Politics

Zuma at the ANC 100: It’s my party, and I’ll be dry if I want to

By Stephen Grootes 9 January 2012

A party is a party. But a party is not necessarily a good memorable party unless there is tequila. And if someone is going to hold a party, and decides to well and truly cork the tequila, it may make for a cleaner parking lot, but for not-so-rocking a party. That, in short, is the story of the ANC's 100th birthday bash. A nice loud party. But volume is no match for potency. For the rest of it, and why this is actually a massive victory for President Jacob Zuma, STEPHEN GROOTES is back from his holiday.

We will never know the true thinking behind the decision to stop Julius Malema from speaking in Bloemfontein. Logistics, perhaps – it was a big event. Politics, surely, a major factor. Timing… hmmm, he’s usually very short, can’t be that. Either way, Zuma showed that power is power, and if you are the incumbent, you have the power of incumbency. Malema was left to sit in his despot-silver shades, with nothing much to show for the afternoon but a hug from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

But his day got a lot worse. You wouldn’t think so to listen to the crowd. The media section was right below the Limpopo delegation. Whoever thought that was a good idea should be sent to the North Korean School of Initiative and Independent Thinking. Because the impression most of us hacks would have got was that Malema was the most popular person in the place. The stands shook. Young people have voices, and tend not to be afraid to use them. But the whole stadium shook when Zuma walked in. It shook again when he spoke about discipline. Having said that, there was none of the jubilation that used to mark a good Zuma entrance.

But we need to move away from the set-piece speech. It was okay by Zuma’s pretty low speech-ifying standards. He’s better than he used to be at this. But the real meat, the real politics, the real indication of power, of who is stronger than who, lies in the booklet that was handed out: the full “January 8 Statement 2012 – The Year of Unity in Diversity”. It’s written not by Zuma – he just gives a summary – but by the whole national executive committee. And thus we get to see how everyone is faring within the NEC.

Buried, on page 32, after 26 pages of the ANC history during the Struggle, is the heading “The People Shall Share the Country’s Wealth”. The slightly odd phrasing is because it’s a direct quote from the Freedom Charter. The NEC discusses the legislation around mining, and then says, “The mineral wealth beneath the soil has been transferred to the state on behalf of the people as a whole… The establishment of a state owned mining company means that the state takes on an active interest in mining activities”. It seems hard to interpret this as anything but a rejection of mine nationalisation. Surely it’s saying the Freedom Charter clause has been complied with through the current legal framework.

Compare that comment with the angry “statement of support” released by the ANC Youth League as the afternoon wore on. It contains the magnificent claim that “this generation of young activists should appreciate that the revolutionary programme we are pursuing, “economic freedom in our lifetime” will not be left to some older people who seem to have accepted that the massive wealth inequalities cannot be changed. The reason they go to the Queen to account and report is because they believe that such is the only way to do things even with the political power that was given to them by the people of South Africa.” Even for young Julius that’s pretty pointed. He must have had a stiff tot of something before arriving for the party. After all, as anyone who’s ever been to a matric dance knows, the best way to get booze into the school hall is in your stomach.

The good thing about all of this is that at least the gloves are off, the ANC is changing. And change is something Zuma is prepared to roll with. He, and the NEC, want a re-shaped, restructured, renewed and more professional party. It’s about time. But this is also the man, and the NEC, who rejected calls for the “leadership debate” within the party to be opened up. Come Mr President, you speak with forked tongue, you can’t have one without the other.

The ANC is often at its most interesting when it engages in self-reflection – when it looks at what it has achieved, and at what it hasn’t. It’s pretty pleased with itself on the legal frameworks in place to ensure equality of opportunity etc. It’s pretty frustrated with itself in terms of execution. Land reform is a key problem, “It is a reality that only 5% of the land has been redistributed”, says the statement. It does point out that more and more black people are buying their own land, but it’s still a lament for the land redistribution programme. Of course, there’s no new idea or suggestion on how to change it. Probably because it’s a bloody tricky problem with no easy answer.

But the most sobering lesson comes in the form of a real cry over education, “The challenge of education… constitutes a crisis, with South Africa performing poorly in comparison with nearly every single education indicator”. This just after pretty decent matric results, at least oficially. It’s a sign of real reflection. The NEC is right of course. Education is a disaster. And it doesn’t seem like government is even able to begin to get a grip on the problem (Remember the Eastern Cape education department: it was taken over by national government, and officials just refused to obey orders).

Last year we were told the new focus was on jobs. We don’t see much of that in this year’s January 8th Statement. There’s the usual brief mention, but considering the ANC’s first election pledge was “Decent Work” (whatever that means) you’d think there would be a bit more. Incidentally, speaking of things left out, in 2008 and 2009 there was huge interest in what the Zuma ANC would do to monetary policy and inflation targeting. Didn’t get a mention this year.

The statement ends with a list of tasks which require “urgent and practical steps”. “Revitalising the grassroots structures” won’t happen because there are too many leadership conferences in various parts of the party this year. “Place the ANC at the forefront of the progressive forces for change” would make Orwell’s Newspeak practitioners happy, but doesn’t seem to really mean much. “Fast-tracking development of cadres new and old” seems like a good idea. But the ANC was supposed to start a political school in 2008. Then someone put Tony Yengeni in charge of it. A person who would be more likely to take tequila to class it’s hard to find.

But perhaps the most interesting is the NEC’s call to “restore the core values, stamp out factionalism and promote political discipline”. It’s politically very hairy. A victorious leader’s discipline is a losing contender’s abuse of power. But it’s really about keeping your tequila in the bottle: Malema. And as we all know, that battle is not finished yet.

One last thought. The slogan for this year is interesting: “Unity in Diversity”. Could it be that the party is beginning to feel the pain of losing minorities? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it’s a funky slogan nonetheless.

The year 2012 is now upon us. In the ANC, it’s an election year. Zuma didn’t do too much electioneering on Sunday. But it’s clear he starts as the MacDaddy of our politics. Good luck to those who try to unseat him, they’re gonna need it. And they should keep the tequila in a locked cupboard somewhere. It is not going to help their cause. Or their thinking. DM

Grootes is an EWN reporter.




Photo: South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma greets his supporters during the African National Congress’ (ANC) centenary celebration in Bloemfontein January 8, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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