South Africa, Politics

Analysis: Saving seems to be the hardest word

By Stephen Grootes 7 December 2016

In politics, one of the harder things to do is to influence a political organisation from outside. It is a path fraught with peril, for the simple reason that forcing a political party to do something can make the people within it oppose you stronger, as they can always turn the “attack” on them into an attack on the entire organisation. Over the last few months we have seen such attempts, to influence the ANC from outside, start to gain some momentum. Save SA and other role players, some of them themselves former ANC leaders, have tried to influence the ANC to remove President Jacob Zuma from office. So far, they have failed. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been successful at all. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

The current political turmoil in South Africa obviously affects more than just those in the ANC itself. So high are the stakes at the moment, particularly in a post-Nene environment, that what happens in the party, or, more simply, what Zuma does, affects all of us. This would appear then to give those who are outside the ANC a licence to actually do something. They would have what the courts call “locus standi”, or standing, to get involved in the debate. Certainly they can argue that they are acting on behalf of all South Africans. When it can be easily shown that the actions of one man, leading one party, have made all South Africans much poorer, less secure and properly hopeless, their argument starts to have political legitimacy.

It is for this reason that organisations like Save SA, and of course the “101 ANC Stalwarts”, have tried to influence the ANC. For them, the issue is simple – get rid of Zuma, and you will save the country. While rational people can argue about whether it is that simple, it is surely obvious that by removing Zuma from office in an orderly way, much of what we are currently contending with would look a little, or much, easier. For those who disagree, a quick read of what will one day be the one-hundred-tome work entitled The NPA and Political Interference: A Brief History may change their minds. As will any conversation with any banker who deals with ratings agencies.

This suggests then that these groups are on the right course – they are trying to do what for them is the correct thing.

But there is an obvious problem. If you publicly state that you have a single aim – the removal of Zuma – and you appear to fail in that aim, then you can be publicly dismissed as a failure. And Zuma would have an unmissable opportunity to make his regular weekend pilgrimages to KwaZulu-Natal to attack you harshly, (Enemy? Check. Counter-revolutionary? Check. Clever Blacks? Check) and in front a safe audience. However, to label these groups as failures at this point would be premature. The ANC was formed, as it has told us so often of late, in 1912. To judge on the same scale would be to suggest that the ANC was also a failure for 78 years.

This kind of campaign is appears to be a long-term game. Accordingly, these organisations need to think long and hard about what their actual aims are.

In some ways, both the stalwarts and Save SA have really the same aim. Both are about the ANC, they are made up, or led by, people who have the best interests of the ANC at heart. They are dismayed by the direction it has taken, but still believe it’s the best vehicle for the aspirations of South Africans.

Unfortunately for them, this seriously hampers their efforts. The DA in its own way has the same objective. It also wants to change the behaviour of the ANC, it claims it wants Zuma gone, and it says it wants good governance. One of the most effective ways in which it has erected serious boundaries around Zuma’s behaviour is its use of the courts. It is quite happy to get a judge to order Zuma to desist from behaving in a corrupt or anti-constitutional way. It can do this quite happily, knowing that there is no “ANC constituency” within it that will object. Save South Africa and the “101 ANC Stalwarts” do not have the same freedom. They are trying to appeal to other ANC members and save the party itself, while the DA wants to tar them all with the Zuma brush, and would consider it an added bonus if the ANC were seriously damaged as a result.

This suggests then that one of the real weaknesses of these groups is that they in fact have dual aims. They want to remove Zuma and protect the ANC. It may not be possible to do both – to remove this specific cancer may require a full blown chemotherapy. These groups may then face a choice: do they want to remove Zuma to protect the country, or are the needs of the ANC more important? While this may seem harsh, and it is indeed impossible to question the patriotism of someone like Sipho Pityana, a rational person would surely argue that it is the well-being of all South Africans that is really at stake here. And thus, the ANC itself cannot be protected if its leader is, protected by most of the current leadership, wreaking such lasting damage on the country. But one would be less than human to condemn these groups for still trying to protect a movement to which many of their members have belonged for decades.

All of that said, the true love these brave people have for the ANC also gives the entire campaign against Zuma legitimacy that it would not have otherwise. One of the major questions that people and organisations are still asked in our politics is this: “Where were you in the Struggle?”. It’s an argument the ANC wins hands down. What people like Pityana and the other stalwarts do is bring legitimacy to those who oppose Zuma, but can be painted as somehow “counter-revolutionary”. If they agree with the DA, or share a platform with big business organisations, it is much harder for those groups to be put in the same corner as those “who want to bring apartheid back”.

This has a massive strengthening effect on their push for their ultimate aim. They can become the spokespeople for the entire effort, and thus give the initiative political heft. It tells the world that Zuma does not have the support of everyone who sees the ANC as part of their political identity.

More importantly, it sends a strong signal to those still inside the party that they are on the wrong track. People who are still, say, on the NEC, but have worked with those who are now outside, may well reconsider their positions. Particularly because the people outside may have mentored the people inside.

It is still too early to say if these groups will succeed in their ultimate aim, and when. But even if they don’t, they have weakened Zuma in some fundamental ways, and possibly helped decisively those inside the ANC who are trying to remove him. However, depending on Zuma’s actions in 2017, they may be forced to go for broke. DM

Photo: Supporters of the Save South Africa movement listen to speeches in St Albans Church in Tshwane, 2 November 2016. (Greg Nicolson)



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