South Africa, Politics

Comrade Crusher: How the ANC continues to eat its own

By Ranjeni Munusamy 23 May 2016

Between the lines of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s media statement last week was a message that must have been agonising for him to communicate: My own have turned on me. There was a similar sentiment running through the statement issued by Robert McBride, Anwa Dramat and Ivan Pillay. They are the latest ANC members to be dropped into the comrade crushing machine as factional battles continue to devour the party. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has also now entered self-destruct mode. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

President Jacob Zuma addressed a National Prayer Day ceremony in Durban on Sunday (if you are surprised to find out there was “National Prayer Day”, so were we) where he was “anointed” to serve a third term. That was apparently not the intention of the prayer day, although there were several items on the prayer list – unity, peace, rain and successful local government elections.

According to News24, Professor Caesar Nongqunga said God planned for Zuma to be president before he was born. “This is not the end. You were appointed for this job and it is yours, with the final word that God anointed you for,” Nongqunga told Zuma.

That, however, was not the most surprising thing about the event. Zuma walked into the partially filled stadium accompanied by KwaZulu-Natal Transport MEC Willies Mchunu, not the premier of the province, Senzo Mchunu. Speculation has mounted from Friday evening that the premier had been asked by the ANC provincial leadership to resign so it was not surprising that he skipped out on waving to the crowds and praying alongside Zuma when he is about to lose his job. Senzo Mchunu’s axing has been anticipated since he and his faction lost the provincial leadership battle in November to his arch-rival in the province, Sihle Zikalala, and his camp.

Since the November conference, divisions have deepened in KwaZulu-Natal, with the losing faction refusing to accept defeat, and the triumphant faction wanting a purge in government. They have been restrained by the national leadership up to now, to maintain the façade of unity, particularly during the election period. But it appears that the centre could no longer hold and Mchunu and five MECs are now in the firing line. Mchunu, once a close ally of Zuma’s, will join the ranks of ANC and alliance leaders chewed up and spat out in the mutating power battles gripping the organisation.

With the local government elections less than three months away, it is the worst possible time for the factional battle in the province to explode. But in the new tradition of ANC leaders doing their best to damage the ANC and test its resilience, Zikalala’s faction is determined to have complete control over the levers of government immediately. With Mchunu’s faction having no representation on the ANC provincial executive committee, they are seen to be controlling government illegitimately.

So to eliminate the situation of two centres of power, the purge in the KwaZulu-Natal government is imminent, irrespective of the damage that might do to the ANC’s local government election campaign.

Speaking in the same province at the weekend was Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who himself came perilously close to falling into the comrade crusher. Gordhan has been investigated by the Hawks in relation to the operation of a special investigating unit at the South African Revenue Service when he was commissioner. In the past two weeks, information emerged that Gordhan was to be arrested by the Hawks, and on the basis of the charges facing him, he would be removed as finance minister.

Last week, Gordhan issued an impassioned statement, saying the reports of his arrest had been “extremely distressing” for him and his family. He said accusations about “espionage” activities were false and manufactured for other motives and said the “subversion of democracy” should not be left “unrestrained and unchallenged”. He also called on all South Africans to protect staff at the National Treasury.

On Friday Hawks head Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza wrote to Gordhan’s lawyers, Gildenhuys Malatji Attorneys, to inform them that the minister would not be arrested. Yet.

I can assure you that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) will take no action sought to embarrass the minister or humiliate him, and it will take no steps which affect him without giving him prior notice. At this stage there should be no reason for the minister to be concerned. I hope this will allay the minister’s fears,” Ntlemeza said in the letter quoted by The Sunday Independent.

The words “at this stage” mean that the investigation remains ongoing and that action could be taken later with “prior notice” being given.

With the matter still hanging over him, Gordhan addressed a fundraising dinner organised by the ANC in Chatsworth, Durban calling for unity and a return to the organisation’s old values. The subtext of Gordhan’s statement last week was that his comrades had turned on him: “Throughout my 45 years of activism, I have worked for the advancement of the ANC, our Constitution and our democratic government. I would never have thought that individuals within the very agencies of this government would now conspire to intimidate and harass me and my family.”

At the dinner in Durban, Gordhan said if the ANC did not change the way it did things‚ no one would. “I don’t think we are under attack by outside people. We give them the fuel to attack us‚” Gordhan was quoted as saying by Sowetan Live.

He said the ANC’s values went back many decades and were a guide when tough decisions needed to be made. “If we decide to put the organisation first it is possible to unite it. We need to revolutionise our own politics,” Gordhan said.

But in a joint statement last week, three other victims of the comrade crushing machine stated in no uncertain terms why the ANC was eating its own. Robert McBride, Anwa Dramat and Ivan Pillay vowed to bring to light “the true reasons for the abuse of state resources”.

Corruption is the biggest threat to our constitutional democracy. This cancer has turned former comrades against each other. People who shared the same trenches in the fight for liberation are now at each other’s throats for the sake of protecting corrupt activities,” McBride, Dramat and Pillay said.

There is little doubt that many people in the ANC have succumbed to corruption and that factional battles are driven by greed and access to power and resources. But many find it difficult to understand how people who joined the liberation struggle selflessly, and endured danger and suffering for the greater good, are now driven by avarice. Even more puzzling is how people sell out their comrades to people who had no role whatsoever in the anti-apartheid struggle.

The values that Gordhan spoke of have long been discarded with the younger generations in the ANC having little or no exposure to the traditions and principles that defined the organisation in its formative years and time in exile. The ANC at 104 bears no resemblance to the ANC that broke the back of apartheid. Cover-ups, conspiracies and backstabbing, the hallmarks of the ANC now, would have been considered traitorous by the leaders who delivered our democracy.

The term “comrade” might still be used loosely to refer to members of the ANC and the alliance but there is little “comradeship” still in existence. A comrade is someone to be feared, someone who could engineer your demise for their own benefit and think nothing of it.

It is not so much the revolution that is eating its children, but a frightening rise of political cannibalism in the ranks of the ANC. Devoid of ideology, deep political beliefs or moral values, this is a battle that will crush many a comrade and will eventually crush the soul of the ANC. There is no telling who will be devoured next. But what is almost certain is that the crushing feast will not stop any time soon. DM



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