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The second transition – necessity or expedience?

Aubrey Masango was born in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria. Educated at St Johns College in Johannesburg and later went to the University of Pretoria to study to be a teacher. He was bored. He decided to get out of the corporate rat-race in 2009 because he did not like the person he was becoming in the BEE scene, seeing it as pretentious and unsustainable. These days, Aubrey is a talk show host on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape talk. His regular show “Talk with Aubrey” is on a Sunday evening at 23h00 to Monday morning at 01h00.

The recent unveiling of the ANC’s policy discussion document dubbed The Second Transition: Strategies and Tactics, which sets the agenda for the organisation’s June policy conference, raises many questions but also provides a much needed platform for reflection. The initiation of this debate must be commended but it must be equally interrogated for its bona fides, given the ANC’s sometimes uninspiring and often disappointing policy implementation record.

It is therefore important to ask of the ANC’s intention to review the powers of the Constitutional Court and the Constitution itself, a key component of the Second Transition proposal: is the proposal for a “Second Transition” a necessary national imperative or is it a veiled exercise in political expediency aimed at consolidating power in the hands of a political elite?

Explaining the reasons for the ANC’s proposal for the Second Transition, Jeff Radebe, ANC policy chief and minister of justice and constitutional development said, “Our first transition embodied a framework and a national consensus that may have been appropriate for political emancipation, a political transition, but has proven inadequate and inappropriate for our social and economic transformation phase”. Clearly the Second Transition is focused on addressing issues of social and economic import rather than those of a political nature because the latter “are in the bag”, as it were. I imagine this means the political landscape, characterised by apartheid legislation, institutional segregation and legalised racism has been successfully removed and now we must work towards taking control of the levers of commerce so that we can effect social change that is hindered by an economic structure created by apartheid legislation.

Ok, that makes sense to me because there is no doubt in my mind that there needs to be a serious and urgent effort made at addressing the economic plight of the poor, mostly black people, in this country. It is true also that in order to bring about the social cohesion we all desire – you know, non-racialism, non-sexism and an equal society – we do need to assess whether there are any legislative and constitutional impediments to that goal. Hence the discussion document to be deliberated upon at the ANC’s policy conference in June this year, to be adopted at the great Mangaung ANC elective conference in December. Hey Presto! Democracy in action! Yes, the ANC delivering a better life to all!

Is it really?

Some critical questions need to be asked before we accept that the neatly crafted rhetoric that is the Second Transition is a genuine effort at social and economic transformation. Who really is making the call for a Second Transition within the ANC? What is the prevailing political context? What do they stand to gain should this proposal be accepted as policy? Should the general citizenry be concerned? Allow me to venture a theory.

That there is deep factionalism within the ANC is an indisputable fact; one which implies convoluted and conflicting agendas in the contestation for the hearts and minds of a divided membership. This is the political context in which this discussion document has been released for general comment and debate. Secondly, this factionalism is being played out in public by the political conflicts we witness on a daily basis within the ANC. But more importantly, it is being played out in the greater South African mind space, where the battle for legitimacy is being waged by a governing party at war with itself. It is in this tenuous arena which the proposal of a Second Transition must be seen to consolidate a singular national agenda by the current leadership whose position of power is constantly under threat from other factions within the same political party.

The most obvious of these factions were those which emerged prior to the 2007 Polokwane elective conference resulting in the defeated Mbeki faction and the triumphant Zuma camp. However after Polokwane, in the process of governance, the Zuma faction was unable to pay its dues to those groupings and individuals who helped them ascend to power, so even more disgruntled factions began to splinter and emerge as a result.

Some of these factions include the capitalists within the ANC who are heavily indebted and encumbered in ailing BEE deals in various business sectors, especially the mining sector. Then there are the majoritarian trade unions and communists who control the masses and want a more worker friendly advancement of the National Democratic Revolution. There’s also beneficiaries of the policy of “cadre deployment” who occupy state institutions, various sectors of law enforcement, who themselves are beginning to split up into conflicting sub-factions as the scramble for power and survival continues. The precarious “guns for hire”, the loud but relatively harmless youth, are often seen as useful idiots by more discerning and cunning influences – they too are undergoing a split even as you read this piece.

In this scenario, the Second Transition proposal is thrown as a bone amongst vicious, hungry dogs, a litmus test for loyalty. It is a mechanism for the identification of friends and foes by the ruling elite which controls access to power.

Connected to this is another important component in understanding the complexities inherent in the call for a Second Transition. There is a need for some of the players to have their “indiscretions” or unresolved “crimes” expunged. President Jacob Zuma must make sure he stays in office in order to keep out of jail for his controversial fraud and corruption case which was set aside by the then Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, under questionable legal circumstances. Little comfort for the president because the DA is relentless in pursuit of the reopening of this case. The Arms Deal remains an unresolved but contentious issue and some believe if Zuma is kept in office, his administration would be a lot more creative in evaporating their alleged criminal complicity in the debacle. Then there are the minor cases of Travelgate and Oilgate which seem not to go away. It is hoped by many that if the Zuma faction stays in power, it would make these irritations quietly disappear.

With all of these interests vying for prominence in the agenda to gain or retain power, those who align themselves with the current political elite by showing sympathy for the Second Transition proposal, will be brought into the fold. Those who don’t will be discarded. Ask Juju.

The Second Transition is also a pre-emptive move to circumvent those who would claim that the current leadership is not serious in its desire to bring about “fundamental and radical change” in the socio economic landscape. Therefore they would be undeserving of the position of leadership in an organisation that should be the greatest agent of socio-economic change. Well, what greater sign for commitment to “radical change” can there be than to challenge the very Constitution deemed to be responsible for “hindering the process of change” and the court that protects it? Or at least look like that is your intention because you control the state machinery that can in fact do so. At the same time, you can vigorously assure the rest of the country that you want nothing more than to strengthen the constitutional democracy we all agreed upon in the negotiations prior to its adoption as South Africa’s birth certificate. So all you want is to make the Constitutional Court more accessible to all citizens so that they too can enjoy the fruits of our great Constitution.

These have been the arguments advanced by Radebe in his defence of the Second Transition. Yes, our honourable minister will go down in the annals of history as the man who under the great leadership of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma coined the phrase “The Second Transition”, slapped a few “strategies and tactics” together, generated a bit of national debate around the Constitution and the Constitutional Court for “legitimacy” and secured a second term for him and the president with the promise of a shot at the top job next time around, as reward.

So, if you didn’t gather by now, I don’t think the current faction and leadership of the ANC wants to change the Constitution at all, neither do I believe they want to amend the powers of the Constitutional Court.

I believe that the call for the Second Transition is nothing but brilliant political obfuscation aimed at maintaining power by this political aristocracy. I don’t believe they have the appetite, courage nor the competence to follow through on so great a task when they are unable to implement issues of far less complexity. These Machiavellian attitudes are neither new nor surprising; this is the way of the world of politics. My fear however is that an even less sophisticated, equally greedy but more determined bunch will topple the current faction and use the political mileage gained by the current group to force what is known as “radical change” upon an unsuspecting citizenry. DM


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