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15 December 2017 17:56 (South Africa)
Politics

Two worlds? The gap between Zuma and his party widens

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • Politics
Photo: President Jacob Zuma, 6 August 2016, IEC (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)

As the ANC twists and turns ahead of its leadership contest next year, and what could be a final showdown with voters in 2019, the internal rumblings within the party finally appear to be gaining in volume. It is difficult to know what is going on. Particularly in a party that technically bans public discussions about “succession”, appears to be in the thrall of one person, and has a tendency towards secrecy anyway. But recent events suggest that no matter what is happening or not happening in the ANC, it is becoming impossible to deny this: The gap between President Jacob Zuma and the party he “leads” is now becoming significant. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Sunday the Sunday Times ran with a story that the ANC’s caucus of MPs in Parliament had been asked to “interrogate” why they had made the decisions they had over Nkandla. It is important to remember how far the ANC in the National Assembly went in protecting Zuma during this particular scandal. There was an ad hoc committee to discuss the sadly departing Public Protector’s report, and the finding that Zuma should “pay back the money” that had been spent by government on his private home(stead). The committee was dominated by ANC members. And they did everything they could to protect Zuma.

The chair of the committee, Mathole Motshekga, said this:

One should be upfront here and say the president has not violated any code of conduct. Even to begin to suggest payment by the president, of anything, begins to seem absurd.” He also claimed that, “The remedial actions recommended by the Public Protector are not binding on Parliament because if it were so, it would mean the Public Protector was elevated (above) the jurisdiction of Parliament.

In other words, the Public Protector was not to be obeyed, and his committee had the power to decide on an interpretation of her report.

Of course, he was wrong. And the Constitutional Court said he was wrong, and made the finding that Zuma had violated his oath of office.

Now, at the start of the ANC’s caucus meeting over the weekend, the ANC’s chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, is quoted as saying in a report:

The midterm lekgotla needs to interrogate how we as the ANC component in Parliament voted and passed a report on the security upgrades in the President’s homestead that the Constitutional Court declared invalid and unconstitutional, which brought our credibility into question”.

Well, Mr Mthembu, it’s pretty easy to work out what happened. Zuma leaned on Luthuli House, Luthuli House leaned on people who should have known better, and the result was plain to see. In the loss of Joburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.

But for Mthembu to say this could suggest several things. The first is that perhaps, just perhaps, some people in the ANC have had enough, and are now prepared to say so. Many of the ANC’s MPs are impressive people, people with histories, back-stories and accomplishments (some of course, are not – Des van Rooyen was an MP described as mediocre by people of his own party before suddenly becoming a minister in dubious circumstances, or Peace Mabe appears to have committed fraud by being sworn in as a councillor in Mogale City while an MP, and then when she lost the mayoral council election, decided that the return to Parliament is not such a bad idea. These are only the latest examples, of course.) If you are someone with a working political brain, you would surely realise that this kind of behaviour in protecting someone like Zuma cannot continue. If you are loyal to the ANC you would realise the damage done to the party. If we ascribe even the most selfish of motives to ANC MPs it would indicate that they should be worried they’ll simply be out of a job if this continues.

This move by Mthembu could then indicate that some in the caucus are beginning to see past Zuma, to look ahead to a time when he is no longer the man they are dependent on.

There is also another possibility. Mthembu, despite his long stay in politics, is an honest man. Sometimes his job is to come into a situation to clean up the mess. He has tried to deal with Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and he is believed in his action because he is known to be honest. This is a virtue that right now can be used by the ANC. When a situation has reached the point where it just has to give up and start again, Mthembu is the right person to go to face the cameras and admit they were wrong, and explain how they were going to fix it. It is a tactic, a way of “moving on” after admitting a mistake. He also played no real role in what happened in the past around Nkandla, which makes it easier.

But all of this must surely indicate some real blue water between the party and Zuma. Despite his “apology” to the nation, he doesn’t appear to really believe he did anything wrong.

Then there is advocate Thuli Madonsela. She is probably second only to Julius Malema in giving Zuma grief. The Nkandla findings were probably the lowest point of his presidency (and that is saying something). On Thursday Zuma sat in a meeting with her as part of her investigation into “state capture”. For four hours, he basically allowed his lawyer to refuse to answer her questions, claiming the new public protector should do the investigation.

The night before, a dinner was held to say farewell to Madonsela. At that dinner, Gwede Mantashe said that Madonsela “had saved the ANC from itself. He went even further, saying, Let me tell you one thing I discovered today. We are debating in the ANC about having a woman president. Ive discovered this woman president weve been talking about is yourself.

This is an incredible statement. Of course, Mantashe had to go to the dinner, and of course he had to say nice things about Madonsela. Anything less would have been noticed and would have looked very churlish. It’s one of those moments when the ANC has to look big in public. But he could still have achieved all of that without being so fulsome in his praise.

To look at those comments in light of Mthembu’s comments suggests that the party is indeed trying to draw a line under what has happened in the past. Which again suggests something is changing with regard to Zuma.

The third front which is developing in this dynamic is around Hlaudi (the man who needs no surname) at the SABC. Ten days ago the ANC first said that it wanted him and the SABC’s nonsensical board out of office. It instructed its MPs on the Communications Committee to make this happen. To make the point, Mthembu even changed some of the ANC’s members on that committee to strengthen it ahead of the meeting with the board. All through it all, Hlaudi gave the impression that he didn’t care.

The next day, on Thursday last week, the board held a press conference. It didn’t seem possible, but in fact its behaviour had deteriorated. SABC Chair Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe simply said “I’m going nowhere... let the inquiry come, I’m going nowhere.” He stuck to his guns. And Hlaudi, dear Hlaudi, gave a speech that was overtly evangelical in tone. Some of what he said was actual fact. But a lot of it was simple lies. He claimed, “Auditor General, if the you read the books, they said well done SABC”. Skipping over the part where they also said intervention was needed to create a proper culture of leadership, there were no consequences for people who allowed irregular spending to occur, and that there were no proper systems in place to make sure the right people were in the right job. There are not many people who can lie as fluently as Hlaudi. But then not many stand to gain so much from lying. He won’t tell us how much his bonus was, the board won’t tell us, and Maguvhe has the sheer effrontery to claim he’s the one trying to “uproot corrupt practices”.

The ANC’s reaction to this on Thursday night was startling. Zizi Kodwa said that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi must “immediately fire or suspend the remaining board members”.

Muthambi has been absolutely silent on the issue of the SABC. Apart from releasing the odd statement claiming she has nothing to do with Hlaudi (and on Thursday, releasing and then recalling a statement about Mzwanele Manyi), she has done nothing. Technically, she accounts to the ANC. But we know, from experience, that she only believes she accounts to Number One. She has defied the ANC on digital terrestrial television, and, it is understood, doesn’t even bother to attend meetings of the ANC’s Communications Commission.

It is now three days since the ANC made the call, Muthambi has not acted. Which part of “immediately” does she not understand?

And yet, Zuma does not act either. This is a situation in which a Cabinet minister is defying the ANC. In the most public of ways. And, considering Hlaudi's behaviour, the most embarrassing of ways. Time and time again the ANC has said that the situation at the SABC is humiliating for the party. And yet, Hlaudi is still acting with impunity. Why? And who allows him to?

Either he is not well, or it is because Zuma has his back. And if that is the case, what does that mean for the relationship between Zuma and the ANC? And could, perhaps, this be the start of a much bigger dynamic, something that actually leads to real political action?

We should not be surprised that there is a growing gap between Zuma and the rest of the ANC. Their interests were once aligned, but this is no longer. His interests do not appear to lie in actual governance, and in finding solutions to problems like funding higher education, growing the economy and a “better life” for anyone but himself. The ANC’s interests now lie very much in all of those issues, because they could be out of power in 2019.

And yet, this is a process which did not the start only recently. It began at least as early as December last year, when Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene (and then lied about the reasons for it). The ANC was clearly not consulted on the decision and was as shocked as anyone else. There is no reason to think this gap would close through any actions by Zuma ever since.

It is also not the first time it has happened. There are some resonances with what happened towards the end of Thabo Mbeki’s second term. He seemed to drift away from what was really happening in the ANC. And look how that ended.

But the real question is, what does this mean for all of us? It seems to mean that, like Hlaudi, Zuma can act with a kind of impunity. It means that the party’s attempts to improve governance are likely to fail. It means that we are living in a time of contestation between the man who is the President and the party that “governs” the country. It is unlikely to lead to stable policy. Big decisions; higher education funding, the nuclear power build programme, trying to limit red tape for businesses, everything, will likely remain in a kind of slowly decaying stasis.

Which means the economy will continue to slow, temperatures will rise and anger will simply grow more intense.

Unless, of course, something radical and unexpected happens... DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma, 6 August 2016, IEC (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • Politics

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