Though frequent change at the top of the ruling ANC is disruptive, it is fun to watch and, crucially, it stops South Africa from becoming Zimbabwe. STEPHEN GROOTES was the final speaker at The Daily Maverick’s conference, The Gathering, and did not shy away from predicting who will make up the ANC’s “top six” in two years’ time.
Let me start by saying that at the end of this I’m going to predict who I think will be in the ANC’s top six after 2012. And then everyone in this room can tell me why I’m wrong. And then for the whole of 2013, you will have real evidence as to why I was wrong.
Predicting what’s going to happen in the ANC is a mug’s game. I’ve always believed that if you didn’t grow up in the organisation, you’re simply going to get it wrong. Polokwane proved that the media, myself included, often doesn’t really know what it is talking about. Having said that, Polokwane at least was a fairly easy situation to analyse. There were two main forces and only one could win. The run up to Mangaung at the end of 2012 is actually more difficult because there are more forces at play. Instead of the dynamic Mbeki vs Zuma and the factions and organisations that were caught up in that, we have a variety of trends happening at the same time.
This makes it harder to predict an outcome at Mangaung, but it also makes it a lot more fun. The path to power is usually lined with comedy and tragedy, and the greasy pole has plenty of pitfalls for those who don’t have the right support, misjudge their support and make statements that later turn out to be untrue.
If you think that I’m suggesting here that Julius Malema is more likely to slip than anyone else, you’d be right.
And may I just pause here and make a very important point.
We are very lucky that in our country people like Gwede Mantashe and Zwelinzima Vavi will come and speak to us (as they did at The Gathering). Mantashe knew what kind of audience he would face. But he appreciates that we are all South Africans, and that we must debate, we must talk. He sidesteps like Bryan Habana, sometimes he tackles like Victor Matfield – but the fact is he gets that we are all South Africans with rights.
Contrast that with Julius Malema – or worse, Siphiwe Nyanda who once told me that I would get into trouble if I kept asking him about his businesses – or Pule Mabe in the ANC Youth League – who uses every press conference to threaten the media. Or the arrogance of Floyd Shivambu who wants to close Twitter.
Those are some of the people we need to watch closely – and we need to make sure that they learn why hearing the other side of the debate is important.
Let’s start with one of the forces that emerged very strongly since Polokwane: the tenderpreneurs. While obviously this phenomenon was around during the Mbeki years, it has really seized the imagination of the country. Mainly because one of the stronger public forces at the moment has seized it by the scruff of the neck and decided enough is enough. Zwelinzima Vavi has been the face of this particular force, arranging itself against tenderpreneurism. Of course, it’s pretty convenient for him that this could also be a rather large block in his own path to power.
The tenderpreneurs are defined in the public imagination as people such as Siphiwe Nyanda, Fikile Mbalula, the crowd around Julius Malema, the people mentioned by Mark Heywood – and yes – he included Tony Yengeni. There is no real legal proof at this point that these people are corrupt, but there is a perception in many quarters that they are. These are people who appear to have some power on the national working committee of the ANC, but less in the national executive committee. One way to work out their relative strength is what they try to do about Zwelinzima Vavi. The first attempt to have some kind of disciplinary action against him was a disaster. It was leaked, probably by one of Vavi’s allies on the NWC and it rebounded massively. It showed who was in this camp, and the kind of power they had. Vavi emerged as a paragon of virtue. Look at the way a wonderful M&G exclusive about his wife’s earnings just bounced off him. If that were a story about just about anyone else in our public life, it would have hung around his neck like a dead albatross. Instead, perhaps because we all know that the fight against corruption needs a hero, a man on a white charger who is within the alliance, Vavi has pretty much been left alone. That must be frustrating indeed for Nic Dawes and his colleagues.
The tenderpreneur’s main cheerleader is, of course, Julius Malema. He’s the one man who can go out and say that the youth have a responsibility to party. But he is certainly not the figure he once was. Malema has lost his ability to shock. The left has been able to win the public argument about nationalisation. It’s taken about a year for the left to say it publicly, but it’s now managed to convince the people that matter, that what’s really happening is that Malema is being used by capitalists to get government to bail them out of bad mining investments. At the NGC, no less a person that Trevor Manuel showed that he believes this to be true. He didn’t say it like that, but it’s obvious that’s what he believes.
This has taken the left a while. Jeremy Cronin told me on Talk Radio 702 at the beginning of the year that this was the case. It was live radio, and as always, he knew what he was doing. But he used Croninesque language, and such big words, that no one really understood him. But it was there.
What the left has successfully managed to do, is that even if not everyone believes its explanation of the why the youth league is pushing for nationalisation, it’s given them a plausible political reason to oppose it. In other words, there’s now a reason for them to say – hold on, we disagree with you. When it comes to taking on Julius Malema, you need a good reason. You also need people who will disagree with him, in public, and agree with you. This the left has now managed to do. There is an increasing feeling within the ANC’s main stream that Malema can be opposed.
And more importantly, that if you oppose him, you will not be decapitated by him and his allies.
It would also appear that the relative strength of the tenderpreuners took another dive with the sacking of Siphiwe Nyanda. He did pitch up to the national working committee meeting this week. Of course, that was one of the meetings to attend, and his face must have been quite something. One would think that after being sacked, he’s going to sulk for a while. If he doesn’t come back, then he’s going to look weak. He needs to think very carefully about what he does now. Anything too public looks like revenge. And one would think Zuma has a nice ambassador’s post for him. Get him off the stage, just get him out of here.
So then how do we assess the relative strength of the tenderpreneurs?
Not as strong as they were, I think. Fikile Mbalula is still very powerful. But he is also merely the sports minister. When I spoke to him recently, it was obvious he’s going to use his new post to campaign. He’ll go to every public game, and basically be chief cheerleader. But like the crown prince of Holland who does exactly the same thing, he’ll have no real power.
But this is a group of people who want power badly. And they will push for it. So we must watch them closely
Having said all this, we need to talk about the sad demise of one of the left’s main organs, the South African Communist Party.
There was a time when Blade Nzimande seemed to set the agenda. His song, “My mother was a kitchen girl, My father was a garden boy”, literally set the tone for every court appearance by Jacob Zuma. In a culture where political songs really, really matter, that was real power.
Now look at him. He’s a sorry shadow of his former self. His decision to go into the ANC NEC started to hamstring him, then his decision to go into cabinet was even worse.
What’s happened is that he’s lost his ability to speak out. He can no longer say what he thinks. And as any politician will tell you, the leader of the party is its biggest face, its biggest megaphone, its boldest symbol.
The symbol of the SACP is someone who likes big cars but can’t get a grip on his ministry.
In some ways this is hugely unfair. It’s allowed Zwelinzima Vavi to rule the roost in the public imagination. He’s out of government. What this means, as Adam Habib has put it, is that Vavi is judged on his rhetoric, while Nzimande is judged on actual delivery.
It really was a massive mistake Blade made going into government. It’s too early to say what this means for him, but I think he could have a rough leadership conference at the SACP’s next official gathering in 2012.
When we look at the economic forces shaping up within the ANC and the alliance, we have to start to look for the middle ground. What does the silent majority of ANC members think about nationalisation, about the National Health Insurance Scheme and about inflation targeting.
I don’t know. And I don’t think too many people really do either. I do think the middle ground may be a little frustrated with President Jacob Zuma, because most people do like action. Also, he’s not getting the same kind of rapture he used to get when he walked into a room. In ANC terms, that can be significant.
But Zuma is a force of a his own – a tsunami with plenty of momentum still.
And his strong showing at the NGC – plus his reshuffle could really be the start of something new. It could be the start of him gaining ground again. Also, if none of the people he sacked tries to take action against him, if they are seen to be weaker than him – then obviously he’ll start to look stronger.
One of the people most responsible for his recent strong showing has to be Gwede Mantashe. The man who linked the union movement to the SACP to the ANC played a massive role at the NGC. His speech dovetailed perfectly with Zuma’s. It was good, clever, calculating politics. Mantashe is astute and experienced, he knows how to play the game better than most people. What this means is that to an extent, Zuma may find he needs Mantashe’s support. Whether that means Mantashe will have the power to make or break Zuma is another question. On balance, surely “not” is the answer to that question.
So then, having said that making political predictions is a mug’s game, what does the ANC look like in December 2012.
I have to say 2012 could actually see a bigger shake-up in our politics than 2007 did. Because at Polokwane there was only really one election, Mbeki lost, and the other players around him stayed the same. 2012 is very different. Not only do we have the ANC leadership election in 2012, but we will also have a Cosatu and an SACP election.
Those two will come first. This means we should get a very good early indication of the political movements and trends ahead of the big showdown at Mangaung in 2012.
The questions that will need to be answered are: Will Blade Nzimande survive at the SACP, will Vavi really step down as general secretary of Cosatu and if so why, and what will the impact of those movements be on the ANC.
I think Vavi will step down, I think Nzimande will probably stay on.
But will Zuma? It’s too early to say, but possibly. If not him, then Kgalema Motlanthe must still be the front runner. He has the support of the unions, he’s courting the Youth League – and he is the current deputy president of the ANC– as Zuma was before him, don’t forget.
Okay – here it is then – my prediction for the ANC’s top six leadership. This is if Zuma goes; if he doesn’t the maths gets more complicated.
I’ve missed out the position of ANC deputy president because I think it’s simply impossible to predict that at this point.
Now when I look at that list, I can already see problems with it. For a start, there’s only one woman, and the ANC probably would want at least two, gender parity being a big issue for the party. Then I think there are too many NUM veterans in that list, and surely some ANC members would have a problem with that. And who could fill the open post. There’s a chance Tokyo Sexwale could be on it, but not necessarily as deputy president.
If Zuma stays on as president, I think Motlanthe will stay on as deputy, and then the maths gets very scrambled from there.
But, it’s way too early to make hard-and-fast predictions of the ANC’s top six. And yes, sometimes they do just work it out the night before.
The fact that I’m even talking about change in at the very top of our politics like this reminds us of one important factor we have in South Africa that other less-successful countries lack.
We regularly have change at the top. This means there’s change through all levels of our government structures and bureaucracy. Just this past week has seen how quickly that change can happen – and what its impact can be on departments. This may be bad for service delivery, it’s unstable, it may make business a little worried.
But it stops us from being Zimbabwe. It stops us from having one small group of people running things for a long time. It stops the national police chief from being the president’s son-in-law. It means the people at the top have to watch their step very closely. And because Vavi has been so successful at making corruption such a big political issue, means that those who want to be corrupt have to be even more careful.
And it means that it’s going to be lots of fun to watch them as they try to climb that greasy pole – and once they get to the top – to see who can actually stay there. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
Photo: ANC’s top six at Polokwane.
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