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The ANC’s dirty weekend: Things have fallen apart, th...

South Africa

South Africa, Politics

The ANC’s dirty weekend: Things have fallen apart, there is no centre to hold

When grasping for words to describe the state of the ANC, and thus government, “instability”, “turmoil” and “chaotic” come to mind. How else to describe the scenario of a minister issuing a statement about a judicial inquiry into the banks that withdrew services from the Guptas, before he was smacked down by the Presidency? How else to describe a movement in which not one, not two, but three of its members write pieces decrying its state in Sunday papers all on the same weekend. And at the same time, the leader of the ANC in Gauteng completely contradicts Number One’s view of the local election results. It’s official. Things are falling apart. And there is no centre to hold. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Even by our standards, it’s been a mad weekend.

It started on Thursday night/Friday morning, when the man who holds the title but not the power of “Mineral Resources”, Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, a man who appears to be sponsored by a corporate entity, said in an official statement, on an official letterhead, that Cabinet had resolved “to recommend to the President that given the nature of the allegations and the responses received, that the President consider establishing a Judicial Enquiry in terms of section 84(2)(f) of the Constitution”.

There were other recommendations, including changing the terms of reference of the Banking Tribunal and the Banking Ombudsman as well as amending the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (putting the “Fica” into those documents you have to submit to banks from time to time).

But, later in the day, when the official statement from a Cabinet meeting emerged, there was no mention of this decision. Later on Friday, Zwane’s spokesman, Martin Madlala, confirmed to 702’s Xolani Gwala that this was not a Cabinet decision. When pushed and asked whether it was misleading to state that it had been a Cabinet decision, his answer was the honest and priceless, “yes it is”.

So far, so new-normal for our politics. The statement, the retraction, the market reaction, the fact that we all get poorer. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

But in a display of how things have sunk to a new level, Zwane then went on to the SABC and did something his spokesman did not do. He lied. In a live interview he said this: “We have given our report, we will await what happens. I’m not in a position to discuss the details of the report that has since been approved by Cabinet. The Cabinet has actually approved our recommendations.”

In his view then, Zwane clearly believes that Cabinet did approve this move. He also said, in a comment that should be preserved for posterity as an indication of just how disingenuous this man is, that “we must always fight corruption wherever it exists”. This from a man who in almost his first act as Mineral Resources Minister went with members of the Gupta family to Switzerland, to help them in a deal with Glencore to buy the Optimum Coal Mine.

By his definition then, perhaps corruption only occurs when someone acts against you for being corrupt. And should Minister Zwane ever try to sue someone for stating that he is corrupt, he will have two problems. First, why did he do something no other mining minster has ever done and get involved in a commercial transaction? And second, what reputation could he now possibly have that needs protecting?

Eventually, at around 8pm on Friday evening, the Presidency, roused from its Chinese slumber, issued a statement. Zwane’s statement, it said, “was issued in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the task team or Cabinet… he does not speak on behalf of Cabinet.” Then the final nail: “The contents of his statement do not reflect the position or views of Cabinet, the Presidency or Government.”

This is just one sorry little saga. In some ways, considering what is playing out in the ANC, it is quite a minor little spat albeit one that has serious consequences for us all as it would have made us poorer. International investors have had enough. Why should they stay? Our government simply cannot keep its own shit together, never mind govern the country.

And even if this is a political spat in Cabinet, consider this. Zwane is so incompetent he can’t agree on a line with his own spokesman. That is incompetence of the first order of incompetence. The gold-standard, special commendation with a mention in dispatches plus a cherry on top with an extra slice of chocolate cake award in incompetence.

And no, he won’t be fired. He is part of a particular faction in the ANC. For him to go, the apple cart would have be badly upset. And consider this. He may have lied. But is his lie really bigger than claiming that Nhlanhla Nene was going to be appointed to the Brics Bank?

The weekend was not over yet.

On Sunday, in the Sunday Times, two separate pieces were published by people considered senior in the ANC. Vuso Shabalala is a political adviser to the President. He bemoaned the state of the ANC, if trying also to show the best possible picture of it.

In the same paper, Mathole Motshekga, the man who spent so long defending Number One, appears to have changed his tune. He once declared that Thuli “Madonsela’s report is misleading and has misled the nation. It had become clear that the amphitheatre, kraal and fire pool had not been what Madonsela led the nation to believe they were in the report — but indeed installed for security reasons”.

The last few years of his political life have seen him defending President Jacob Zuma time and time again. It may now appear that his views have changed:

The party has been captured by a faction that has no capacity to lead government and society – and has no respect for internal democracy. This faction wants to strengthen its grip on power holding an early conference, which will be used to wipe out all independent voices and entrench so-called collective responsibility.”

In other words, he’s a done a 180-degree turn.

Meanwhile, over in the City Press, former KZN Premier Senzo Mchunu writes that there are essentially two camps in the ANC:

One is thriving on corruption, arrogance, corrosion of values of the organisation and its traditions, internal fraud and manipulation of all systems. It subscribes to personalities who in turn provide ‘protection’ and allow the rot to take root.”

It is hard to think of a more brutal assessment of Number One and those whom he leads.

The fact that these people are all making public interventions suggests that something is beginning to shift in the ANC. Up until now, it was people like Mavuso Msimang, or Sipho Pityana, people who could be criticised by their opponents as “yesterday’s men”, who would make these comments. Now people closer to power are getting in on the act. Which suggests that a process of criticism may be gaining momentum.

This is reinforced strongly by a speech given by Paul Mashatile on Saturday. Speaking in his capacity as leader of the ANC in Gauteng, he gave the strongest yet critique of the ANC by a current leader of his stature:

We should resist the temptation to fall further into the trap of believing the narrative that the ANC has won elections as this plunges us further into denialism.

The excruciating pain we are experiencing is largely self-inflicted…. we became complacent to a point where we believed our own propaganda that we will rule for eternity. We falsely believed that South Africans owed us their votes and they have no other choice but to vote for the ANC – a fallacious belief indeed!”

Then he gets to his critique of the ANC, saying it is “riddled with all the wrong and alien tendencies of institutionalised factionalism, crippling divisions, spiralling ill-discipline, despicable arrogance and inexplicable denialism:

We have steered off-course and are not just heading (for) – but the ANC ship is in – stormy waters! Simply put: we are in deep trouble! We are in disarray and unless we change course, we are headed for a calamity of unprecedented proportions.”

Notice what looks like a deliberate choice of words. The reference to “eternity” must surely be a coded rebuke of the person who first said the ANC would “rule until Jesus comes”. The “denialism” must also be a response to Zuma’s suggestion at a National Executive Committee meeting that the party was not in a crisis, and that it didn’t lose the elections.

Either way, the Gauteng ANC’s comments must be the strongest yet from a leader in the party who has a constituency behind him. The province also suggests that the ANC is in a Morogoro Moment, a reference to a conference held by the party in 1969. That gathering came when the party was in a deep crisis. Crucially, it was not an elective conference. It was a conference aimed at getting everyone to agree on a common direction. To a large extent, it worked – the party was able to change direction, and gather momentum again.

Of course, this suggests the Gauteng ANC agrees with the SACP, which has made a suggestion that the ANC have a consultative conference, rather than an elective one, in a bid to sort out the party’s problems.

There are many who appear to feel the ANC needs to do something urgently to fix its decline. They are not wrong. But none of the options is really going to work, unless something else shifts at the same time.

Consider the likely outcomes. If there is a national conference at which new leaders are elected, the people who back Number One, the Premier League, are likely to win it. With the consequence that nothing will improve. Exactly what Motshekga is afraid of.

Second, there could be a consultative conference followed later by an elective conference. But that would allow the people who win that elective conference to simply override, overrule, or just plain ignore the outcomes of that consultative conference. And a policy conference or a National General Council would have the same problems. Notice how the last NGC resolved to fight corruption. Notice how the 2012 Mangaung Conference did the same thing. Remember how Kgalema Motlanthe made very similar comments to what everyone is saying now. Back in 2007.

In the end, it is all about the numbers. If the people who make up the faction that is seen as corrupt – that backs “sponsored politicians” like Zwane – have more branches, and thus more delegates at a leadership conference, they win. End of story. No matter what kind of conference, gathering, NGC, or policy discussion the party may have.

So while this weekend was mad, it won’t be the end of the story. There is more madness to come. This is what happens when people fear losing political power, they fight to keep it, they push and pull in different ways, they try to damage each other, and in so doing, damage their own movement. At the moment, the Premier League seem to have the numbers. It is hard to see how their faction can be dislodged from power.

It is all going to get worse from here. DM

Photo: Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi ‘Pinocchio’ Zwane (Reuters Mike Hutchings)


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