“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results,” said American writer Frank Herbert. When it comes to the ANC succession battle, it’s not so much insanity as it is desperation that makes President Jacob Zuma do to his challengers what he so resented when it was done to him. But like him, they’re fighting back. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY
How is your “RDP of the Soul” going? No idea what that is? Well, no surprise there.
The “RDP of the Soul” was the “Second Transition” of the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference – a difficult-to-define concept conceived to distract everyone from the leadership wars building in the organisation.
It also had a whole policy discussion document dedicated to it and was meant to be a central pillar of discussions at the ANC policy conference that year. The ANC’s national executive committee started preaching the RDP of the Soul gospel from about March 2007, stating that it would review “the problems of a spiritual and moral nature that have emerged in the era of liberation, and set out an approach to the ‘reconstruction and development’ of our nation’s soul.”
But alas, the great Polokwane showdown between the Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma factions in the ANC happened instead, and nobody could care less about the RDP of the Soul. It was completely forgotten about, just like the campaign for “A New Cadre”, which was conjured up in the build-up to the ANC’s 2002 conference in Stellenbosch, was simply ignored straight after the gathering.
This time around, the “Second Transition” is in vogue. The introduction to the Second Transition policy discussion document, which provides the backdrop and context to all the discussion papers for next week’s ANC policy conference, states:
“This paper… proposes that our vision for the next few decades should be informed by an approach that suggests that having concluded our first transition with its focus on democratisation over the last 18 years, we need a vision for a second transition that must focus on the social and economic transformation of South Africa over the next 30 to 50 years.”
For President Jacob Zuma and his backers, the term “Second Transition” is essentially a lobbying tool for his second term – it defers criticism of his presidency and creates a romantic notion of a new phase of the “national democratic revolution” focusing on economic rather than political change.
It is, therefore, no surprise that deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe has cast doubt over the rationale and motives of the second transition.
“From where to where?” Motlanthe asked last week, “What constituted the first transition? Have all of those tasks been accomplished or not?”
The proposal has also been rejected by two provinces, Gauteng and Limpopo, for being innocuous and “theoretically unsound”. Incidentally neither of these provinces is too keen on a second term for Zuma either.
The ANC and its leaders, it would seem, did not learn from the mistakes of the past. They are destined to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors, even those which were used against them and they themselves protested about years ago.
In 2007, then president Mbeki and his acolytes did their best to suppress and deride any succession talk in the ANC. Zuma, at the time the main contender to challenge Mbeki, and Tokyo Sexwale, then a leading businessman, were demonised for running underground campaigns and for encouraging “alien” practices in the organisation.
All this did was to strengthen the underground campaign machinery run by both men and to drive them to resort to divisive means to appeal to and lobby their supporters. In the end, Mbeki was left humiliated and defeated by those who accused him of being a dictator for being intolerant of debate and for trying to crush his rivals using state resources.
Yet Zuma, ironically, is making the same mistakes of his former close comrade-turned-arch rival in his desperate bid to hang on to power. He is forcing Motlanthe and Sexwale to run covert campaigns because it is impossible and unfair to both of them to only get off the starting blocks in October when the ANC officially opens its leadership nominations process.
Zuma knows that the ANC restrictions on campaigning forces challengers to identify and play on the weaknesses of the incumbent. Hence the “Anything But Zuma” (ABZ) campaign, devised by Sexwale’s camp, is designed to project Zuma’s limitations and air all his dirty laundry in an effort to convince ANC members that re-electing such a flawed leader would be a fatal mistake and that any of the challengers would be preferable.
While Motlanthe has been very restrained and diplomatic up to now, Sexwale has openly broken ranks with government and has been critical of Zuma’s leadership.
Speaking in Alexandra, Johannesburg, over the weekend, Sexwale said: “At these conferences, we change leaders, not because we want to change leaders but because the struggle is about moving forward.
“People come and go. Change comes with new ideas. And one thing if you are a leader, do not stand in the way of new ideas, otherwise the ideas will change you.”
Though Zuma was always the consummate party man and vowed to respect the ANC’s rules on leadership and campaigning, even when he was an outcast during his criminal trials, it was his belief that Mbeki was abusing the state security agencies that made him wage an all-out battle for power in 2007. Zuma viewed it as the ultimate betrayal that Mbeki allegedly resorted to surreptitious tactics, such as surveillance by intelligence agents and the buying of votes, to retain the ANC presidency.
Nobody knows for certain if Zuma’s appointment and protection of former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli was linked to his campaign for re-election at Mangaung. But the fact that the controversial “ground coverage report” alleging Sexwale and others were plotting against Zuma was produced by Mdluli and that Zuma has never condemned this and other contemptible deeds by Mdluli outright could only mean there were sinister motives.
Sexwale is milking the baffling relationship between Zuma and Mdluli for all it’s worth. He has asked the public protector to probe whether Mdluli abused his powers by investigating him for plotting against the president. He has also lashed the government for mishandling the Mdluli matter and for political interference in policing.
Zuma, constrained by the ANC’s regimen in a conference year, has been unable to effectively respond to all the allegations of leadership weakness against him. During an ANC centenary lecture on Friday, he could only hit back at his challengers in coded terms and by projecting himself as the champion of ANC tradition.
He mocked those who opposed the second transition – Motlanthe had questioned it the night before Zuma’s lecture – as being similar to opposition politicians.
“They will never agree with us because we don’t come from the same place, from the same town, from the same street. In fact, if they were not worried, we should be worried that we are doing something wrong,” Zuma said.
And as an apparent backhand to Sexwale and his ABZ campaign, Zuma said: “Money leadership will not get you anywhere”.
The slight difference in approach to his predecessor was that Mbeki would use the ANC’s weekly online newsletter to lash out at his critics and deride those who posed a challenge to him.
Another thing Zuma and his supporters in 2007 resented about Mbeki was the way he bullied the ANC’s NEC into endorsing his positions and to suppress dissent. Again Zuma has fallen into the same trap as was witnessed at last week’s NEC meeting. He is now being called a dictator by the very people who led the charge to install him in 2007.
So far Zuma has mimicked his nemesis in almost every aspect to hang on to his presidency. The next six months will show how far this copycat campaign will go and if it will in fact end with the same result. DM
Photo: A montage of Reuters pics.
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