Reporter's notebook: Another post-NEC briefing, another Mantashiavellian show
A post-NEC press conference would be a little boring if it wasn’t at least a little Mantashiavellian. As always, he’s leaving the options open, keeping the stuff interesting and finding ways to outsmart his opponents, youthful and other. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
It was always going to be difficult to know exactly how the ANC’s national executive committee was going to deal with the live hand-grenade forced upon it by the kindergarten it had refused to discipline. Well, they’ve found a way to kick it into touch again.
They’re going to appoint two “senior independent” researchers to look into the whole question. Not of “nationalisation” you understand, but rather of “successful examples of the role of the state in the mining industry”. Dig a little deeper and it would appear that taxation is one of those “roles of the state”. Go a little further and it turns out the terms of reference of these two researchers will be set by the ANC’s economic transformation committee. Last time we saw that committee in action it was headed by Trevor Manuel. And one would think he’ll have a freer hand than he did in that emotional tent in Durban during the ANC’s national general council.
Mantashe also went so far, quietly, to say that the ANC “is not going to take a decision on a policy as important as this as an emotional decision, or even an ideological decision”. Ever the pragmatist, our Gwede. Reuters was there, and we presume they got every nuance of that particular comment.
What we’re seeing here is the power of incumbency being used to good effect. There’s still a way to go before December 2012, and plenty can happen in Youth League politics in that time. And Mantashe is going to make sure that they’re kept busy until then. Who knows, perhaps Malema may not even be League President by then (Stephen – stop it, the rand is way too strong already! – Ed).
While the nationalisation/role of the state issue is the headline-grabber at the moment, it’s clear the NEC has had other things on its mind. For a start it’s beginning the process of creating an integrity committee. Basically, the idea is that there should be a register of interests for ANC leaders, like the one for MPs, yet different. But already the pitfalls have been spotted. As Mantashe pointed out, the “integrity of the information” will be vital. Because if it’s leaked, it’ll be used in political battles within the party. Can you imagine the fun and games they’re going to have looking for the right person to be in charge of that! Someone of unimpeachable integrity. Who is universally respected within the ANC. Good luck to them if they get that far.
Discipline is also a major focus. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard President Jacob Zuma or someone else say there’ll be a crack-down on people who step out of line. Whatever. It certainly hasn’t happened yet. The NEC spent some time studying video footage of what happened when the ANC Youth League “stormed the stage” at the NGC. While this was behind closed doors, what has leaked is that YL members weren’t happy with the draft NGC declaration, as it pertained to nationalisation. Thus they stormed the stage in a bid to get it changed. It seems the ANC provincial chairpersons came too, in a bid to defuse things. Mantashe says the situation is too confused to work out what exactly happened. Really? You were all there, you have video footage and you can’t work it out. Okay then.
But he also claims that a “political decision” was taken to give “discipline the widest possible interpretation”. In other words, they’ve talked to the YL and told them not to do it again. Really. 'Cos that’s worked so well up to now.
On the alliance front the summit, due for December has been postponed “because the month is too congested”. Gee, pull the other one. So it isn’t because hyenas and Zwelinzima Vavi in the same room will make great copy, but unstable politics. But don’t worry, it’s now going to happen late in January. Don’t hold your breath.
Of course, the John Block issue was going to come up. Not from the NEC, of course, but from a hungry press pack. Block, you’ll remember, is the ANC’s Northern Cape chairman, a strongman if ever there was one, and has allegedly suffered the misfortune of misinterpreting the Racketeering Act. He’s also the province’s finance MEC, so we had that old debate - should an ANC leader, with charges of corruption over his head, step down from government office or not. It has a certain déjà vu about it. It would be difficult for an ANC administration led by Zuma to ask anyone to step down in such a position. After all, he was “relieved of his duties as the country's deputy president” and refused to step down himself from his ANC position back in 2005.
Mantashe claims it’s “premature” to get Block out just yet. He did the usual song-and-dance about why he must be proven guilty first etc. You’ve heard it all before and it’s all nonsense. But then Mantashe continued, saying any decision would be up to Northern Cape Premier Hazel Jenkins, “and I’m sure she would consult with the President, with all the relevant people, with provincial structures…”. Okay, time for the realpolitik. Block rules the ANC in the Northern Cape. Jenkins was appointed premier by the NEC pretty much on his say-so (or so it looks to us). The fact she was in court to support him tells us she’s less powerful than he is. So any consultation she will have will be with Zuma (or Mantashe) himself. Zuma will then have a conversation with Block. They’ll thrash it out, and she’ll be told what to do from there.
We think there’s a chance of something actually happening in Kimberley on this pretty soon. He can do it for the good of the party, the ANC can say it’s clamping down, everyone’s happy. We’ll see.
This was the last ordinary NEC meeting for the year. Somehow we doubt political peace will reign all the way through until the ANC’s statement on 8 January. But you never know. It is the ANC, after all. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
Photo: The Daily Maverick.