On Wednesday afternoon, the chair of Corruption Watch, former Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, wrote to President Jacob Zuma to ask him again to fire the Deputy Minister of Defence, Kebby Maphatsoe. At the same time, the Chief Whip of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Floyd Shivambu, reminded those who had forgotten that he is a gentleman of class and distinction, by communicating in sign language to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa what he used to say to journalists for so long. It is still less than five months since this Parliament was inaugurated and President Jacob Zuma took his oath for a second time – yet this is what we’ve come to. And there is no doubt worse to come. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
When a political party wins its fifth election on the trot, you don’t expect much change. Particularly if it’s that party leader’s second victory. However, you do expect some progress; some sort of policy to start coming through. While many of the ministers in government may well be feeling the exhaustion of serving in government, the fact is it is a time to start getting some momentum going. You would expect to see the first signs of progress coming through from Zuma’s first administration, and the spark of new ideas to take things forward from here.
Instead, it almost looks as if the ANC and this government have gone backwards.
The news agenda before the elections was dominated by Nkandla. The news agenda after the elections has been dominated by Nkandla. Even if the people making the speeches for the DA in Parliament have changed, even if there is much more red about the place, the fact is that the content of those speeches has not changed. Instead, Parliament in particular appears to have just gone backwards. Instead of any kind of policy being debated, we are seeing theatrics and expulsions. And gesticulations (for the video – and you really don’t want to miss it – click here).
It’s all quite entertaining, and it makes for good telly, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be moving the country forward in any way.
It is at this point that Gwede Mantashe would fume and say that the antics of those clad in red and the manners of one F. Shivambu are all very well, but surely there is more happening than just that. That is true. Parliament’s committees are meeting. And considering whether to recommend the sacking of the SABC Chair Zandile Tshabalala for lying about her qualifications (she says she hasn’t, but won’t answer a straight question about whether she has the qualifications she claimed to have. An example of greater sheer stupidity is hard to find). And that’s just one example. Certainly it’s hard to think of any kind of policy decision that has been made and given any kind of expression in the last four months.
Of course, as the slightly awkward democracy that we are, that behaves more as if it is sixteen than twenty, we all know that the real decisions are made by the ANC’s National Executive Committee. And that body has been far more preoccupied with protecting Zuma from the Public Protector than in any real policy of late. Even its post-election meeting came up with only two policy proposals. But it has certainly found the time and space to pontificate on the Public Protector.
What we are really seeing from the ANC at the moment is administration, moving things around to keep them running, rather than making any meaningful change. While it may be unfair to expect dramatic action so soon after an election, it is certainly fair to do so when promises were made (again) of “radical economic transformation”.
In the meantime, the demands of governance are more pressing. Eskom is falling apart, and needs R225bn. Our children are still not being taught properly (and in Kuruman are not being taught at all), and Statistics South Africa tells us that only 17.9% of black people are in skilled employment. So far, nothing has been presented that is going to properly address these problems in the longer run.
While we have railed against the lack of coherent policy from the ANC and thus government before, it is now becoming clearer that this is going to get even worse. One of the major problems that the party now has is that there is more opposition in Parliament than there ever was. While the EFF has made all the headlines, the fact is it is the DA that has won far more seats than in the past. So getting anything done the ANC way in Parliament is less simple than is used to be. This dynamic sweeps through the whole institution; we will see the hijinks and gestures from the National Assembly, but this is repeated in committee after committee.
And this is just for administration. When it comes to cold, hard policy, life is going to be even harder. Because it is absolutely in the interests of the EFF and the DA to mix current, everyday Nkandla-esque issues with policy debates. And of course they will.
What seems to be happening here is that the Nkandla scandal in particular, and perhaps even Zuma in general, is draining the ANC of its legitimacy and its energy to address issues in a constructive manner. Everything now is about Zuma, and his home. And for the EFF it is also about his deputy. While the EFF and the DA must carry some of the blame here, it is completely trite to say that this would not be the case if Zuma were not at the helm of the ANC. Of course, whoever leads the ANC is bound to have some baggage of some kind, all political leaders do, but with the Zuma that baggage is just way too heavy and voluminous to ignore.
There are those who are likely to rejoice at this prospect, those who want to see the ANC weakened wherever possible. While it may be understandable, it is not necessarily desirable; it is also damaging to the country itself. If you want to change economic policy, you need to have enough political power, strength, capital and momentum to do it. You cannot do it if you have lost votes in the last election you fought. You cannot do it if the people don’t see you as moral leaders anymore. And it gets much harder to make tough decisions as the fear of losing power next time becomes real. This means it is becoming far less likely for the ANC to make any major changes to policy or push in any kind of direction than it was previously.
It could be argued here that Zuma himself has never really provided any direction anyway, particularly when it comes to the economy. While that is certainly debatable, the fact is that he is queering the pitch for whoever takes over from him. It is just going to be much harder for that person to make any major changes if the party is perhaps even weaker then, post-2019, than it is now.
No serious political analyst appears to believe that the ANC is going to lose power in 2019, but the smart money is on its majority being reduced even further. Which means that it could be 2024 at the earliest that any major policy change could happen. But even if there is a change of government then, and there’s no certainty on that, a new administration may have the same problems the ANC does now, because it’s unlikely to have a massive majority.
All of this appears to mean that for the foreseeable future, our problems are just going to pile up, with no political solutions in sight. DM
Photo: South Africa’s President and leader of the ruling ANC party Jacob Zuma (C) greets his supporters as he arrives for the launch of his party’s election manifesto at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit January 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee