
The ending of Apartheid and National Party rule was the bursting of the dam.
1994 and beyond – the time of the flood
The African National Congress had always been forced to root itself in a marginalised African population and this meant it faced most forms of power in the society as the challenger and the outsider.
The ANC was able to ride the wave of rising African aspirations in the 70′s and 80′s – but there was no expectation that it meet those aspirations.
Everything changed of 1994.
The government’s of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki had a mandate and responsibility to use the winning of the ‘political kingdom’ to seek the economic one. What followed was a two-pronged approached to empowering the ‘previously disadvantaged”:
- take the state bureaucracy out of white hands and put it into black ones;
- encourage transformation of ownership and control of the private sector through employment equity laws and regulations and through the development of a black economic empowerment regime.
The process very quickly assumed its own momentum and the first stratum of individuals who were sucked into the maelstrom was the political class … the senior members of the ANC and government.
Once you have begun to use the state as a lever to gain economic power it is difficult to stop.
But by the time Thabo Mbeki’s government attempted to formalise, control and broaden the process with the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 it was out of control – and engulfing large sections of the ruling party and the senior levels of the state bureaucracy.
… and the point?
The point is not to exonerate the ANC or government or individual leaders who have become tenderpreneurs or crony capitalists. It is not even to excuse government (particularly Thabo Mbeki’s) for making specific errors in structuring the process … there were others paths that could have been taken that might have made a difference.
But the reason I suggest this vantage point or approach is because I think the hope that this process could ever have been calm or orderly is based on misunderstanding the deep, structural and historical nature of what is happening.
A flood of wealth and power is moving from the old order to the new and has blurred the boundaries between the public and private sector and is threatening to overwhelm government and the ruling party. Once the waters have achieved a new equilibrium it may be possible to re-establish a separation and rebuild the laws.
But it is going to be close.
For a brief time in the late 1980′s I had occasion to spend some time with Chris Hani, then Chief of Staff of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe and Secretary General of the South African Communist Party.
I was working for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) and a meeting between the ANC’s military and the South African Defence Force seemed like a natural extension and deepening of the work IDASA had done in putting the white establishment in contact with the ANC.
I met Chris several times in Lusaka where we prepared the agenda – and then, obviously, at the conference and several times afterwards.
He was an interesting guy – serious, charming and slightly too ready to tell me the story of how he travelled, through the underground, into danger, with Pliny, Virgil and Shakespeare in his knapsack … I’m not perfectly sure of the actual authors and titles of the classics he carried, but the point was that he mentioned, more than once, that he did so.
I was already aware in those days of the depth of murderous gangsterism that had enveloped Joe Modise’s leadership of MK – a trend and tendency he took with him into Mandela’s first cabinet and helped set the ANC’s elite on the course for the destination it has reached.
Chris was the great hope for cleaning up Modise’s mess and he was also seen as an antidote to Thabo Mbeki’s technocratic shuttle-diplomacy.
I became aware while organising the conference that some ANC strategists were using the opportunity to show Chris Hani was just as charming and able to talk to whites as Mbeki.
I asked him, in my naivety, about the rumours that he and Mbeki were competitors. He convincingly, to my ears, pooh-poohed the idea saying that he and Thabo were like a tag team, each with his own strengths, but united in the identical goal – and further, he claimed, they were good friends as well.
I had no special intelligence to validate (or otherwise) this claim. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they would have been the A-Team of the post Mandela administration, balancing each other’s faults, playing to each other’s strengths. I know it’s unlikely, but it is difficult not to dream of how things might have been.
As it happened Chris was almost disturbingly charming and persuasive at the conference.
We only managed to get ex-SADF and Bantustan leaders as well as a whole lot of shady and not so shady military and arms dealer types on the domestic delegation.
I have reason to suspect that I might have brought the running dogs of the global arms trade along with that delegation and I often shudder at the thought that I might have played a role in helping the global arms corporations bury their deadly wasp eggs deep into the ANC, later to hatch and gorge themselves just carefully enough so that the host stays alive … but I comfort myself with the fact that Joe Modise had long since sold his and the ANC’s soul to the worst and most rapacious branch of global capitalism.
I remember watching Chris holding forth late one night; he stood behind two seated and coyly smiling white men with thick rugby players necks – there is a reason stereotypes are stereotypes! Chris had a hand on each of their shoulders and he was rubbing them as he spoke with languid and swelling rhythms, about the future of non-racialism and shared patriotism that awaited us.
The big white guys were in love; it gleamed out of their teary eyes and Chris had his head back and eyes closed like he was conducting an exorcism.
I don’t know if Chris Hani would have made a difference if he had lived.
Only a precious few have managed to resist the seemingly irresistible pull towards corruption and greed. You watch all of your friends and comrades become part of that system (the same system that laid its eggs in the ANC that would later hatch into the Arms Scandal and worse), the memory of the ideals that drove you become vague … everyone else is doing it, what is the point in me hanging on while they are all busy with the business of securing themselves for life?
It was Tokyo Sexwale who wept beside Chris Hani’s body on 10th April 1993 outside the house in Boksburg. There was something about Chris that reminds me of Tokyo Sexwale (who I do not know personally but seems to exude a similar charisma that makes one think of a suspiciously charming pirate).
Reading Mandy Wiener’s Killing Kebble over the weekend and getting the insight provided by Fikile Mbalula flattening a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue in Kebble’s home … Mbalula and his ANC Youth League comrades treating the servants with extreme arrogance, trashing the house like spoiled children … it is difficult not to be filled with a sense of loss and longing.
9 18 (oops) years old when I sat with Chris Hani in Lusaka planning how best to drive wedges into Apartheid’s army and win any potential enemies to our side.
I don’t know for sure what he would have thought of this thrust to catapult the “new generation” of leadership into power in 2012 – including, horrifyingly, Fikile Mbalula for Secretary General.
But I suspect he would have drawn the line here. The ANC is not yet in the hands of Mbalula and his cronies – who are so reminiscent of Joe Modise, only slightly more refined.
There have always been heroes in the liberation movement who fought the tendency towards cronyism and rent-seeking abuse. I thought Chris Hani was in the process of becoming one of those when I worked with him in the late 80′s.
Like James Dean and Jesus Christ, Chris Hani’s virtues are frozen as an historical artefact.
There is a part of me that is relieved he will never be tried and found wanting.
(Note: my friend the fabulous artist Isabel Thompson helped organise that conference and my fellow Bruce Springsteen fan and mentor to so many of us Gavin Evans took the pics and posted them on facebook which is where I found them.)
Has anything changed?
The guy in the middle is the ANC and his lying entreaties are addressed to Cosatu and the SACP while his real passion – and the furtive fumbling in the dark – are with business, global and domestic.
I commissioned that cartoon in 1999 and Cathy Quickfall did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.
In the intervening 11 years I have used this same cartoon on several occasions (here’s one) to ask whether the game has changed.
I believe this is still the game: the ANC’s vacillation between a “left” agenda (consisting of a combination of growing state welfare, increasing effective taxation on the wealthy and expanded intervention into shaping the economy’s trajectory) versus the promise (made more strongly in private) to global and local capital that it’s rights to property and the retention of the large share of profits are inviolate.
All governments are faced with a similar dilemma, but it is a peculiarly South African phenomenon that the “left” agenda is married to the ruling party through the formal institution of the Ruling Alliance and that the political choices have, for clear historical and structural reasons, been cast in ‘racial’ as opposed to ‘class’ terms.
The cartoon as constructed worked perfectly well for the end of the Mandela era as well as the whole of the Mbeki era – even if, in typical soap opera fashion, the relationships became so complicated and entagled that the essential nature of the clandestine affair became difficult to percieve.
The analytical challenge for myself for 2011 will be to establish whether it holds true today.
There are indicators, including vaguely in the January the 8th statement and government murmurings about the New Growth Path, that hint that the grand French style affair might be coming to an end.
The rise of Jacob Zuma was, in part, the result of a tactical manoeuvre by Cosatu and the SACP to stop the deepening and elaboration of the affair between the ANC and some of the uglier strands of global capitalism.
The strategy seemed to fail when the Zuma administration appeared initially to be all about continuity of Mbeki’s economic policies combined with replacing his BEE beneficiaries with the Nkandla Crew – the worst of both worlds.
I am starting to suspect that a combination of the strategic choices that have been forced on Zuma (by manoeuvrings to his right) and the absolute imperative that the ANC increase delivery to the poorest South Africans (who are the majority of voters) bring us closer to the breaking of the triangle that the cartoon represents than we have been since 1994.
I will continue to gnaw at the bones of this question in this blog and I welcome any contribution you might make to this or any other discussion that takes place here.
It’s been a difficult week, and I started the following post on Monday soon after hearing the general tone of the press and analysts response to the cabinet reshuffle.
I wanted to publish while the accolades for Jacob Zuma were still glowing and, unfortunately for both the President and me, the corrective doubts and scepticism are starting to be discernible in the analysis that up until now has been characterised by the “a change is as good as a holiday” school of political commentary.
Anyway, this is what I wanted to say:
- outwits some enemies at the ANC NGC,
- announces (again) a process towards a (not very) New Growth Path,
- (his Minister of Finance releases) the Medium Term Expenditure Framework which emphasises continuity, and
- he shuffles his cabinet
and suddenly he’s a visionary, man of action, seizing the nettle of corruption and there’s a new spirit of optimism skipping through the land.
It’s obviously exhausting to have to read the same old strands in our news media day in and day out: incompetence, lack of vision, cronyism and inability to overcome endemic conflict in the ruling alliance.
So I understand the need to seize on a sign, any sign, as the first swallow of summer, but I think a little restraint is called for.
What leads the official opposition to conclude that the cabinet reshuffle is first and foremost “a positive indication of renewed focus on accountability’, when the far more obvious explanation is Jacob Zuma is using the reshuffle as part of his own agenda to stay in office beyond 2014?
Jacob Zuma is no fool and those who forget that he has played inner-ring ANC politics as head of Mbokodo, the ANC internal intelligence organisation, will constantly be led to make mistakes of analysis. He did, after all, defeat the acknowledged master of palace politics, Thabo Mbeki – and if this was a swords and sorcery story we would understand that he now has the previous master’s powers at his disposal.
A whole range of benefits and protections accrue to Jacob Zuma and his backers from him remaining president of the country. But to remain president, he needs to use a cabinet reshuffle to do four things:
- He must ensure that his cabinet is seen to be busy with the job of optimising delivery to the poorest South Africans (the constituencies he is talking to here are made up of the voting poor themselves and the various elites who feel threatened by those poor South Africans and who pay their taxes and various formal and informal levies towards the upliftment of the poor – and who cannot countenance that protection money being stolen or squandered by the political middle-man);
- Linked but separate is the need to be seen to be fighting against government corruption and cronyism. This is slightly difficult when one of the features of his presidency is the degree to which his own family is making oodles of money out of his good name, but a major cabinet reshuffle gives him an excellent opportunity to sacrifice the biggest and fattest offenders and offer them up to the uncritical daily media as grist to the mill of their learned analysis.
- Forming the cabinet allows him to woo individuals who belong to camps which oppose him. This is either in preparation for alligning with those camps around particular issues in future or it is part of an attempt to weaken the coeherency of the opposition.
- Finally cabinet posts and and especially the more amorphous post of deputy minister are excellent ways of building a corps of supporters to back him during future transitions.
Thus some of the major aspects of the reshuffle could be undertood as follows (and I quote myself from a recent research report);
The firing of General Nyanda
Zuma and the ANC has been under the cosh of public opinion – and negative opinion of Alliance leaders, particularly Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi – for the tender abuse and rampant corruption of senior politicians. No-one represents this better (along with a very in-your-face approach to the ministerial car fleet) than the good General. Nyanda is powerful and wily, but his usefulness as an ally has gradually been outweighed by his usefulness as a sacrifice to prove that the President is serious about corruption. The fact that telecommunications policy has been a consistent political failure for the ANC (right back to the days of the awful but sweet Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri) makes it easier to throw Nyanda to the wolves.
Barbara Hogan has been a growing problem for the ANC. Liked and respected by business and the media and largely regarded as competent, her incipient ideological rebellion has been deeply threatening to the ANC and since her criticisms of the refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama the party has been looking for strategy to getting her out of the way before she does something really embarrassing. Also, the position of Minister of Public Enterprises is a real plumb. Hogan represents no power constituency in the ANC and therefore the ‘patronage resource’ of the position is wasted on her. Public Enterprises is a massive area of political oversight. Hogan was a gifted and thorough minister, but moving her out of this portfolio is not going to make much difference to government performance in this arena. Finally, she has conflicted with Nyanda (and Zuma) and removing Hogan and Nyanda at the same time allows Zuma to sell the act as ‘even-handed’. She will be missed.
Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula and Paul Mashitile
This is slightly more Byzantine, but the promotion of Malusi Gigaba to public enterprises and Fikile Mbalula to sports and recreation and Paul Mashitile to arts and culture (and to a lesser extent Ngoako Ramathlodi to deputy in correctional services) is both an attempt to keep in with a key and potentially competing faction and also to place those competitors in positions that will be demanding and time consuming, but will not be a base from which to launch attacks. The leading figure in this faction is probably Tokyo Sexwale. Now all the key members are up to their necks in Cabinet jobs that will keep them out of trouble. At the same time Zuma may benefit by drawing them all into the heart of government, bound by its discipline and codes and directly under his authority. It is now only Julius Malema who is still outside the tent, with an independent base, able to make a noise and engage and challenge Zuma publically.
One of the ways to ensure power and influence is to woo particular and defined constituencies. ANC Women’s League stalwart Bathabile Dlamini to social development is an obvious example of wooing the voting block of the League. Also, the South African Democratic Teachers Union has already expressed its delight at the appointment of its previous General Secretary Thulas Nxesi as deputy in rural developement.
The slew of deputy ministers
In general the pushing up of cabinet numbers works to the benefit of Zuma. The more largesse he can dispense the more power he will have when it comes to the lead-up to the ANC’s centenary conference. Each deputy appointment provides the opportunity to reward some, make promises of future greatness to others and bring potential enemies closer.
I am sure it would be possible to run a similar analysis on every appointment or shift and the guiding analysitical principles would prove fruitful.
An interesting point to note is that President Zuma has left untouched the key economic departments which are part of a broader alliance process and the security departments, which were the first areas he put firmly under his own control.
In conclusion let me reiterate: Zuma is great on tactics and strategy – it is the arena of principles that he leaves something to be desired. His presidency has not been a great advance on Thabo Mbeki’s, but, in general, his priorities have led him to appoint people better equipped for the tasks set for them.
The cabinet reshuffle has not significantly changed the overall capacity of this government , but it does leave the Nkandla team stronger than at any time since Polokwane and a second term for Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is looking more likely than ever.
I came across a long research note that I wrote in early 2007 exploring the impending succession process in the ANC to culminate at the Polokwane conference 7 months later.
So I was writing before the June 2007 National General Council during which Jacob Zuma’s resignation/suspension as ANC deputy president was overturned from the floor and it became clear that change was inevitable.
I thought I should upload the document onto this web log so that one day when some student decides to examine the accuracy or otherwise of the predictions of political analysts they’ve got some publicly available data to work with.
Also, it’s an interesting read – both because of how wrong and how right it was, but also because how defensive I was about Mbeki and how suspicious I was of Zuma. I regret the former but not the latter.
Click here for the whole document, but below are some highlights and lowlights:
Why I thought markets were nervous about a change in ANC leadership
All change is unsettling, but a South Africa without these illustrious, high-minded leaders of global eminence and distinction (Mandela and Mbeki) might feel less of a sure thing and the fears that waned from 1994 may wax again with their departure and replacement by people’s whose names cannot be pronounced in London and New York.
My learned views on why the global context made the transition even scarier for investors
New and untested leadership of the ruling party and the country will enter the stage of history in a context of unexpected and growing global uncertainty. The inherently unsettling nature of the domestic political succession is amplified as an apparently natural and stable global order has revealed itself to be increasingly tricky, unstable and unpredictable.
The ending of the Cold War did not end history and the US did not come to represent a unipolarity around which democracy and stability could spread. Instead, the Washington Consensus has crumbled and the rise of China, Russia and India is in the process of rewriting the rules of global trade, economic governance and the structure of capital markets. The world’s major economic and military power extends itself and commits ever more of its myriad apparatuses, fashioned to achieve its national goals, to perplexing military campaigns. And while the cat’s away: the emerging world is experimenting with different forms of governance, including economic governance, that would have been unthinkable only ten years ago.
… this country has developed a habit, possibly a mythology, of what I term “leadership exceptionalism”. In short this refers to the belief, erroneous or otherwise, that South Africa has achieved an unlikely stability primarily through the exceptional quality of leaders throughout the society – including on both sides of the Apartheid fence and in the churches, trade unions and business.
(It helps that I already thought this idea was rubbish.)
Getting it wrong about Polokwane (and one might ask: who’s the “our” in “our first case scenario”?)
Throughout the early stages of the transition contest it appeared that Zuma was the main contender and the person most likely to get the job – an outcome we will dispute below … It’s foolish to predict such a close run race so long in advance, but our first case scenario is one in which Zuma fails to become president of the ANC in 2007. If this is the case, the 2009 successor to Mbeki will not be known until the ANC goes through a specific nomination and election process for this position – probably starting in 2008.”
Why corruption was making the process so much worse (and, goodness, look how uncomfortable I was about criticising Mbeki)
‘True or false and for better or for worse;
- the allegations of corruption against Jacob Zuma
- the multiple and uncontested economic transactions and favours that passed between the ANC Deputy President and Shabir Shaik – now convicted of two counts of corruption and one of fraud
- the widespread, but entirely untested, charge that President Mbeki has allowed the courts and prosecution authority to be used less to stop Zuma’s alleged corruption and more to prevent him ascending to the presidency in 2009
has stamped the succession process with the twin burdens of being a proxy for the fight against corruption and being tainted by the alleged misuse of state resources by the highest power in the land.
and I could’t hide what I thought of the challenger
Aside from the actual corruption allegations mentioned in 4.2, to put the icing on the anxiety cookie, Zuma’s various statements and legal tribulations have portrayed a man who is:
- a polygamist;
- poorly educated,
- apparently ready to play into ethnic divisions for political advantage,
- undisciplined in his sexual behaviour,
- under the guise of “ Zulu traditionalism” unsettlingly cavalier towards women.
There’s lots about the left backing Zuma, but his own position was clear
This is not to suggest that Zuma is a leftist, worker friendly or naturally close to the SACP and Cosatu – in fact the very opposite might be true. The left backing of Zuma, which has caused bitter internal debates in the trade union movement and amongst the communists, must be understood as primarily an attempt to wield any likely candidate against those who represents the rightward drift of policy, namely Thabo Mbeki and his anointed successor.
The left was already taking a clear stand against corruption
Organisations of the left, but particularly the South African Communist Party, have been the most consistent moral watchdog in the Ruling Alliance. They have held government to account for tendencies of “cronyism” and the “compradorist and parasitic” nature of much of the emerging “bourgeois” elite which they argue is characterised by “primitive consumption”; they have insisted government focus on HIV/AIDS and expunge any denialism in its ranks, they have fought for a principled approach to the Zimbabwe situation, and, most importantly, they have presented themselves as the bastion against corruption within the state, government and business.
which made their backing of Zuma so difficult for me to swallow …
The decision (implicit or explicit) to back Zuma’s candidacy has deeply divided the left and soundly removed them from the moral high ground they had come to occupy. Those who won the debate to back Zuma – with the uncontested facts of his unhealthy relationship with the corrupt and fraudulent Shabir Shaik and his distasteful statements about HIV/AIDS, women and Zulu traditionalism already out there in the world – have cast the individuals and organisations of the left as opportunistic and willing to back any candidate from whom they can expect improved political access and influence. Given the idealism of much of the membership of the SACP and like minded groups, the opportunism of some of the left’s current leadership’s will probably prove to be their undoing.
Hmm, the sweet idealism of my youth …
That’s enough … there is lots more revealing stuff in there, including comments on every possible candidate. I will just add the comments I made then about Tokyo (because I believe they are true today) and then leave it up to you to read or dip into when it suits you.
On Tokyo Sexwale
Popular, ex-Robben Islander and exile; flamboyant – soldier adventurer type, trained in USSR for the ANC before his capture. After 1994 turned to business with a lot of flair (Mvelaphanda Holdings) and undoubtedly made the system work for him in a very successful way. He is probably the most charismatic character with the broadest appeal amongst this lot. He also has the ability to build a strong and loyal group around himself – hints of “cult of the personality”.. He is rich and flash enough for this to count against him. He has constantly denied that he may run but there are constant rumours that he is assembling a team to make a run for the top job.
(I posted this in the boarding queue at Cape Town International on my way to Johannesburg and that means there were a few typographical errors, some of which I have now corrected. Where the sense has changed – as in the final paragraph – I indicate the changes I have made.)
If my life depended upon cooking up an explanation for why Julius Malema was attacking Jacob Zuma in the open and forthright way he has been doing in the lead-up to the National General Council it would go something like this:
If when those who wish to be king arrive at the National Conference of the ANC in 2012 and Jacob Zuma is still president of the country and organisation and Kgalema Motlanthe is still his deputy, then there is a very strong imputation that Kgalema will go on to become president – of the party and the country.
So those who wish to be king (and because of age or some other factor cannot wait until Motlanthe serves a full term) would have to be angling for some way of achieving the recall of Jacob Zuma before that conference. That way, Kgalema could do another caretaker job between now and 2012/14 and the regal aspirants could gear up for a 2012 (ANC National Conference)/2014 (general election) coronation.
To achieve the recall of Jacob Zuma, it would be necessary to portray him, his presidency, his sexual behaviour and the accumulation of wealth of his family as constituting a clear, present and current emergency and crisis for the state and for the ANC. (In a non-relative sense this alarmist claim is true and appropriate. In a relative sense, Jacob Zuma is not alone amongst top ANC leaders in behaving in this fashion.)
A recall of Jacob Zuma could have even more catastrophic consequences for the ANC than the recall of Thabo Mbeki. I discuss some of the consequences of the recalling of Mbeki as part of an argument for why I think it is unlikely that Zuma could be recalled before his first term of office expires here. What I don’t mention in that article is the additional conflicts and problems that might arise from the recalling of Jacob Zuma in his Kwazulu “constituency”. This is not just about ethnic chauvinism, but it is persuasive to me that there would be myriad and dangerous consequences attached to recalling “100% Zulu Boy” before he has even got going.
So whose attack dog does that make Julius Malema? Work that one out for yourself. It is not difficult. There are several candidates, take your pick.
I want to discuss this business of commentators predicting that Zuma will be recalled before he has finished his initial term – but first a brief advertisement.
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There … that wasn’t too difficult.
So back to the recalling of Jacob Zuma.
(I write the following with a degree of trepidation; I have just heard that there is a big emergency get-together at Luthuli house – ANC headquarters – and there are swirling rumours about newer and worse sexual indiscretions – all of which might make what I say below look silly and wrong.)
But anyway, onwards:
I am sometimes astonished at the levels of confidence with which “some among us” pronounce on the details of the future. It’s as if they are already living there, but have popped back to share a few choice bits of certainty with us.
I am referring specifically to the swath of commentary that seems to be predicting the recall of Jacob Zuma ahead of the 2012 elective conference and 100th anniversary.
I fully accept there may be major plays on the go of which I am blissfully unaware; but I just cannot see any of the disaffected alliance factions dare to put the ANC through what it went through with the recall of Thabo Mbeki.
That little episode broke the hearts of many of the staunchest ANC cadres who had stood firm through storms so fierce and bitter they are impossible to describe.
The manner of the recall of Mbeki created Cope, for goodness sake, and has laid seeds of conflict and factionalism that will still be plaguing the ANC in 50 years time.
Recalling Mbeki ripped the ANC’s intellectual capacity to shreds and it has lost the coherent involvement of the standard bearers of its intellectual traditions – you only need to look at the quality of the NGC discussion document to know this is true.
The best of those involved in the Polokwane Putsch – and the later recall of Mbeki - understood the seriousness of what they were doing. But these individuals (who were always the minority within the Alliance of the Disaffected – thank you Stephen Friedman) believed that radical invasive surgery was required to save the ANC and the country from the various predations of Thabo Mbeki.
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I tend to think that those few ‘good people’ profoundly miscalculated and that they have unleashed something decisively more disastrous than (the moderately awful) Mbeki presidency.
But this is not the time to have that argument out in full. What I wanted to do here is remind readers that the upcoming ANC NGC is unlikely to be about recalling Zuma. The NGC is a policy and review conference. It’s important because it is likely to reveal the hands of many of those who are contending behind the scenes for leadership in 2012 (in the party) and 2014 (in the country).
Further, all of the jostling for 2012 is actually about the position of Deputy President of the ANC. The precedent for appointing the Deputy as the president is powerfully entrenched post-Polokwane. So if they don’t go for Zuma for a second term – which is an increasingly strong likelihood – it is almost certain that Kgalema Motlanthe would be the candidate.
Much can go wrong with that view – and I hate sticking my neck out this early and leaving myself open to having to eat my hat or humble pie as the case may be. But this must be the first case scenario. Unless I am missing a trick or two.
If we hear tonight that Zuma is stepping down because of another sex scandal – well, I’ll just have to face that humiliation when it comes.
On Zuma’s own future, I have discussed it before (here) and I hereby reproduce a slimmed down version below:
Who can say what the future holds for Zuma?
Will Zuma serve a second term?
Will he serve out his first term?
Who dares give an answer to these questions? Oh, alight I will.
I have burned myself before by being a little too sure and a lot too wrong about what the future holds.
Analysts like myself are constantly encouraged to take a firm view of what is going to be going down down the road. The client – usually a fund manager – is the person who has to take a bet on a number of future trends and it usually helps him or her to hear strongly stated predictions with the various arguments that support these from various analysts. If these analysts disagree, all the better. Hence outlier positions are often useful.
With those qualifiers, my ‘professional expectation’ is that Zuma will survive the first term of his presidency.
Both the ANC itself and the interplay of the Alliance partners are a real mess, but it took a Polokwane to throw out Mbeki and anyone involved in that process is probably still counting the costs of that exercise. In other words, doing it again, and this time without the kind of unanimity that surrounded the Mbeki ousting, would have to be overwhelmingly urgent as the costs in division and discontinuity would be overwhelming. And I don’t think there is any consensus in the alliance of forces (clearly no longer an alliance) that backed Zuma against Mbeki that there is the requisite urgency around the person and performance of the President.
I am less confident (although strictly speaking I am not confident – in the sense of being certain – about any ordering or outcome of events in the future) about the second term. Up until a few weeks ago I would have said: it is always easier to allow the sitting president to stay in his job when the big contending forces are still involved in the war of position; that no side’s victory is yet in sight. But even if the big power plays are not yet completed by the ANC centenary conference in 2012 there might be a consensus that a safer pair of hands (Motlanthe?) may be in order.
Zuma’s term as president is, unfortunately, proving itself to be that bad.
Commentators and politicians are outdoing themselves announcing either the end or the permanence of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance.
This is Jacob Zuma on the subject – at the Kwazulu-Natal ANC General Council on Friday:
I have read so many alliance obituaries. If leaders express their views, people think that we are fighting … The alliance will be with us for a very long time. (Catch that here)
And this is my (humble) opinion on the subject:
This strike - as a culmination of other things but also in and of itself – is the death knell for the ruling alliance. (Catch that here)
This business about claiming that the alliance is about to break or will last until the Second Coming is something of a secret code for insiders in the political analysis business. “Insiders” are smugly convinced that the tripartite alliance benefits its constituent elements and these constituents will therefore never leave – and we love to use the analogy of a marriage where the couple fights endlessly but is bound by children, finances and habit so tightly that the partners will be together until death parts them.* I discuss some of the ties that bind here.
“Outsiders” – including those who have never belonged to any of the organisations concerned, as well as foreigners and supporters of parliamentary opposition parties – listen to the noise coming out of ‘the alliance’ and they take the noise-makers at their word: the alliance is heading for the rocks; it is obvious to anyone with eyes and ears.
The “outsiders” have it.
Philosophically, I am one of those who believes we are what we do. Thus, it is not what Zuma, or Malema or Nzimande or Vavi claim, it is what they, and their organisations, do that counts.
The ruling alliance is not, primarily, a name. It is a description of a shared history, set of values and, most importantly, an accepted set of policies and an agreed upon process for deciding about such policies; and is also the formal forums and organisational structures through which such decisions are taken and implemented.
The only thing of significance that “the ruling alliance” did was throw Mbeki out of office and replace him with Jacob Zuma. Everything that has happened since needs to be seen through the “you are what you do” prism. The constituent organisations have done nothing together except violently disagree, actively try to undermine each other (and each other’s leadership ) – and they have agreed upon nothing and done nothing in concert.
Except for the media appeals tribunal (catch my criticism of Jeremy Cronin’s defence of that here) which, bizarrely, is the single thing that the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have agreed upon – although Cosatu is wavering even on this as the damage done by the public sector wage strike to their relationship with the ANC deepens and intensifies.
It is as if they are saying: “We (as ‘the alliance’) have nothing to offer – but we have a plan to slap anyone down who point that out.” Frankly, I am not surprised.
* (note) What the “Insiders” are actually referring to is a sense of identity invested in the struggle against Apartheid under the broad leadership of the ANC and, crucially, that traces its ideological lineage through to the “Congress Movement” – from the United Democratic Front, the Natal Indian Congress, South African Congress of Trade Unions, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of Democrats, the Transvaal Indian Congress and the African National Congress.
(Hmm, I am adding this half an hour after posting the above, just to make myself as clear as I am able, and in case anyone missed the point: If the structures don’t exist, if the decisions are not taken or implemented, if there is real and intense conflict over policy then ‘the alliance’ has already ended – and it makes no difference what the various leaders and commentators say. This is the de facto situation, even if it is still possible to argue that, de jure, the alliance continues on and on.)
Just when all hope flees, as the last good politician still within government leaves his/her post to join the feeding frenzy and as the last decent officials trying to do a public service throw up their hands in disgust; and as the striking workers blockade the last functional HIV/AIDS clinic and trash the streets again; and as the broken bits of the Ruling Alliance go for the kill in their eye gouging, groin stamping gutter fight – just as all hope flees, whose silhouette is it that appears, backlit and heroic, flying in low over the horizon?
Is it a plane?
Is it a bird?
No, it’s … hmm, I’m not really sure.
When things are going as badly wrong as they are going for us, the person to look out for is the one who seems to have been sent by history itself as the solution to all of our problems.
I am not suggesting, as my old Granny used to say: don’t worry, cometh the moment, cometh the man or all’s well that ends well. I am suggesting the very opposite.
This is more of a warning to be careful about decisions we make when we are desperate than it is anything else.
Societies, political parties and whole nations are uniquely vulnerable at times like these. Our desperate need is for someone who can raise an anti-corruption army, is prepared to control the unions, able to fix service delivery and able to make the difficult decisions that will allow job rich economic growth.
The darker and more dire things become – and goodness knows they are as dark and dire as anyone can remember – the stronger our wish fulfilment drive becomes.
Where is the good-looking one, with the strong jaw and the easy, comforting manner, and the very firm but gentle eye and the plan and the promise and the words – and the record, or at least one you can, in your desperation, convince yourself of?
This is the moment in which nice Germans welcomed Adolf Hitler and Spaniards General Franco. King Constantine II of Greece inducted the awful “Regime of the Colonels” in 1967 saying he was “certain they had acted in order to save the country” and there was a (brief) Argentinian sigh of relief when Brigadier-General Jorge Videla overthrew the execrable, incompetent and authoritarian regime of “Evita” – as popular culture has dubbed Isabel Martínez de Perón.
I am not suggesting that a fascist opportunist and criminal is about to present him or herself as the saviour from our woes – or that things are so bad that we risk losing our judgement and welcoming him/her into the stockade. Well, not yet.
But explicitly and implicitly various political factions and individuals have presented themselves as alternatives, and the solution to our current problems.
There’s Zwelinzima Vavi – and whatever kind of workerist paradise he represents – who heroically criticised the media appeals tribunal and has laid about himself with a stout cudgel at all the worst of the cabinet ministers and officials trying to stuff the last tasty bits of the family roast into their distended bellies. And he’s available next year.
Deputy Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula suggested (of criminals) we should “shoot the bastards!” and in so doing presents a kind of law-and-order (and anti-communist) alternative, clearly being supported by the ANC Youth League and tenderpreneurs everywhere.
Lindiwe Sisulu dresses nicely and would be excellent if we ever panicked enough to need a kind of Cleopatra/Boadicea empress to save us.
Tokyo Sexwale is getting the kind of press that suggests he is an effective anti-corruption campaigner and an excellent Minister of Human Settlements i.e. he’s clean and gives good service delivery – and he’s bright, presentable, charming, good-looking and available – very available.
(This added as an afterthought: don’t discount Kgalema Motlanthe as a sort of leftish compromise that we have grown used to and, obviously, Mathews Phosa with his charming Afrikaans poetry and his friendly demeanour and his market friendly comments and his bitter struggle with ANC leader and communist Gwede Mantashe. Also consider a scenario, one I discuss elsewhere, where none of the contending factions achieves dominance and everyone agrees to stick with the burdensome incumbent … all is still possible.)
The National General Council of the African National Congress (to be held in Durban from 20 – 24 September) will reveal the main factions and their key representatives for leadership. The last NGC resulted in a rebellion against Mbeki and foretold his rout at Polokwane. This one is likely to be as instructive.
The point I wish to make here is a simple one. Those who appear to offer solutions must be judged in terms of who they are, what they have done and what they really represent. Just because we are in trouble does not mean we can afford to lose our critical faculties. My long gone Granny would have had two more things to say on the subject: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire.
* The title of this post comes from the glorious “Thunder Road” by the inimitable Bruce Springsteen (it doesn’t really fit the story … but I really love the song:
You can hide `neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now Im no hero
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Why setting back Julius Malema is important
Julius Malema has received a body blow and is reeling about the ring.
I mostly want to discuss why this is important – beyond the obvious reasons that drive the obsessive media focus on the grandiose little ANC Youth League President.
But first a bit of context:
As I write Julius Malema is in the process of being disciplined in the ANC. He has sailed closer and closer to the wind in the last few weeks and, it seems, a dunking is now inevitable.
There are three main charges:
- On a Zanu PF platform in Zimbabwe last week he attacked the MDC and praised the Zimbabwe “land reform” programme and used the opportunity to promise economy wide nationalisation in South Africa – this a few days after President Jacob Zuma had returned from trying to broker an agreement between the MDC and Zanu PF;
- He sung – in defiance of a court ruling and of specific orders from Jacob Zuma – the old “struggle” song that includes the words “kill the boer, kill the farmer” – this transgression became more serious when Eugene TerreBlanche was brutally murdered by young black workers on his farm;
- Each of these incidents received specific sanction from the ANC, but the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came when Malema was (quite bombastically) giving an interview at ANC headquarters on his triumphal return from Zimbabwe. For a variety of reasons Malema seemed to lose his temper and, in a bullying and autocratic fashion, threw out a BBC journalist. Catch that unsettling episode here. For the ANC, where form remains important, this rudeness was a step too far.
Julius Malema and the policy he represents is on the back foot. His behaviour has finally caused those who have backed and protected him within the ANC (particularly Tokyo Sexwale) to start to put distance between themselves and the Youth League leader.
His relative isolation is reinforced by a growing rebellion against him within the ANC Youth League – which he appears to be only just managing to control through bullying and barnstorming tactics.
So why do we so minutely follow the two steps forward, one step backward advance and retreat of Julius Malema and his cronies?
For me – as a ‘professional political analyst’ (someone whose non-evidential claim is that his political views are subjected to more rigorous intellectual testing than those of your average Joe or Sipho in the comments pages of timeslive.co.za before their airing … hmmm) – there is a real and legitimate reason. The Malema grouping is fighting to control the African National Congress and, in my opinion, the African National Congress remains, for better or for worse, the institution most able to affect South Africa’s future.
South African politics is overwhelmingly dominated by the ANC and nothing indicates that we are in a process of moving away from this domination. Our politics is racialised and people tend to vote their ethnic identity. The ANC has a de facto monopoly on the banners and flags and songs and dead heroes of the liberation struggle; and it has unprecedented capacity to spread goodies around its supporters and potential supporters. This combination – being the party of liberation and being able dispense the national largesse – kept the Mexican Partido Revolucionario Institucional or PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party) in power for over 70 years (sometimes with a different name) and it is not inconceivable that the ANC could rule for as long or longer – especially given the additional dimension of racial solidarity.
So, the setback suffered by Julius Malema and his cronies is important because this is the most dangerous wing of the most voracious faction within the ANC. It is not for nothing that Malema has been singled out by the hysterical and monomaniacal mass media in South Africa. His skill at taking rents out of an economy trying to transform itself is by no means unique within this or previous versions of the ANC, but it is his astute use of racial appeals to the poorest black South Africans to cover, disguise and justify his tenderpreneurial flare that makes him formidable.
I do not think it is all over for Julius Malema. A person of this political skill and focus is not going to be wiped off the face of the political realm because of a setback like this one. I expect him to be disciplined by the ANC and I expect that this will set him back a few years.
It is, of course, important to point out that Julius Malema is just an extreme version of something that has taken hold of the ANC at a very deep level. I am under the impression that the first thing the Zuma faction did when it came to power after Polokwane was change tender boards throughout the country. Do you think that was to clean them up after Mbeki’s depredations? I think not.
So closing down Malema is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition for cleaning up the ruling party and government. That would entail handing over to the ten or so people in the SACP and Cosatu leadership who are not themselves armpits deep on the take – and, unfortunately, they would begin paving the road to hell almost immediately.
So is Juju, as he is not very affectionately known by the aforementioned media, gone?
He is 29 years old which will make him 36 at the ANC’s elective conference in 2017 and 41 at the elective conference in 2022. He has got a lot of time.
I can almost hear, echoing the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1994 The Terminator, the battered Julius Malema growling: “I’ll be back”.
I, for one, am not holding thumbs that the next manifestation is going to be any better. In fact a Julius Malema, older and wiser, tempered in the fires of adversity – goodness, now there is a scary thought.
Herewith a note I wrote a week ago for a South African client concerning a recent whip around the London fund management industry
Foreign fund managers perceptions of South African political risk
I recently had an opportunity to interact with a few London-based global emerging market fund managers. These were generally from long-only equity funds, but included a smattering of everything else.
The main lessons I learned were
- not to be overwhelmed by the negative news flow;
- always think in relative terms – a negative and obsessive focus on South Africa is meaningless without realistic peer comparisons.
This was brought home to me again as the weekend news of the brutal killing of Eugene Terre’Blanche hit the local and international press. The media focus alone seemed to suggest that this was a potentially destabilising event. However the story has quickly descended into the squalid domestic tale it really is, and the over-the-top alarmism should be faintly embarrassing to those who trumpeted it over the holiday weekend.
Here are the main questions I raised in London and the main responses I received*:
The news explosion around Jacob Zuma’s latest romantic and similar engagements does not drive capital flows
This point did not need emphasising with the fund managers I saw. If anything they were faintly puzzled as to why I would bother to raise it. For them the emerging market universe has much colourful (and sometimes ugly) personal behaviour by the political leadership and other powerful members of society. Zuma’s polygamy and latest love child are way down the list of “transgressions” in that universe.
Conflict over economic policy making the investment and operating environment difficult
The point I was making was that Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech differed in important ways from both the DTI’s Rob Davies’ Industrial Policy Action Plan II and Ebrahim Patel’s Two Year Strategic Plan. My issue with this was that Jacob Zuma had not settled important policy conflicts within his cabinet.
The different emphases could be summarised as follows:
- Pravin Gordhan supported fiscal restraint, inflation targeting, a segmented labour market and a competitive and unprotected manufacturing sector – and for this he was heavily criticised by Cosatu.
- The policies espoused in IPAP 2 and the Two Year Strategic Plan from the Department of Economic Development implicitly called for monetary easing, a weaker currency and a vigorous programme of interventions into the domestic economy through the use of tariffs and taxes – policies strongly supported by Cosatu.
Several of the fund managers that I interacted with had recently (within the last few months) met with all the ministers concerned either as part of a marketing tour led by Jacob Zuma or while in South Africa themselves. The detailed interactions with all these departments had convinced them that the policies of government were the policies as espoused by Pravin Gordhan and further that the more activist policies from Patel and Davies were not uncommon in emerging markets and at least did not include new capital controls.
I am not convinced the policy confusion is ‘investment neutral’ – although I do not think is catastrophic. Cosatu and the SACP clearly believe they have a chance to set policy – including monetary and industrial policy – through the DTI and the new Department of Economic Development. Thus Jacob Zuma seems to be clearer and more decisive about these issues in front of foreign fund managers than he ever is in front of a domestic audience. He will reap high resistance and anger from Cosatu and “the left” when they realise they have been lied to again. I think it is clear we are seeing the first signs of this realisation – in, for example, the threatened strikes during the World Cup against Eskom increases.
Julius Malema and the Nationalisation of the Mines
Julius Malema provokes a lot of reaction wherever he is discussed. Not many fund managers take him seriously and again it is because they have met and dealt with senior government and party officials who have spoken of Malema with patronising indulgence and a touch of exasperation.
Susan Shabangu, Minister of Mining, has done good work in assuring fund managers throughout the world that there is no possibility that the South African government will consider the nationalisation of mines as a serious policy option; and I came across several people who had met her and been convinced by her assurances.
Cronyism and tenderpreneurial flair – the threat to service delivery, stability, the functioning of the parastatals
Continuing on the theme of Jacob Zuma’s inability to solve the big conflicts in his government I argued that cronyism, nepotism and tender abuse are:
- important contributing reasons for the poor functioning of the State Owned Enterprises – the Eskom example reveals that enrichment agendas in tendering and the appointment of senior personnel damages the utility’s ability to do the job;
- key to understanding the failures of local government and hence the ongoing violence of the service delivery protests.
There were few fund managers I met who disagreed with this assessment, although some, yet again, argued that in the universe that includes Russia, the Middle East and Brazil, South Africa stands out less than we would imagine.
The World Cup and the waiting Hangover
It is perverse to argue that the downside of the World Cup includes:
- it could become the focus terrorist attacks;
- it could be targeted by organised labour and taxi operators to strengthen their hand against government or employers;
- it will inevitably entail a let-down or ‘hangover” period.
This would be a little like arguing that the downside of life is death and that it should therefore be avoided.
I never met a fund manager in London, or elsewhere for that matter, who disagreed.
*Please note that this is a subjective process, over determined by my own interpretation and by a selection processes out of my control. Any real collation of “the views” of fund managers must theoretically translate into their holdings and the prices at which they buy and sell.
A quick run through documents and press statement emanating from the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party reveals the existence of a new ‘song sheet’ our crimson brethren have devised to help them sing in tune with each other.
This is something more than a coordinated set of slogans and something less than a recipe for creating socialism, socialised production and a workers’ republic out of the ingredients of the conjuncture.
If I had to try to construct a Ten Point Programme out of the bits and pieces in the press statements and discussion documents of the last few months, but particularly the last few weeks, it would look something like this:
A ten point (interim) programme for The Left
- Argue that macro-economic policy is increasingly in conflict with micro-economic policy.
- Argue that IPAP II (industrial policy) from Minister Rob Davies of the DTI in combination with Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Medium Term Strategic Plan (2010/11 – 2012/13) form the first pro-poor, employment creation oriented plan to put South Africa on a “new growth path” in which state intervention will lead to job-rich and equitable growth.
- Argue that the Rand is overvalued and wherever possible criticise inflation targeting and call for the nationalisation of the SARB as well as devaluation of the currency to effect a growth of valuable jobs in the export manufacturing sector.
- Link the Treasury under Pravin Gordhan to the economic tradition fostered by Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel and keep pointing out that many of the senior bureaucrats in that department were trained and placed by the former president and former Minister of Finance; as part of this thrust attack labour brokers and the subsidy for first time youth workers as part of ongoing attempts to segregate the labour market.
- Co-ordinate calls for a national health insurance and free and universal education.
- Defend Gwede Mantashe (your man at the heart of the ANC leadership) and isolate the most hostile elements among the conservative nationalists, populists, tenderprenuers and anti-communists – Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula (the proposed challenger to Mantashe) are perhaps seen as core elements of this “most dangerous friend” group, although Billy Masetlha and Tony Yengeni are in there somewhere.
- Start preparing a strategy linking this group with those attempting to buy their way into leadership of the alliance i.e. those who have inherited the Brett Kebble mantel. The general direction of the red finger of accusation appears to point at Tokyo Sexwale.
- Fight to stay in the alliance and fight for your views within alliance forums; make sure the ANC and government takes the results of those forums seriously.
- Prepare your cadres to influence the outcome of the National General Council later this year and the ANC’s elective National Conference in 2010 – and start preparing a set of policies and candidates to support. In the process continually cement relationships between SACP and Cosatu
- Always maintain a mass profile (through work amongst the masses) that is distinct, pro-poor, anti-corruption and principled; this strengthens your hand in Alliance forums but, more importantly, is your insurance policy if or when you are eventually forced out of the alliance.
It seems logical that despite the vicious atmosphere in the ruling alliance Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC’s own left-wing are not about to abandon the field to the “proto-facists“, populists, tenderprenuers and powerful hangers-on from the “1996 class project“. Not so soon after their triumph at Polokwane. Not after “capturing” two key cabinet posts and finding themselves in a position to, perhaps, profoundly influence government policy for the first time since 1994.
Those hoping that the tension in the ruling alliance would lead to a blossoming of opposition politics in parliament will have to wait a little longer. For now the real prize is still within the ANC and the ruling alliance.