Until death do us part – ANC’s war of attrition could get serious
The ANC’s decision to allow two of its most public faces, Pule Mabe and Zizi Kodwa, to ‘take leave’ is one of the stranger series of events in the post-Nasrec era. It is almost fully at odds with the party’s responses to previous claims of wrongdoing, particularly in cases involving men attacking women. This may be an indication that the ruling party’s main factions may now be involved in a war of attrition, where sacrifices will be made to attain some strategic advantage.
For those who want the ANC to remain a cohesive force for good and strong governance, the latest action may signify a dramatic change underway. In the past, groups in the party would always put internal battles on hold during election campaigns, for the benefit of them all. That appears no longer to be the case – the tensions within the party appear to be beyond that spot.
On Monday, the ANC’s national working committee met for what NWC member Tony Yengeni called on Twitter its “longest-ever” meeting. On Tuesday, secretary-general Ace Magashule announced that both Mabe and Kodwa had asked to take leave of absence from their positions in the public sphere. This means that neither shall speak in public in the capacity of national spokesperson (Mabe) or as an acting national spokesperson (Kodwa).
Confusingly, the last acting national spokesperson standing, Dakota Legoete, has confirmed in a series of interviews that Mabe is still the official national spokesperson and Kodwa is still the head of the ANC’s presidency. To push matters further into oblivion, Legoete also says that Kodwa could actually conduct interviews in public as the head of the ANC’s presidency, but not as an acting national spokesperson.
The strangeness of this cannot be overemphasised. Mabe has been cleared by an internal ANC process of a claim of sexual harassment lodged by his now former personal assistant. He denies any wrongdoing. Kodwa has been accused in public of rape. He also denies any wrongdoing, and no charge has yet been laid with the police. But, according to the ANC’s official version, despite their denials and the fact that they face no criminal action, both men then “asked” to go on a leave of absence. Dakota has said that their actions show “leadership” and that they are willing to put the ANC’s interests ahead of their own.
This is completely at odds with the way ANC members have conducted themselves in the past. Most famously, the then deputy president Jacob Zuma was accused, and charged, with rape in 2006. Instead of the ANC asking him to step aside, he was strongly supported by the party. When he was criminally charged with corruption in 2009, the party supported him inside and outside court. It was only after Nasrec, when the balance of power changed, that the NEC turned against Zuma.
More recently, there has been no official sanctioning by the ANC of Mduduzi Manana. He has not appeared to suffer any definitive disciplinary action from the ANC after being filmed hitting a woman outside a nightclub. While he resigned as deputy Higher Education Minister, his ANC positions appear unaffected. He went on to be accused of assaulting another woman.
And, if Dakota’s claim that the example of Kodwa and Mabe should be emulated, there will be questions about other ANC officials, in government nogal, who currently face strong claims against them. Nomvula Mokonyane remains Environmental Affairs Minister despite numerous claims against her from her time at the Water Affairs Department and through the Bosasa scandal. Bathabile Dlamini is still Minister for Women in the Presidency despite the Constitutional Court having found she lied under oath. There are other examples.
This then may well be evidence that in fact the two main factions in the ANC actually came to a deal, and the result is that both Mabe and Kodwa’s decisions to “ask for” a leave of absence. Certainly, to be allowed a leave of absence at your own initiative infers that you could simply request to end your leave of absence and return to your duties. In the case of Kodwa, no charge has been laid with the police. If that is the case, then what would need to change for him to be allowed to come back? The case of Mabe is slightly more complicated in that the person who accused him of harassment has opened a case at the CCMA, but it is possible that he could also feel he should come back at his own request, if he left also at his own request.
If it is the case that both sides are able to take pieces off the board when necessary, it raises many questions about the near-term future of the ANC. It may well indicate that in fact, it is possible for one side to damage the other by damaging their pieces, their members. Many people have suggested that there are elements of a smear campaign in all of this, particularly in the case against Kodwa. It is hard to determine that at this stage, but until a case is lodged with the police, his supporters will continue to make that claim. If those opposed to Kodwa (and presumably then opposed to President Cyril Ramaphosa) feel that they have been successful with this action against him, they may be emboldened to try it again. That could then create a response, and so on. The damage to the ANC may well be difficult to predict if this is the case.
It should also be remembered which positions these people hold. While an allegation against any leader of the ANC could be damaging, both Mabe and Kodwa are symbols of the party. It is they who have defended it in the media, their faces, voices and brands have become intertwined with the ANC’s. This has the potential to make it even more damaging, particularly during an election.
It should be remembered that this has happened before. It was in the run-up to the 2009 election that Carl Niehaus had to resign, after admitting to lies and fraud. The public disclosures of his behaviour have not stopped him from becoming the spokesperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association, or appeared to stop what looks like a pattern of behaviour (in one memorable example, he refused to confirm or deny whether his mother was still alive; it appears he faked her death to solicit money from someone).
And yet, despite the possible damage to the ANC, it may be true that there are those in the party who are happy to continue their internal fights, even though they involve people representing Luthuli House in the public domain. This could mark an important shift.
In the past, former secretary-general (and now ANC Chair) Gwede Mantashe has said that he would oppose ever integrating the municipal and national/provincial elections into one poll, because fighting elections every two or three years brought the ANC together. He was making the point that during elections, different elements in the party are forced to work together on the campaign trail. And for much of 2018, one of the expectations was that this year’s election could serve to consolidate Ramaphosa’s grip on power. This was because it was assumed that as the leader of the ANC, the party would have to coalesce around him, as it did around Zuma in previous elections.
But now there may be evidence to suggest that prediction was misplaced (that’s a polite word for “wrong”… Ed). Instead of the party consolidating around Ramaphosa, something else may be happening. Even if the current travails around Mabe and Kodwa are put to one side, there is evidence that the ANC is not uniting in any way. Former North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo has won not one but two court orders to reinstate his provincial executive committee in North West, members in the Free State are still involved in court battles, on Twitter some NEC members continue to praise the Zondo Commission, while others, such as Tony Yengeni, continue to support claims that Matshela Koko and Brian Molefe should be brought back to run Eskom.
This then begs the question: what will happen if these trends continue through the election? In the end, that question can only be answered by voters. It will be up to them to decide whether to still vote for the ANC, to vote for other parties, or not to turn out at the polls at all. But if this current turmoil continues, it is hard to see the ANC achieving the targets it has set itself on May the 8th. DM