The Day of the Big Cheese is finally upon us, and after maintaining a confused silence, the ANC has finally decided to try to give some direction to it, while others in the alliance had arranged better things to do. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
When you can’t beat the child, then take the sting out of his mischief. This seems to be the ANC’s strategy for dealing with the ANC Youth League’s “economic freedom” march on Thursday and Friday. It’s an eleventh-hour strategy, because the party’s silence on the matter until this week gives the impression it hadn’t thought it through much before.
In a preciously honest press release, the party said it had “accepted as a reality” that “it was too late to stop the march, even if the ANCYL agreed to do so and stopping it therefore would cause more confusion”. (Honesty doesn’t always make grammatical sense.)
It took an innocent question from Eyewitness News reporter Rahima Essop to make ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu blush, while secretary-general Gwede Mantashe also missed a beat. Does this mean the ANC had tried to stop the march, she wanted to know. Mantashe said this was mere “rumour” and “I normally refuse to give credence to rumour”. Except Essop didn’t ask him about rumour, but about the statement.
It was too late to stop the march anyway, as the ANC’s national working committee (on which the Youth League’s favourite grown-up, sports minister Fikile Mbalula, also serves) had only met with the League on Tuesday night (which was strange, because the League already declared by Monday lunch time that it had gotten the blessing of the ANC’s officials for the march at a meeting in the morning. There must have been some controversy, because the party’s national working committee doesn’t usually meet on a Tuesday night.) “If there were views to say let the march be stopped, it was too late,” Mantashe said.
The ANC also, belatedly, tried to stamp some authority on the march, by saying the socio-economic issues raised by the League are “genuine concerns facing society” and it’s on the ANC and government’s agendas. “March on the private capital (Chamber of Mines and the JSC) nudging them to be part of finding solutions to the problems facing the country, was justifiable,” Mantashe said.
But marching to the Union Buildings, the seat of government (and of course President Jacob Zuma’s office), “was sending a negative signal of the ANC being at war with itself”, so the “tone of this leg of the march must therefore change to one that is in support of government programmes”.
The League must acknowledge that much has been done, but together we can do more, and so on.
Mantashe also said the ANC had accepted the League’s explanation that the march was “neither against the ANC government nor linked to the 2012 elective national conference of the ANC”, and that it would be peaceful. Therefore, the kids aren’t aiming to overthrow Zuma, or not officially anyway.
Mantashe said there was no instruction to ANC leaders not to march, and nothing ordering them to do so. But we bet the party will be keeping a close watch on who’s at the march, just in case it actually turns out to be anti-Zuma.
This could, of course, lead to even more suspicion among comrades, which makes the march a genius move to divide (and rule?) the ANC even further.
Cosatu has taken the one-foot-in-one-foot-out approach. While general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said he would not attend the march although the labour federation supported the League’s demands, he sounded like he might want to be there, like some of the federation’s affiliates. He told metalworkers’ union Numsa, which will be marching, that the political atmosphere was so loaded right now that anything members of the alliance do, such as marches or criticism of government’s finances and economic plans, can be interpreted as criticising Zuma. Alliance members should rather “battle around principles” and not factions. Unions should reconnect with those that were marginalised and jobless (the people Malema is aiming for, too, incidentally).
Vavi also warned against “narrow nationalism” (which Malema’s lot in the ANC had been accused of) and “tribalism” (which Zuma has been accused of by the ANC Youth League). These were divisive, he said, while workers should find things that united them, not divide them.
The SACP and its youth wing, the Young Communist League, are too sceptical to even set foot near the march, and the same goes for the MK Military Veterans Association. In fact, the YCL had organised its own, much more intellectual party – a jobs summit in Midrand (where the League’s march would pass later on Thursday). SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande will be talking at the summit, as will former League leader, public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba.
Nzimande has condemned the march outright as an attack on Zuma, but Malema hit back, saying Nzimande (as well as police minister Nathi Mthethwa, who also warned against the march) was just scared of losing his job.
We wonder why Zuma would fire Nzimande in the first place for attending a march that wasn’t aimed at overthrowing Zuma, or was this a Freudian slip on Malema’s part? Perhaps he meant no one other than Zuma would have Nzimande in their Cabinet.
Anyway, the League’s government arm (well, de facto anyway), the National Youth Development Agency, has declared its support for the march too, but the DA Youth has cried foul over a government agency taking a party political stance. We’ll have to wait and see who wins this one.
Meanwhile, the Presidency has issued a press release saying the League was welcome to visit at the Union Buildings, but could not camp on the lawns overnight as national security considerations didn’t allow it. So the kids have backed off and will be partying it up at a nearby stadium.
Journalists asked Mantashe on Wednesday what action the ANC would take if things at the march go awry. He replied in classic Mantashe-speak: “I prefer to think that things will go right. You can’t say the action when you don’t know what you’re talking about that will go wrong.”
With Zuma already having hogged the headlines with his Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, finance minister Pravin Gordhan with his mini-budget on Tuesday and with a myriad things happening on Thursday – such as the release of the arms deal-inquiry terms of reference and the DA’s caucus elections – there will be a fierce competition for Friday’s front pages. DM
- While Zuma gets on with real business, Malema whines about planned march, on Daily Maverick
Photo: ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Reuters.