Sun Nov 9th, 2008 at 03:51:59 AM EST
Watching politics in South Africa has always been, in my 1.5 years of observations, more frenetic to what my European mind is used to. More... Italian, perhaps. I've really lost count of the occasions I've stood flabbergasted (or dismayed) by announcements of a number of South African very rich assortment of flamboyant politicians. However, these past three months of political developments have been exceptional in their pace and fury. And (as far as I can see anyway) international reporting has been very slim on what's, in its potential, a massive shift in the already dynamic political landscape of South Africa. It goes without saying that the current limelight of political reporting had swung to the USA. But well, ET is practically Political Junkies Central, so with the presidential election in the USA firmly decided, here's a bit of insight what's been brewing south.
Because what many saw as a necessary step to secure the foundation of SA's fledgling democracy, but what many thought would not happen for years, or even decades, is happening now: the ANC is dramatically fracturing from within. History was written on the 1-2 November weekend with the launch of a new political party, carried by two prominent ANC-veterans, who had recently broken with the party - former defence minister Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota and former Gauteng-province premier Mbhazima Shilowa. In my perspective, the political groundswell of the past months can be best understood as a yearlong catenation of events, a slow build-up of sentiments and interlocking developments that, for most MSM, makes it hard to digest. The catalysts in this tale are, ultimately, the fanatics surrounding controversial ANC president Jacob Zuma and, more hidden in the background, Mbeki's long autocratic imprint on the ANC.
I've attempted a tentative time-line below the fold, leading up to the announcement of the new political party.
Promoted by afew
Decemeber 2007, Polokwane
On the ANC national conference last year December, the ANC-delegates chose the new members for the party's NEC, the National Executive Committee - the central decision-making organ of the party, which is now 86 members strong. The weeks in advance had already been marked by an intense rivalry between the two candidates for ANC party (and NEC) leadership: governing president Thabo Mbeki and arch-rival Jacob Zuma. The defeat of Mbeki was painfully overwhelming: all the six important NEC seats went to Zuma supporters, and the party presidency was wrested from Mbeki. The Zuma-ites did not take full control of the ANC, but they were firmly dropped in the driver's seat: loyal Zuma supporters were awarded that day with high ranking positions in the NEC, while dissidents and Mbeki supporters were flung back or cast out. Notably, ANC heavyweight Mosiuoa Lekota was thrown out of the NEC completely. This has been interpreted as retaliation by the Zuma-backers for Lekota's wilting criticism on the disruptive behaviour of many Zuma supporters. In other words: it was payback time.
January - July 2008
But payback continued throughout this year. The "Zumafication" of the ANC party hardened on all fronts. A worrying trend of political purging emerged - everywhere in the country ANC delegates who had openly backed Mbeki or who disagreed with the new NEC policies was sidelined. It happened at the provincial and the municipal levels, in Cosatu (the large worker's union that is actually part of the ANC tripartite) and in the ANC Youth League.
It was "the politics of the total take-over" as eloquently put by Rapule Tabane who commented, somewhat prophetically, in the Mail & Guardian (bold mine):
The politics of the total takeover - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
There is no doubt Jacob Zuma has finally stamped his influence on all key structures of the ANC and its alliance partners. It started with Cosatu and the SACP last year. In the case of the latter, Blade Nzimande' group got rid of the likes of Ronnie Kasrils, Charles Nqakula, Phillip Dexter and Mazibuko Jara. This year it has been the turn of the Youth League and now the Women's League, which was reclaimed from Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini.
Even at the level of local government, several mayors regarded as Thabo Mbeki appointees have been threatened with removal. In the Free State, after Polokwane, Ace Magashule's group unsuccessfully tried to get Luthuli House to remove premier Beatrice Marshoff and install Magashule, but the ANC's top brass told them to take a hike.
It is a winner-takes-all mentality that will see the ANC lose top brains who happen to be on the wrong side of Zuma. This short-sightedness is not good for the long-term vibrancy and survival of the ANC. If anything, it may be good news for the opposition parties. No doubt those marginalised will not join the Democratic Alliance, but why should they invest their energies campaigning for next year's elections if they know they are not coming back?
Another growing concern was that even the judiciary was not spared for the ANC's vigorous onslaught, or perhaps I should write, especially the judiciary was not spared. That the ANC had elected a party president who continued to be deeply embroiled in a drawn-out case of corruption charges had, of course, nothing to do with this... Around May, reports came out that the ANC had revved up a three-pronged strategy to make sure that the judiciary would not stand in the way of Zuma's final ascension to the presidency of the country. But in this, the Mail&Guardian noted that these processes of circumventing democratic institutions were in themselves not something new - this process had grown long roots and traditions under Mbeki's presidency. The ANC under Zuma just continued where the NEC under Mbeki had stopped.
A legacy under threat - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
How else are we to understand the threat to "kill for Zuma" to "eliminate" the counter-revolutionaries; how else are we to understand the sustained and coordinated attack on the Constitutional Court? It speaks of a leadership straining to escape the institutional restraints of democracy. Again, that process began under Mbeki, who specialised in producing the veneer of institutional independence, but getting what he wanted through back-room manoeuvres and bullying.
The ANC under Zuma does not have the time or the clout (yet) for such methods. Zuma has a few more legal stratagems left before he has to face his corruption charges, but they are growing more desperate and less convincing. It is worth recalling that Mandela willingly subjected himself to the judgement of the courts when he was taken on by Louis Luyt, surely one of the most odious symbols of those who profited both from apartheid and from post-apartheid opportunism.
In his quest to outmanoeuvre the courts, Cosatu, the SACP (the Communist Party) and the ANC Youth League became Zuma's unquestioning henchmen and blunder boys. Which resulted in Zapiro's most outrageous (but on-point) cartoon of the year:
The reason why Zuma is charged for corruption is an epistle in itself: the notorious arms deal that has been haunting South African politics for a near decade. But the take-away message is: Zuma's corruption case had become extra poignant because he was officially recharged only after his election to ANC president in Polokwane! More fuel for conspiracy theories! Already Zuma supporters long felt that Mbeki was systematically trying to get rid of the gadfly Zuma with use of the courts. Zuma's copious defence team had challenged the decision to re-charge Zuma on the grounds that Zuma should first have been consulted, as stipulated by law. And that's when things really hit a rapid.
Well respected judge Chris Nicholson truly upset the nation on September 12 with his verdict:
Round one to Zuma - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
The judge emphasised that his ruling did not relate to Zuma's guilt or innocence, but was merely on a procedural point.
He had strong words for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), saying it would have been wise for the NPA to allow Zuma to make representation at the time of him being recharged.
"I believe the NDPP [National Directorate of Public Prosecutions] ought to have heard the applicant's representation," Nicholson said.
He also said that Zuma's claims that there were political undercurrents in his prosecution were not completely unbelievable.
That final sentence escalated matters - Nicholson strongly implied that Mbeki had personally interfered with the decision to re-charge Zuma. The conspiracy theorists got the confirmation they had been waiting for, blood was in the water, and the end of Mbeki was nigh. The NEC, who could request the president to step down, was already in Zuma's hands and after eight years of relentless manoeuvring, Mbeki had very little friends left but plenty of personal enemies to spare. On Saturday 20 September, the ANC asked for Mbeki's head, and Mbeki gave it to them voluntarily the next day - tendering his resignation in a live television broadcast. With resigned dignity and bottled outrage. A third of his cabinet also handed in its resignation.
This bloodless coup did not result in Zuma taking over the presidency of the country - although his feverish backers were already clamouring for it. Zuma declined and put forward one of the more trustworthy faces of the party: Kgalema Motlanthe - a long serving politician who's perceived as an academic and a fair diplomat. Not someone who will rock the boat - and that's possibly what the party wanted: a figurehead who'd not upset matters further and someone who, as interim president, would steer South Africa to the elections next year. Because the world stood on the cusp of the financial crisis, finance minister Trevor Manuel, the architect of South Africa's economy, had resigned in support of Thabo Mbeki and the financial markets tottered. (His resignation was purely symbolic: Manuel immediately returned to his post when the ANC reappointed him...)
On another side note, one of the finest decisions of Motlanthe's interim cabinet was the replacement of embattled health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang with the capable Barbara Hogan who has shown every sign to unleash a fresh wind through the clogged down health department. Motlanthe's stance on Zimbabwe and Mugabe is also, refreshingly, more strident and stern. So these are good developments. However, as president, Motlanthe is practically invisible - one never hears about him.
But then now for the final fascinating twist: for many in the ANC the camel's back broke with Mbeki's ruthless decapitation - the jousting of Mbeki in Polokwane, the glorification of Zuma's personality, the sinister assaults on the judiciary and the constitution, the buffoonery of the Youth League, all of it may have generated the necessary build-up of sentiments through the year, but remarkably not the incentive to step it up. Yet now, things began changing. Two of the more notable names who resigned from the ANC: former defence minister Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota and former Gauteng-province premier Mbhazima Shilowa.
A bit of speculation. To what degree politics in SA is driven by the acts of only a handful of persons, I can't say, but I can't shake the feeling anymore - and even Lekota and Shilowa appear in some way steered by the psychology of the party that was shaped under Mbeki - they only resigned from the ANC when Mbeki gave up the presidency. I find it remarkable that only when the high king of the ANC was dethroned, people finally drew their line. ANC politicians, especially Mbeki, caution against the glorification of personalities - I suspect partly to douse some of the fragile tribal sentiments. Yet Mbeki's regime was marked consistently with making Mbeki the linchpin in his own government - a lot of his ministers revolved around him. The glorification of personality, although not as blatant, was part and parcel of Mbeki's government. Many people have written about Mbeki, and a thousands times better than I ever could - for the real deal, Mark Gevisser's biography on Mbeki "A Dream Deferred" is absolutely essential reading. So I'll keep it at this.
For one month, speculation was rife - but the whisper machine was doing its work admirably. In October everyone knew there would be a new party, which would "reclaim the true values" of the ANC. And with most of what came out, I had to nod in agreement:
Inside the Shikota movement - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
For now, the clearest agreement among his supporters is on the need to "modernise". Said one: "We have to drop the language of Stalinism and the national democratic revolution and move beyond the constraints of an outdated alliance. People from the left, including the Communist Party, are welcome, but if they want to take the revolution on to its second [fully Marxist] stage, they need to go elsewhere."
She said that although the new party will be in favour of a developmental state, the definition of such a state needs to be clarified. "We don't even know what the words `developmental state' mean."
It is said the new party will want the developmental state to be couched in social democratic principles rather than moving to a "harder" leftist approach, as mooted by the SACP, which claims it is playing a more influential role in the ANC than it did under former president Thabo Mbeki.
The ANC, although trying to preserve its calm, showed clear signs of panic, with on one hand a strategy to ignore "the splinter" and on the other hand trying to crack down ruthlessly on anyone who appeared to cross the line. It has been pretty dismal to watch, and showcases yet again the growing flaws within the current ANC structures.
Malema, utter village idiot of the ANC Youth League:
Malema lashes out at 'political imbeciles' - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
"We must not be hoodwinked into believing lies and half-truths the prophets of doom are spreading about our revolutionary movement."
Malema said it was time to educate the "political imbeciles" who have bad things to say [about the ANC] because they had "unfettered access" to the media.
He said the recent campaigning by Mosiuoa Lekota, who has since been suspended with Mluleki George, had been the most "idiotic" political performance the country had ever seen.
Motshekga of the ANC Women's League:
Motshekga blasts ANC dissidents | Times Multimedia
ANC Women's League president, Angie Motshekga said: "the dogs have now left the ruling party". She blasted dissidents ANC members at a press briefing in Luthuli House, Johannesburg.
Not that Lekota comes without faults - he's the reputation of an authoritarian bully with a coarse streak and he has never been unapologetic for the many flaws in Mbeki's cabinet - because he served in that government. Shilowa comes with a better CV on paper, but I don't know him well.
"Shikota" - Lekota (left) and Shilowa
Taken from: The Mail& Guardian
The inevitable climax: on the first November weekend, a big convention was held (most of the politics in SA has to pass through big rallies and conventions which more often than not appear mostly customary to me). This one was held in Sandton, Johannesburg - because all convention centres in Bloemfontein had mysteriously been sold out. (Tongues whisper that the ANC had booked them all to prevent the event from happening there.) A few kilometres south, in Soweto, Jacob Zuma led a massive counter-rally in which he called the new movement "a dead snake" and added some other niceties.
This Thursday, Shilowa unveiled the name of the new party: Congress of the People (COP). The party is planned to be founded on December 16 this year.
Meet the COP: Dissidents finally settle on party name - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
Addressing about 200 ANC dissidents in Cape Town, Shilowa said the new party would be called the Congress of the People.
"This is the name we are going to register on Monday with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)," he said.
Shilowa, who said the name was decided after several people had sent in SMSs. He stated that the name resonated with the breakaway movement's vision to unite all South Africans.
"We are not going to build a small party -- we are building a giant party," he said.
Shilowa also used the event to welcome three new recruits who had just resigned from the ANC.
In the meantime the exodus of the ANC continues:
Top Eastern Cape ANC members resign - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
Balindlela, George, former ANC provincial spokesperson Andile Nkuhlu, Amathole regional leader Moses Qomoyi, executive member of the provincial ANC Youth League Nkosifikile Gqomo, and a member of the Youth League executive committee disbanded in December 2006, Thabo Matiwane, announced their resignations on Monday.
In a letter to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, Balindlela said that since the ANC's Polokwane conference in December last year, the Eastern Cape, as a province, had accepted the results of the conference and readied themselves to work for unity and cohesion under the new ANC leadership.
It should be sheer impossible for the ANC to still claim this is a minor crisis, which of course they will. But in reality the party is fracturing, and the "Shikota" party (COP) is making inroads in at least seven of the nine SA provinces, where many people are disillusioned with the direction of the ANC. Only KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces, two of Zuma's strongholds, appear unimpressed with the new kid on the block.
Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating: how large the damage for the ANC will be in the 2009 national elections will really depend on how well the COP can spread around their new message, how much traction it has, and how much of the electorate will be able to choose another party over the biggest liberation movement that buried apartheid - a not insignificant factor!
In the near future, I expect some pretty ugly confrontations and rhetoric in this always inflammable country. However, SA may just have made one more definite step towards long term democratic stability.