South Africa

Snapshot: The days of tension and confusion within the ANC

By Stephen Grootes 11 June 2017

The events of the next six months and six days (or so) will almost surely determine the next decade of our politics. Whoever wins in the ANC’s leadership conference in December will have a huge impact on the 2019 election, and its outcome, and after that the country will start to change in one way or another. The process will begin first with a consultative conference from Friday 30 June and then the ANC’s policy conference that starts immediately there. The week after that is the SACP’s conference, which could see the party leaving the alliance. This may be the last breathing space we have in which to examine the balance of forces as they currently stand, in a sober manner, before events start to overtake our ability to breathe deeply. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Friday, the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association met to hold its conference. It was one of the first formal gatherings of the conference season we are about to begin. From the very beginning, it was marked by the fact that senior leaders of the organisation, including the general secretary and the deputy general secretary, refused to attend. They made the claim that 60% of the people who would be attending as delegates were in fact not proper members. There were other claims that some of the people (particularly those sitting closer to the back) looked way too young to actually have played a role in MK. There is history here, in that when the MKMVA “guarded” Luthuli House during a protest by other parties, many of the people who claimed to be its members were also simply too young to have played any role in the Struggle.

The MKMVA is led by Kebby Maphatsoe. He is not only the deputy minister of defence (his home is guarded by six SANDF soldiers at all times) but is also one of the chief motormouth defenders of the Gupta family. His credibility is lower than Theresa May’s political capital right now. He was found by a court to have lied (after he sued Ronnie Kasrils) and was the subject of social media humiliation after a sexually revealing photograph of him was published that could only have been taken by a younger woman. In short, he is a thug, who hopes one day to lead more thugs.

The conference went ahead anyway, legitimised by the presence of President Jacob Zuma. Zuma claims again and again to love the ANC. Which makes it difficult to understand why he would attend a conference which is clearly not legitimate. (There is a track record here, Zuma did exactly the same thing with the election of Andile Lungisa to the position of leader of the ANC’s Nelson Mandela Bay region. That election was eventually overturned by the national executive committee. But we can certainly expect more of this sort of thing.)

And we can probably also expect the fight about credentials, the process used to decide who attends conferences and who actually votes, to really heat up in the next few months. Because, as we all know about an ANC conference, he who controls credentials wins (the sexist language deliberate here).

On Sunday it was reported by News24 that there had been conversations at this conference between a member of the MKMVA and, it would appear, the soon-to-be-announced head of Police Crime Intelligence, about the need to set up a unit to fight against those who were “anti-Zuma. The only new thing here is the surprise that such a unit does not already exist. It almost certainly does. If there is one thing that Zuma has taught us over the years it is that determining winners and losers in our politics can be dumbed down to this: “It’s control of the Security Cluster, Stupid.”

But at this same event, something else happened that seems incredibly strange. The mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, is someone who has backed Zuma all the way. He was the only mayor of Gauteng to receive presidential congratulations upon his inauguration after last year’s local elections, and he used his first speech to criticise black people who did not vote for the ANC. He is what you could call a “Zuma hardliner”.

And yet he used his speech to plead with the Gupta family to leave the ANC and the country alone. He went further than anyone else has in front of the president by saying this: “Comrade President, let’s ask the Guptas to give the ANC space to conduct the revolution…. We don’t mean to choose friends for leaders of the ANC, but there’s a limit to everything. People died in the ANC and for this country we can’t surrender the sovereignty of the ANC.”

This kind of language would not have been surprising coming out of anyone from the SACP, or even Cosatu. But from Masina it’s jaw-dropping. It’s hard to know exactly why he was doing this, or even what his real message may be. But, this surely does show us that even for Zuma’s supporters, the impact of the #GuptaLeaks is beginning to be felt. There must be something quite awful about knowing that you are part of something clandestine, and then watching all the gory details spilling out of the computer intestines in a way in which is startingly impossible to deny. But it is impossible to know at this stage if this is the start of something new and big, if Masina is beginning to realise the wind is changing direction, and it’s time to get out now.

If that is the case, if someone like Masina can begin to think of removing his surfboard from this current tsunami, then we may be about to see some real shifts within the ANC.

While all of this is happening, we have a newly assertive Gwede Mantashe to consider as well. First, on Wednesday, he told the Foreign Correspondents Association that when it came to removing Zuma from the Presidency, it would be “less complex” after the December conference, because the resolution that the leader of the ANC must be the country’s president would no longer apply. And if that wasn’t interesting enough, on Thursday, at the National Union of Mineworkers’ Central Committee, he gave a province by province analysis of what would happen if the NEC did resolve to remove Zuma at this point. He put it like this: “It will plunge the ANC into chaos, along with structures of the ANC in many regions. If we do that, we will split the ANC into two in KwaZulu-Natal. In the North West there will be chaos, in the Free State there will be a disaster.”

It is well-known that the Free State is fully behind Zuma; Ace Magashule has made that abundantly clear. The North West ANC has only recently been united after a long period of almost open warfare, but his comments about KZN are fascinating. This appears to suggest that Mantashe believes that KZN, the province that did more than any other to get Zuma to the Union Buildings and to keep him there, is split. KZN still has more ANC branches than anyone else. If it is still divided going into the December contest, then it will be simply impossible to make any predictions at all. Except to say that this is very bad news for Zuma, in that he used to be able to count on the entire province’s support. And this could well have direct knock-on effects for his ex-wife.

Mantashe has also warned that the securocrats will be out in full force ahead of the conference, amid suspicions that someone somewhere will leak something about Cyril Ramaphosa at the right time. Again, he is probably preparing the ground, not so much for that, but so that when whatever is coming comes, it won’t come as a shock.

So far this year, the trend appears to have been the momentum building behind Ramaphosa, while at the same time it seems Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is losing traction. This was not what was expected to happen. But it is still very difficult to be sure of anything within the party at the moment. We are not really hearing from members or branches, we are only able to listen to those leaders who have public platforms and choose to use them.

The first time we are likely to get any proper indication of what will happen in December is when those members gather. Which will be the first day of the Policy Conference in under three weeks’ time. The way they react to the entrances of Zuma and Ramaphosa, and yes, Dlamini-Zuma, the way they listen or ignore the chair Baleka Mbete, and the sheer mood and vibe of the conference. That will be the first time we can start to get any indication of what is going to happen. It’s not too long to wait now. DM

Photo: ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Chairperson Baleka Mbethe and President Jacob Zuma pose for pictures during the third day of a leadership conference in Polokwane December 18, 2007. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko



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