If getting the recipe for support is crucial, the ANC may well have put too much curry powder in the dish for its forthcoming meeting in Durban. While cosying up to the moneyed folk of business, it has told the international community they’re not welcome. That could turn out to be rather too spicy for many tastes. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Diplomacy has its own language. It’s sophisticated, carefully crafted, it allows one head of state to tell another to get lost in a way in which he or she will look forward to the trip. It’s calibrated in a way that leaves room for people to have a way out of a difficult situation; sometimes diplomacy is used to prolong a crisis as a way of avoiding conflict. There are times when it’s used deliberately to stoke a war.
But the main aim of diplomacy is to keep open the lines of communication. The aim of a diplomat is to always talk, to always be available. Which makes the ANC’s decision to write a letter to the diplomatic corps here telling them they’re “not invited” to the party’s national general council is singularly undiplomatic. It slams the door. It stops the talking. It says get lost in a particularly rude way.
Contrast that to the way in which the ANC has opened its doors to business. The party seems to be boasting in its statement yesterday when it said that it’s sold out its gala dinner with President Jacob Zuma. That’s right, people are paying to eat with the President. The party’s also hugely proud of the fact that it sold 66 exhibition stands to businesses. The idea is that on every morning of the NGC, between 7am and 10am, business people will be able to have breakfast with ANC leaders. Of course, those ANC leaders have day jobs as ministers. Jackson Mthembu says this means people will be able to meet with “Pravin Gordhan, Trevor Manuel or Ebhrahim Patel”.
Here’s our question. If you get to meet one of them, shake hands, make small talk, what then? Do you get to actually discuss your plan to build a generator with Gordhan. Do you think you’ll get Manuel to explain to you and only to you where the National Planning Commission is going to focus? Seriously, who would pay that money and what do they expect in turn. Based on our knowledge of them none of those people is going to do anything improper. Besides, everyone knows the way to get government business is to have links in the provinces and municipalities.
But it seems to be more evidence that the ANC’s relationship with business is getting increasingly cosier. It’s cheap to say that this is odd behaviour for a liberation movement. To be fair, this is also typical behaviour for political parties around the world. They will have business lounges and businesspeople hanging around at big events. It’s the usual nexus of business and politics that is so universal.
But the contrast with the way international representatives are being treated couldn’t be greater.
Gwede Mantashe wrote to Libyan ambassador Abdallah Alzubedi, current dean of the diplomatic corps:
"This is a gathering to review progress in implementing the resolutions of the national conference that was held in Polokwane in December 2007. By its very nature, it (the council) is a mid-term review between conferences of the ANC, (so) the national executive committee of the ANC has decided that it be closed to the public and international guests.”
When questioned about why diplomats are so persona non grata, Mthembu has a simple explanation. He says it’s all about logistics. The NGC is in Durban, they would only be allowed in for the opening and closing sessions. This means they would be stuck in Durban for four whole days to listen to two speeches by Zuma. He goes on to say that if any of them feel strongly about it, they’re welcome to speak to Mantashe and they could well be allowed in.
On the face of it, there’s something to that explanation. Logistically it does make sense and the ANC's care for the diplomats' well-being is touching. It doesn’t explain the tone of Mantashe’s letter, or why he felt the need to undiplomatically slam the door. Most of the diplomats in this country are from countries aligned to the ANC’s aims in some way. We’re talking about the non-aligned group here. The dean of the diplomatic corps is the Libyan ambassador, not some patrician counter-revolutionary Brit. But we have to ask if it has anything to do with the fact that the international community, and diplomats based here have been outspoken about the ANC’s plans for the media.
Is this really about revenge? Is this about the ANC saying not just get lost, but butt out? Is this about the ruling party once again turning its back on the international community that did so much to help liberate the country? It is difficult to say. But one of the things you have to worry about in diplomacy is not what you say, but how you are heard. We already know that diplomats here are asking why Mantashe dealt with this issue in such a harsh way. Why couldn’t he just have fudged it? Why not just write a letter saying it’s really not practical to invite everybody, but if you’re really keen on coming, please, feel free to make the trip and we’ll make a plan when you get there.
Mantashe is no fool. It may be that he was looking to calibrate some anger of his own. Perhaps he was looking for a non-destructive way of saying bugger off. If that is the case, it’s very worrying.
But remember, the ANC does make the odd faux pas from time to time. For Polokwane they sent out the diplomatic invitations at the last minute. Perhaps they just cocked this one up, rather than conspire to piss off many people that genuinely want to help South Africa. Let’s hope so. DM
Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter.
Photo: Top six ANC leaders at Polokwane conference. (The Daily Maverick)