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ANC post-NEC: Words don’t come easy

South Africa

South Africa

ANC post-NEC: Words don’t come easy

Politics is usually about words. If it is not, it may still be politics, but it is also war. Still, actions speak loudly in the game of power. If you want to keep power, you do have to act. It is now surely beyond argument that the crisis in the ANC is unprecedented, and could eventually lead to the end of the party occupying the Union Buildings. And yet, the ANC still seems to be relying on words. Words that have been used before, that were uttered in anger and indignation. There is, as yet, no action, no movement, no proof that it believes in the words it utters. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The ANC wants to clamp down on corruption. It wants to stop the public spats between its leagues, leaders and officials. It wants to make sure that there is no more manipulation of its party list systems and candidates for ward councillors. All of this has been agreed to, a long time ago. But the ANC’s National Executive Committee has sat again, and said again, that it still wants all of these things to happen. It’s joining the lynch mob running after Hlaudi Motsoeneng. That may just happen. But stopping corruption, not so much.

The form of Gwede Mantashe is still a topic for debate. There was a time when he always whistled; nowadays he still tells jokes, asking “is the national broadcaster ready” before starting the presser, only to be told that the board had given the assent for them to begin. But there is still something missing from the time when he was referred to as the “most powerful man in the country”. Even when he is at the media centre at Luthuli House, a place where he should be very comfortable.

That said, there are some issues that the NEC simply cannot ignore.

First, of course, the results of the local elections, and the loss of three metros. The NEC says, simply, “we must halt the decline, reclaim the lost ground, and restore the trust and confidence of the people in the ANC. That’s what we discussed”.

Mantashe even went as far as to say that “any sense of being in denial will risk deepening the crisis further”.

It’s what everybody wants to hear. That change is coming. But, at the risk of repeating oneself, we all know what change the ANC really needs: a wholesale rejection of President Jacob Zuma and the kind of politics his reign has brought to the ANC. It is symbolic of all that is wrong with the ANC that Mantashe didn’t even mention whether someone tried to ask for Zuma to go, and, even more telling, that no journalist bothered to ask him.

The ANC can protest all it likes about how it fights corruption. Read these words: WE.DON’T.BELIEVE.YOU.

And we can’t believe you until you grasp the poisonous nettle that has infected the party that led the liberation struggle with such a vicious, possibly terminal cancer.

One of the big problems the ANC had was with the selection process for candidates, the people who are now its councillors. The people who were killed in the run-up to the election were the victims of intra-ANC violence, the contest for position. Now, the NEC has decided to create 18 different groups, two per province, who will now speak to branches. Instead of just firing the councillors who should not be there, there will be a “process of healing”, and that will lead to a better and more sustainable outcome.

It pains me to report that similar tactics have been tried before. The last time, in 2011, no less an individual than Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was put in charge of the process of reconciling the branches with the councillors who now technically represented them. It would appear, on the available evidence from this election, that that was not a wholesale success. To be fair, this stuff is difficult to fix. It takes months of work, the party is a multiclass movement which makes it much harder, and people who have nothing to lose, well, have nothing to lose. But tough, that’s politics, if there is nothing else to be done, then fix it.

Something relatively new is, wait for it, a new decision on corruption by the NEC. This time around, the party has decided that it is going to introduce lifestyle audits for political leaders and public servants. It’s a simple idea that was once touted by a guy Mantashe spent some time with. His name was Zwelinzima Vavi. Back in 2010 it was radical stuff. But the idea was shot down. Would you like a hint as to who objected… would you?

That’s right. Mr J.G. Zuma.

Mantashe won’t say how this should be done, except that it should be done on a “random basis”. The problem with these things is the same problem that always comes with discipline in a political party. It’s all fine and good and easy to take action against someone who has no constituency, who is politically weak. But what do you do, say, just thinking off the top of my head, when the person accused of corruption has a constituency that dominates the NEC?

We already know the answer to that one, don’t we?

After all of that came the sound bite we were all waiting for. Yes, the NEC “calls on the board to review the decision to appoint Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng as Group Executive of Corporate Affairs at the SABC”. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be surprised. Once Cabinet, the ANC in Parliament and the Presidency had all said it, the NEC statement was a foregone conclusion. But it must also be said that it is obvious that Motsoeneng gets his protection from someone – and we all know who that person must be. It is interesting then that there are still boundaries around Zuma’s behaviour. He is now in the position that if he continues to protect Motsoeneng, the gap between him and the rest of the NEC could grow. And the SABC as a site of contestation would be bad for Zuma, because Motsoeneng has an exceptionally weak case.

Perhaps more important in the longer run is the NEC’s resolution that Eskom is wrong to say it will sign no new contracts with independent power producers (IPPs). The NEC says that ANC policy must be followed here, which means more of these contracts must be signed. And government is now called upon to resolve this issue. This must surely be a little bit of a smack for Brian Molefe. The Eskom CEO has been the man driving this issue, and who took the decision to stop the contracts in the first place. What happens next could be revealing. If government, through Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, does actually act against Molefe, then we would know that Molefe does not have political protection any more. But if nothing happens, then we could infer that he is still under Zuma’s bullet-proof protection. Which, in turn, could be another indication of what could happen should Pravin Gordhan be removed from his post.

In a similar way, so could what happens next in relation to the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill. It has been passed by Parliament, and is currently occupying a well-worn spot on Zuma’s desk. He has not yet signed it, after receiving a request not to do so from Mzwanele Manyi. It is hard to see the constitutional issue that Manyi has spotted that everyone else has missed, but Zuma is clearly taking his objection seriously. This must worry the banks. The legislation was introduced following a United Nations resolution on the issue. If a country is out of the system, it gets harder for the banks to move money around. Especially if those banks are owned by other banks, or do business with banks in the US, which is particularly strict about this sort of stuff.

The NEC has agreed that the “process of passing the legislation into law should be accelerated”. So, the NEC is taking a side, and it’s taking the side that Zuma must actually act. Considering Manyi’s day job is actually just to defend Zuma, he will look like a bit of a plonker if Zuma does actually sign it. He may have to live with that. Or Zuma will have to live with yet another site of contestation between himself and his party.

They are beginning to pile up at a rather alarming rate.

Mantashe, and the NEC, have plenty to say about the violence at the universities around the country. Mantashe did not repeat his wish for universities simply to be closed. But he did explain how he believes the Freedom Charter is being misinterpreted. His point is that the charter does not say “there should be free higher education for all”. He says that it says “higher education and technical training shall be open to all by means of state allowances and scholarships on the basis of merit”. Being Gwede Mantashe, he is of course correct on the text. He believes that the ANC government has actually gone further than the charter, by supporting people in higher education, through the NSFAS system, scarce skills bursaries etc. And of course, they want the violence to stop, and students to go back to class.

As the party in government faced with student protests, this is what you would expect them to say. And the party does not really have much of a choice. It really does need the protests to end. Obviously, the ANC does not have any solutions it wants to put on the table.

With the imbizo going on in Kempton Park while Mantashe spoke, it would have been foolish for the NEC to go that far. But it is an indication of how worried they’re getting that they devoted so much time to it.

There was more to this press conference. Stuff we’ve all heard before. About how the leagues, and yes, the MKMVA, must stop speaking out of turn. About how the party will now go through a process of introspection. The proof, as always, is not what is said in the press conference. It is what actually happens. Such is the general cynicism that abounds at the moment, you would be ignoring good medical advice if you held your breath. DM


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