Imagine the squirming at Luthuli House, the Union Buildings and in New York when ANC and government officials placed the military on ‘high alert’ because of a trifling little meeting. Julius Malema is successfully yanking their chains, making the 100-year-old ruling party appear powerless to respond to the mess happening around it. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
It’s not as if the ANC is unaware that its major weaknesses and shortcomings are causing it to fail in its primary task: to provide leadership to South Africa. It admitted as much in its policy document on organisational renewal discussed at its June policy conference.
The document found that the challenges of governance and the political management of state power have been impacting the character and values of the ANC as the “servant of the people”. It identified seven “dangers” it had to contend with and manage as a governing party:
- Social distance and isolation of the party from the masses
- State bureaucratism
- Corruption and neo-patrimonialism
- Institutionalised factionalism, ill-discipline and disunity fuelled by the battles over control of state power and resources
- Using state institutions to settle intra-party differences
- Neglecting cadre policy
- Lack of capacity and capability to implement policies in order to rapidly improve the standard of living of the masses.
The document also said that “factionalism and perpetual infighting” had shifted focus of ANC members away from “societal concerns and people’s aspirations”.
“Drastic measures and consistent action against these negative tendencies are necessary to root out anarchy and decay,” it found.
The report went on to say that the ANC’s grassroots structures are reinforcing “the isolation of the masses” rather than placing them “at the centre of our efforts to change our society fundamentally”.
So if the ANC knows all this and can admit its weaknesses, why is it so moribund and unable to respond to the cries from its support base? Why is it unable to react to all the alarm bells going off in society, warning of social and economic collapse? And why is it being shown up by its rabble-rousing former youth leader who is displaying that he can single-handedly reach out to disaffected communities while a million-member organisation cannot?
On Wednesday morning, newspaper headlines screamed “High Alert” after the government, for the first time since the advent of democracy, placed all military bases across the country on the high security status. This was due to a meeting expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema was having with soldiers near a military base south of Johannesburg. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who was in New York, was interviewed on radio stations, saying Malema seemed bent on turning members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) against the state.
“It cannot be allowed to happen in the SANDF," she said. “It cannot be that we allow an ordinary citizen to stand up and want to instigate and want to agitate members of the SANDF, which is what has happened in Marikana, which is what has happened in the mining industry amongst those workers.
“It’s not acceptable, it is wrong, it is incorrect and it is not going to be right. My view is that they are all traits… they are all indications that this is counter-revolutionary, I'm sorry," said Mapisa-Nqakula.
She warned soldiers attending the meeting that there would be consequences if they did not report for work on Wednesday. The Times reported that “top security intelligence briefings” involving several government ministers were held on Tuesday night in relation to Malema’s meeting.
After all that, it turned out to be a storm in a teacup. A small group of suspended soldiers turned up at a hall some distance away from the military base to meet with Malema. They told him about their frustrations at being dismissed following their 2009 strike for better salaries. Their dismissal was found to be unlawful in court. They were then reinstated and placed on special leave.
It must have been quite apparent to the soldiers that, as a civilian with no political powers or influence in the state, Malema could do little to help them. It seems they just wanted someone to hear them and sympathise with their problems. This he did, and as he did at Marikana, Malema used the platform and heavy media presence to rail against Zuma and the state.
“We are here because we heard you have problems. We require nobody’s permission to come and listen to you,” he said, adding that he was not planning a mutiny. “Yes we don’t like the government, but we want to bring it down democratically,” he said.
He said the government’s panic response to the meeting was exactly what had caused police to shoot at striking mineworkers at Marikana. He also zeroed in on government’s lack of response to various crises in the country.
“What is going right in this country? Everything is collapsing. People are losing confidence,” Malema said.
Photos:Expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema speaks to SANDF soldiers at the Lenasia Recreation Centre (Jordi Matas)
He knows that his former comrades are unable to challenge him on that claim because it is, simply, true. People are extremely frustrated and are losing confidence in the elected leadership at all spheres of government. But there appears to be a growing paralysis in the ruling party to respond to numerous expressions of these frustrations.
Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst and research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said the ANC is unable to conduct itself as the strategic centre of power that it claims to be.
Though the ANC concedes there is social distance from its support base, it is failing to do anything about it. “The failure to reduce the social distance, at Marikana and elsewhere, is an indicator that the ANC is in a state of decline. In order to change that it needs to be less unstable or more stable,” Matshiqi said.
He said leadership battles in the party are compromising its ability to function in the roles it should be playing in society. The ANC discussion document articulated this role as “serving the people and putting their interests above all else”.
It is sometimes difficult to believe that this is the same organisation which for decades and under extreme state repression was at the heartbeat of communities. Even when it was banned, the ANC was the voice of the vast majority of South Africans and embraced their suffering and battles. Now that it has been elected to do just that with all the resources available to it in the state, the ANC is turning a blind eye to those who most need it.
Matshiqi said Malema seemed to be benefitting from the leadership vacuum, though his gains may not last very long. The immediate concern that arose in the way government responded to his meeting with soldiers was the state of South Africa’s intelligence services.
“Why did ANC and government go into such a state of panic? Was it based on any national security threat assessment? What kind of intelligence capacity is there and what is the quality of intelligence available to policy makers for them to respond in that way,” Matshiqi asked.
The assumption that could be made was that those who made the decision to declare the high alert were given to believe that Malema’s meeting with the soldiers was a threat not only to the ANC, and a particular faction or individuals, but to the country itself, Matshiqi said.
He said Malema’s behaviour outside the ANC and his exploitation of the party’s limitations was an indication that the move to expel him as a “containment strategy” was a “spectacular failure”.
“Malema made an offer to resign all leadership positions in the party. Would that not have been a better containment strategy than the attempt to crush him?”
Matshiqi said the ANC was making many decisions, including in part the decision to expel Malema, based on the perceptions of international investors rather than what its own constituency was saying to it. But it was Marikana which really exposed how out of touch the ANC is, he said.
Throughout the tragedy, the ANC has been absent, not even offering basic humanitarian assistance to the traumatised community. Now that the strikes are spreading to other mines, the ANC is unable to tap into the worker discontent in order to rein it in.
“There are several explanations for what is happening. At a leadership level, the ANC is out of touch. Qualitatively, the current leadership of ANC is not equal to the challenges it faces. It is too divided to be effective at a leadership level. Or it could be a combination of all these aspects,” Matshiqi said.
The presidency declined to comment on Malema’s statements that South Africa was a “banana republic” and a “barbaric regime under President Jacob Zuma”. Spokesman Mac Maharaj said: “We won’t legitimise stories... by getting me or the presidency to comment. You don't expect him (Zuma) to comment on this?”
The problem with this approach, which is line with government’s general attitude to criticism, is that it also does not give an ear or an acknowledgement to all those who are aggrieved and feel abandoned by their leaders – some of whom are turning to Malema.
Malema would have no currency whatsoever if there was a semblance of leadership being shown by the ANC and its deployed representatives in government. As circumstances would have it, Malema seems to be the only person willing to say to the wretched in our society: “I hear you”. DM
Photo: Then still only suspended ANC Youth League President Julius Malema greets striking miners after addressing them outside the Impala platinum mine in Rustenburg, February 28, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko