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Old Guard Intervention: Have the ANC veterans been neut...

South Africa

South Africa

Old Guard Intervention: Have the ANC veterans been neutralised or will they help #SaveSouthAfrica?

When it comes to awkward moments, a group of stalwarts telling President Jacob Zuma and the top leadership of the ANC that they are doing a terrible job and are destroying their organisation must top of the charts. The ANC has scheduled another meeting with the group of ANC veterans later this week after a prickly session on Monday that finally put the leadership crisis firmly on the table. But opinion is now divided, even among the veterans, on whether they have been co-opted into a process they have no control over or whether they have a chance at a successful intervention. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

It was not possible for President Jacob Zuma to rebuff the document presented to the ANC by more than 100 stalwarts of the movement. The document, signed by people whose commitment to the ANC is unshakeable and whose role in the liberation struggle is immeasurable, was released to the public and spelt out in detail what has gone wrong in the ANC under Zuma’s leadership. Even if he tried to disregard it, Zuma received a note from his old friend and comrade, former president Thabo Mbeki, reminding him that it was against the traditions of the ANC not to engage dissatisfied members.

The document, titled “For the sake of our future”, serves as an effective indictment on the ANC and its president. Among other things, it says:

“We have observed the ill-begotten wealth among some of our leaders at all levels and the resulting ruinous effects on the organisation’s moral and political fabric and on society as a whole”.

The document also says:

“The leadership of the ANC as a collective has failed the people of South Africa. It has presided over the downward spiral of the organisation and given rise to widespread national anxiety by defending, among other things, the personal interests of some leaders at the expense of the public good and the credibility of the organisation.”

This intervention cannot be downplayed or fobbed off. There could be no harsher rebuke from the organisation’s elders and long-serving, prominent members than to say the ANC has “failed the people of South Africa”. It means that the historical mandate of the ANC has been betrayed.

For people who know and love the ANC intimately to say the following must have made the party’s current leadership extremely uncomfortable:

“We wish to caution against the constant refrain that the ANC has the inherent ability to self-correct. These refrains are dangerously complacent and provide cover for the perpetuation of gross misdemeanours. They also serve to demobilise the membership from taking the necessary corrective measures with the required vigour and urgency because the false impression is created that there is no need for action since self-correction is inevitable.”

Mbeki took the trouble of pointing out to Zuma:

“The point I am trying to emphasise is that it is imperative that all of us‚ including the current ANC NEC (National Executive Committee), understand that the 101 veterans are in fact eminent leaders of our movement and revolution‚ and have to be respected and treated as such by those who occupy administrative positions as members of the NEC and other seniors structures of the ANC.

“To put this matter frankly‚ which I know you will understand‚ it is perfectly obvious that very many among the 101 veterans are in fact eminently politically very senior to many who currently serve as members of the ANC NEC.”

So it was in this context that the ANC national working committee, led by the top six officials, had to sit in the same room as a delegation representing the veterans to discuss the document. Speaking after the four-hour meeting, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said the veterans’ proposal for a national consultative conference would be discussed further. 

“These comrades are bringing a wealth of experience to us to be able to go through these difficult periods and be a better organisation,” Mantashe said. “They have given us a number of issues‚ many of them quite difficult to resolve in one meeting.”

One of the veterans, Wally Serote, was quoted by EWN as saying the meeting was robust, candid and difficult at times:

“We listened to each other very carefully. We gave each other time to talk and say anything we wanted to say, as ANC members – all of us in that room.”

It has not yet emerged how Zuma reacted in the meeting to the criticism. In statements at ANC rallies, he lashed out at party members speaking outside the organisation about internal problems. He has also consistently refuted concerns that the ANC was in crisis, including after its poor local elections performance in August.

In discussions before the meeting, the veterans decided not to call for Zuma to step down but to put in place a mechanism within the ANC to deal with its problems. One of the signatories to the veterans’ document said they were encouraged that the ANC did not respond the way Zuma had at his weekend rallies.

“We thought it might turn ugly. But substantive issues were raised and a commitment was made to a further meeting. So that is positive.”

But others are worried that they have been locked into an ANC process over which they have no control and that a false façade of unity has now been created. It is not known whether the ANC will take their concerns seriously and act on them, or simply keep them engaged while the organisation and the country continue on a downward spiral.

The question being tossed about is whether the veterans can continue to raise concerns publicly as individuals while the collective continues discussions with the ANC.

It is quite possible that a strategy has been employed to keep the process ongoing to effectively silence the veterans and stymie other initiatives they are involved in such as the #Save South Africa campaign. Anyone who has read through the transcript of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s interview with Zuma and his lawyer Michael Hulley would know how wearisome delaying tactics are used to protect the president from scrutiny.

Some of the veterans made a conscious decision not to attend the ANC meeting as they believe that the first step in dealing with the rot is for the president to step down.

Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada will be among the stalwarts attending the launch of the “People’s Motion of No Confidence” by the #Save South Africa campaign on Wednesday. A public petition will be launched at Constitutional Hill to put pressure on the ANC and Parliament to remove Zuma out of office. The petition will be marketed by civil society organisations and distributed online and via social media.

While Zuma seemed cocksure when he addressed the ANC rallies in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga at the weekend, having to face the veterans would have left him feeling rather battered. The Monday meeting would have been the first time Zuma was directly confronted about his litany of failures and disastrous leadership. The fact that it came from a group of ANC luminaries must have really stung.

But Zuma, ever the wily strategist, is not beyond being contemptuous, even of this group of struggle veterans. If he decides to hear them out but be dismissive of their message, what consequences would there be for him?

Possibly none, if this ANC NEC’s record is anything to go by.

If Zuma and the ANC decide to drag out the process well into next year, what can the veterans do about it? It could be argued then that the ANC is going to its national elective conference at the end of next year, which would supersede the need for a consultative conference. As has happened in the past with the party’s integrity commission, the ANC could assign a seemingly significant role to the veterans but then ignore whatever recommendations they make.

For the quintessential Teflon man, there are still many ways for Zuma to manoeuvre out of the corner he has been backed into – particularly with a large portion of the ANC NEC still strongly behind him.

But the pressure is certainly building. Those in the ANC who know that the organisation is on thin ice under Zuma’s leadership will be emboldened by the pressure from the veterans and civil society.

There is no doubt that Zuma is rattled. Even though he might put on a brave face, rant illogically about zombies and witches, and continue his giggling act when faced with tough questions, he must be humiliated to be confronted and dressed down by his elders and contemporaries in the ANC.

If the veterans were able to shatter the pretence in the ANC that all is well under Jacob Zuma’s leadership, then their intervention is already a great success. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma attends the China – South Africa Economy Forum at a hotel in Beijing, China, 05 December 2014.  EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL


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