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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.
Some of my recent news coverage and commentary:
E-tolling and the DA’s cruel billboards
Last week Jacob Zuma signed into law the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill – meaning the unpopular e-tolling can begin on certain Gauteng highways.
I was impressed that the President did the necessary – despite the fact that this will cost the ANC votes in the 2014 poll especially in the closely contested Gauteng and especially amongst the class of people the ANC is, supposedly, at risk of losing to opposition parties.
Of course failure to sign the law might have led to downgrades by rating agencies and an even more hostile report from the IMF … but good for him anyway!
The interesting aside is that last week huge billboards sprung up along those highways saying things like: “E-tolling – Proudly brought to you by the ANC”.
Of course that campaign is funded by the Democratic Alliance snapping with its sharp little teeth at the ruling party’s heals .
Or perhaps it is more like being savaged by a duck?
Whatever, it’s all part of the razzmatazz that is going to be seriously tiring in about four months’ time but for the moment is mildly entertaining.
Election 2014 – the Zuma swings and the Zuma roundabouts
The major weeklies continued their faintly mindless coverage of Election2014.
City Press ran with two stories about how the ANC had decided to put Jacob Zuma delivering 50 specific and successful infrastructure projects at the centre of the ruling party’s election campaign. Not quite the shock the screaming headlines claim it to be.
All the Sunday Papers covered the fact that last weekend’s National Executive Committee of the ANC nullified the previous week’s Provincial General Council of the ANC in Gauteng. At issue was that the ANC in Gauteng is clearly not delighted to have to front itself with this particular president and believes its supposedly more urbane, sophisticated urban voters would be better wooed by Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and/or Kgalema Motlanthe.
Deep behind the chatter is the growing view that the Zuma-face of the ANC is unlikely to charm the middle classes. The basic reasons, according to feisty City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, are made explicit in the Gupta wedding scandal cover-up:
“(it was not) the first time the party has been damaged by our president’s careless ways and friendships, which morph too easily into cronyism and patronage. There is a long line of infractions, stretching from the arms deal and his relationship with Schabir Shaik, to the rape trial he faced (the president was acquitted), the news of a child born out of wedlock with Sonono Khoza, the splurge at Nkandla and the game-playing with the courts around the spy tapes.” (Said the delightful, clever and middle-class Ferial Haffajee in her column in City Press on 06/10/2013)
The rumour mill is constantly hinting that in certain constituencies the ANC will lose votes because of perceptions about Jacob Zuma’s cronyism and his traditionalist lifestyle choices. The hints usually suggest that the ANC’s own polling information confirm the view.
Frankly it would hardly be a big surprise if certain middle class constituencies are not enamoured with Jacob Zuma. Previous elections strongly indicate that the president is wildly popular in poorer and rural communities, so things are likely to balance out for the ANC.
What would be a surprise is if government got its act together with regard to infrastructure delivery in any meaningful way before Election2014. While a burst of energy can only be a good thing, do not expect a miraculous improvement in infrastructure delivery to result from the ANC’s election campaign.
Microlending falls from favour
Microlending as a business took a number of hits this past week. Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the microcredit lender Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, warned that microlending to finance consumption could lock the poor into a life of poverty.
More importantly from a local perspective, Futuregrowth Asset Management’s Andrew Canter was quoted in the Business Times (06/102013) saying the company would “wind down” its exposure to microlenders, including Capitec, African Bank and other unsecured lenders on “moral grounds” (unfortunately the story doesn’t specify if Canter was purely referring to Futuregrowth’s SRI funds – which would be my expectation.) Canter, according to the paper, said: “We have always backed the responsible firms, but the industry structure has provoked industry behaviours that are not good for consumers, or in our view, the nation” … but, he said, Futuregrowth would not make a “panic exit”. “If industry practices improve, or particular players create more sustainable lending products, we will look to back them.”
The microcredit industry has always been controversial and becomes more so when consumers are struggling to make repayments in declining economic conditions. With the link having been drawn between the Marikana tragedy and the extent to which the strikers where in dire straits with regard to loan repayments, it was only a matter of time before sentiment towards the lenders would sour. With sentiment this negative, government is likely to further tighten regulatory control of the sector, especially in an election build-up.
The judiciary – it’s that Jacob Zuma problem again
In a matter almost as impenetrable as it is serious, a judicial tribunal appointed to probe Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s alleged attempt to influence two Constitutional Court judges to rule in President Jacob Zuma’s favour when he was fending off serious allegations of corruption got under way last week.
Amongst the complicating factors is that the two judges Hlophe allegedly tried to influence, Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde, have indicated they do not wish to proceed with the complaint.
I am not going to pretend to be able to analyse adequately what is going on here. Follow Pierre De Vos at his excellent blog Constitutionally Speaking for all matters relating to politics and the constitution. There is going to be a lot of complex legal argument around this matter but most constitutional experts suggest that the judiciary will be harmed almost no matter the outcome.
The point we unfortunately have to keep uppermost in our minds is that politicians, and especially their machinations in internal struggles within the ruling party, have damaged our systems of law and the institutions that are important to our democracy – from the judiciary, to the prosecutorial authority and including all state sectors directly concerned with national security (including the SAPS, crime intelligence and National Intelligence Service.) And further, such damage continues unabated as powerful groups in the ruling alliance war against each other.
Herewith my news commentary as of yesterday morning. I thought I would republish it here because it includes my brief assessments of how to think about the Zimbabwe election, Vavi and the EFF. I also, politely, imply that the Seriti commission might be a cover-up and that Amcu’s underlying objectives in the gold sector are potentially quite scary.
Zimbabwe – grin and bear it
Robert Mugabe has won 61% of the votes (2.11 million votes) in the presidential poll, against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s 34% (1.17 million votes). Zanu-PF won 158 parliamentary seats against the MDC’s 49.
The head of the SADC facilitation process, South African President Jacob Zuma’s office yesterday released a statement that began:
H.E President Jacob Zuma extends his profound congratulations to HE President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on 31 July 2013. President Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.
The opposition MDC has called the result “fraudulent” and has threatened not to take up its 49 seats and to boycott government institutions and “pursue peaceful, legal, political, constitutional and diplomatic remedies” (several online news sources, including BBC Africa).
The Mail & Guardian points out that monitors from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have stressed that the elections were peaceful and have endorsed them as ‘broadly free’. In contrast, the United States and European governments, which have sanctions in place against Mugabe over past election-rigging, “listed a litany of alleged flaws in the vote, from lack of availability of the voters’ roll to pro-Mugabe bias in the media and security services that skewed the election run-up” – M&G.
Even allowing for the myriad ways in which the MDC was (deliberately – and probably illegally) disadvantaged in this election it appears there has been a real shift away from the opposition. Perhaps this is because just by entering the unity government in 2008 the MDC both saved the economy from collapsing (and thereby saved Zanu-PF) and suffered some of the sins of incumbency. Perhaps it was how mediocre Morgan Tsvangirai has turned out and how endless have been his romantic and sexual travails. Whichever. I am not certain that the MDC will follow through and actually not take up it seats – this will only be revealed in the next few weeks.
To repeat comments I made on Friday:
- It is deeply unfair. The election was brutally stolen in 2008 and every state resource that could be deployed against the MDC has been so deployed in the last 5 years. Slight economic upticks post 2008, the deepening indigenisation programme (or at least the promise of the goodies from the programme) combined with a host of tactical and strategic errors by the MDC appear to have allowed Zanu-PF to ‘pull off’ a victory at the edge of acceptability … and the edge of the law, but just within it. Even if that is not the opinion of the MDC or Western observers, it is going to be the formal assessment.
- Thus, I am not suggesting that this result reflects the “will of the Zimbabwean people” … but it reflects it adequately to avoid the crisis that would result from an outright declaration that voters’ roll irregularities … and inadequate other preparations … and the historical legacy of repression and cheating … and misuse of security agencies and state media … constitute enough impact to declare the result not reflective of the will of the people.
- Does this mean Zanu-PF’s deeply investor unfriendly, GDP growth unfriendly, economic policies will continue? Not entirely. I think Zanu-PF has, miraculously, won back a chance to control the post-Mugabe succession period. They very nearly lost it as a result of their catastrophic policies. I expect Zanu-PF to be more cautious and embracing of investors in future … including with regard to the indigenisation programme.
- I am less sure of that final bullet than I was when I wrote it on Friday, but it appears to me that, at very least, Zanu-PF, will have learned a lesson from nearly losing its hold on the country and is likely to give more emphasis to ensuring that the benefits of its economic policies flow to ordinary Zimbabweans (and less to buying off Zanu-PF cronies, which has been the emphasis up until now.)
Arms probe in tatters
Last week Judge Francis Legodi resigned from the The Seriti Commission into the arms deal scandal and evidence leader, advocate Tayob Aboobaker, announced his resignation citing ‘nepotism, unprofessionalism and infighting’ (he may since have withdrawn his resignation). These ructions follow the earlier resignations of senior researcher Mokgale Norman Moabi and the law researcher, Kate Painting.
The elephant in this room is the Jacob Zuma himself is one of the individual ANC leaders whose reputation has been most tarnished by the scandal (corruption charges against him in this regard were only – controversially – withdrawn in 2009). At the same time, it is Jacob Zuma himself, in his capacity as President, that has instituted this commission, possibly in the hope that he can put the threat of the return of those charges permanently behind him. At this stage the commission is meant to begin hearings today, and among those who will be called are former President Thabo Mbeki, head of Cope and former Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota, former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, former Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin and former Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. I think it extremely unlikely that this commission will ever pronounce on why the bizarre decisions were taken to purchase the singularly inappropriate (for the country’s defence needs) set of expensive weapons systems (including 48 Saab Gripen fighters and trainers, 4 Daphne class submarines and 4 frigates). I also think it vanishingly unlikely that the commission will find out where the kickbacks went.
I will not be surprised if it emerges that the resignations from the commission are motivated by the belief that the process will achieve the exact opposite to its apparent purpose.
Several of the weeklies speculate as to whether Zwelinzima Vavi will survive the scandal in which he had unprotected sex in Cosatu’s headquarters with a junior employee whose employment in Cosatu he had irregularly organised – and who accused him of rape and later withdrew the charge in an internal Cosatu procedure.
I covered this in some detail last week, but there is an implication to what is happening here that needs emphasising.
The ANC is facing an election next year and much of the pressure Vavi has been under up until now (from ANC/Zuma loyalists in Cosatu) has been directed at pulling him (Vavi) into line, to stop him constantly accusing government leaders of corruption, to stop him criticising macro-economic policy. The ANC needs to establish a united front so that it can take on the various challenges it faces in the national election next year.
But there is a difference between placing pressure on Vavi and forcing him out of Cosatu. If Vavi is forced to resign because of his actions in relation to the junior employee it is not inconceivable that Cosatu’s biggest union Numsa might go with him.
It is as if the ANC has been pushing a board – that it thought was solid – to get it into a better position. But the board was rotten all along and it suddenly collapses as it is being pressed. An actual split in Cosatu that drove the most left-wing elements together and out of the ruling alliance would be negative for the ANC in a number of ways. It would further weaken the credibility of the trade union ally, it could raise the spectre of a viable ‘left’ party, it could force the ANC into having to contest on too many fronts in the 2014 election, it could increasingly lead to policy paralysis in government and it could cause serious labour unrest as Cosatu member unions reconstitute and split in a number of different industries. None of this is certain (or even likely) but it is a threat or a series of threats we need to bear in mind.
Economic Freedom Fighters – taxing times … but behind the theatre there are credible risks
Along the same lines as the above, the latest round in the colourful pageant of Julius Malema’s attempts to re-establish himself at the centre of South African politics came yesterday when he mounted a fierce attack on the South African Revenue Service (the full text published at politcsweb.co.za) after SARS made public the details of his tax record. (Here for the SARS statement and here for Malema’s response.)
SARS is defending itself from Julius Malema’s accusation that it is being used as a tool by what Malema calls the ZANC (the Zuma ANC). The truth or otherwise of this particular matter cannot be established, but I wanted to use the opportunity to raise what I see as the main risk associated with the Economic Freedom Fighters. The risks are not dissimilar to those associated with a potential ‘left’ split in Cosatu. It is increasingly likely that the ANC will be contesting the 2014 elections with significant threats both to its ‘left’ and its ‘right’.
The Democratic Alliance, perhaps in a formal alliance with other opposition parties and independent candidates is starting to seriously consider the possibility that it could win the Western Northern and Northern Cape and come achingly close in the, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. While I am unable to assess whether these are realistic objectives, I think it is important to consider how the ANC might behave if it faces this threat at exactly the point as its own members, allies and the Economic Freedom Fighters, place it (the ANC) under pressure.
I have no grounds to argue that the EFF and any ‘workers’ party’ that could conceivably emerge from a split in Cosatu could win enough votes to become a viable parliamentary opposition, but I do think that the operation of these forces place the ANC in an awkward, even untenable, ‘policy’ and ‘message’ position.
In adopting the investor friendly National Development Plan at Mangaung and in the presidency’s concerted attempts to stabilise the platinum mining sector, the Zuma administration has made it clear that it is extremely worried that investor sentiment towards South African policy and policy risk has turned negative. An ANC fighting a populist wildfire from the EFF (perhaps more heat than light … but anyway), an incipient ‘ left’ split from Cosatu and an ascendant DA is hemmed-in, constrained, unable to formulate viable national policies and increasingly tempted to engage in dirty tricks against its enemies.
Amcu and the gold negotiations – some tentative speculation
Following Amcu’s apparent walkout from the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation of the gold sector wage negotiation that had become stuck at the Chamber of Mines last week, I made the following comments (note that Amcu has since said it intends participating in the process, although as you will see from the below, I would be cautious of accepting that at face value):
I think that it is directly in Amcu’s rational best interest to:
- ensure that collective bargaining through the Chamber of Mines breaks down (i.e. that the central bargaining chamber is destroyed) and that companies are forced to seek agreements on a mine by mine basis; and
- to provoke crises similar to those that took place at Impala in January last year and Lonmin in August on gold mines where it is not yet recognised as the majority union.
Firstly, why is this “rational”?
Because any of the anger, hot-headedness and youthful passions rooted in the history of Amcu leadership’s conflict with Num would have been burnt out of them last year.
Now it is probably more accurate to conceive of Amcu as rational competitors in a game where the objectives can be stacked in a very similar way to how one would stack objectives of a company with three or four major competitors in a set market.
Amcu can certainly get things wrong – and engage in activities that are counterproductive to the likelihood of it achieving its objectives – but this is less likely to be because Amcu is led by anarchist lunatics, and more likely to be because its leaders have made tactical and strategic errors.
Thus, while it is possible to argue that Amcu’s members and potential members are “tired of strikes” or “unable to bear the burden of further strikes” this should be conceived of as a constraint to Amcu pursuing its objective rather than an absolute barrier.
So what are Amcu’s objectives in the gold sector?
Firstly, to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers.
The Num, the loyalty of its (declining) membership, and its abuse of its prior dominance, is the most important obstacle to Amcu achieving its main objective which, unsurprisingly, is to be the only significant union in the resources sector. That is, Amcu’s primary objective is to occupy the eco-niche that Num has occupied up until now.
Trade unionism is a business … it’s about money and power. So yes, Amcu grows by more effectively representing (or portraying itself as more effectively representing) the collective interests of its members or potential members … and thereby actually getting greater numbers of signed up, due-paying members.
However, it cannot be effective in this task, even where it has already got more members than Num … because Num occupies an institutional and regulatory “space” that it is using to maintain its dominance.
Thus, in a central bargaining chamber system where the representivity of the participating members is outdated (as it clearly is in this case) the union that is actually dominant (or in the process of becoming dominant) must destroy the process and force employers to deal directly with it … and not with the old dinosaur that is taking up all the space by trading purely on the institutional lag effect.
So forcing employers to deal with Amcu, on a mine-by-mine basis, seems to be a no-brainer for the upstart union and explains perfectly Amcu’s actions up until now in the gold negotiation process that started 2 weeks ago.
The next step is that Amcu has to establish dominance at each mine … it has to “force” the employer to deal with Amcu rather than Num … even if the outdated books still show Num as the dominant union at each mine.
Thus Amcu will attempt to destroy Num’s negotiating position … it will work to ensure that workers do not feel that whatever Num and management settle for is an adequate settlement. Amcu only wins if that settlement fails; therefore it has an absolute imperative to cause those settlements between Num and management to fail (by proposing levels that are more difficult for management to meet and by mobilising workers against whatever settlement Num reaches).This is a competition that Amcu can lose. Num and management might strike a workable deal that the majority of mineworkers back … but it (Amcu) has got to fight it.
If this is correctly reasoned, there is a strong pressure on the central bargaining system in the gold sector and for possible mine level negotiations to be traumatic – in a very similar way to the trauma associated with strikes in the platinum sector last year and with an almost identical ‘architecture’.
Once (and if) Amcu has crushed Num and established its dominance across the industry its motivational hierarchy changes; it will then want to lock itself into the monopolistic position that Num now occupies. But that is a long way ahead, so long that it is not yet worthy of serious consideration. For now, it (Amcu) is trying to free up space so that it can go head-to-head with Num, which in turn is hiding behind bureaucracy. Thus Amcu is trying to increase competition because it believes in a straight fight it will win.
Finally, Amcu does not have a free hand in pursuing these objectives. Management and Num are going to fight back in all the ways (positive and negative) open to them. Also, workers are tired, indebted, the industry is shrinking and management is looking for excuses to downsize workforces – but within these constraints, I would argue that Amcu is forced by its own nature, to pursue the objectives here set out, as effectively as it can within those constraints.
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?