All this time, you’ve been thinking the African National Congress is the party that wins all the elections and, like, runs the country and stuff. But things change quickly at Luthuli House, and you’re only half right. Nope, you’re a third right. Oh, look at that! – you’re dead wrong. The ANC, it turns out, runs less than s**t.
Melted clock hanging on the bough of a tree. Razor slicing through an eyeball. Teacup, saucer and spoon fashioned from animal fur. Surrealism, said the French theoretician André Breton, was “psychic automatism in its purest state, by which one purposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought.”
In South Africa, where political thought functions on an X/Y axis – X being the African National Congress, and Y being the African National Congress – surrealism is ingrained in any attempt at formulating a paradigmatic reality. Luthuli House itself, which wilts into the shabbiness of Pixley ka Isaka Seme St like a Dali timepiece (Salvador, not Mpofu), is the looped sequence of a single dream. And the dream is the quest for unchecked power.
Some dreamers dream more lucidly than others. The country’s Surrealist in Chief, aided in the main by executive privileges that the framers of our political system would probably want another go at if they had the chance, has an advantage over those he considers his rivals. After all, he gets to pick the people who help him run the country without having to check in with anyone at HQ. This means that the state’s 75 Cabinet members are, for the most part, creatures fashioned from primal mud to serve at the pleasure of the president. Sure, there are checks and balances, and in any normal scenario the president would consult with the decision-makers in his party — in this case the ANC’s National Executive Committee – but this is not a normal scenario. This is Jacob Zuma’s dreamscape we’re populating, and it adheres to its own species of logic.
Perhaps the most famous example of this in the history of our young democracy (aren’t you getting sick of that phrase?) is the firing last December of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was replaced by the political equivalent of a chew toy named Desmond van Rooyen. Whether Van Rooyen was actually born in a box that read “Batteries Not Included” has yet to be established, but he sure seemed like he came out of the packaging in need of some triple A’s. It would be marvellous to think that, after numerous emergency sessions and much consultation, the ANC NEC stood up to its president and insisted that Van Rooyen must be removed. But that isn’t the case. It took a bunch of white guys in expensive suits, all of whom were becoming rapidly poorer on account of thousands of currency traders doing joyous lines of cocaine off their mousepads, to explain to their wards in the ANC the direness of the situation.
Zuma didn’t buckle because the ANC checked his power – that’s just hilarious. Zuma buckled because of what the red overalls like to call “white monopoly capital”. Zuma doesn’t care about the ANC as a functioning institution or as an ideological entity (haha, I know.) And he doesn’t care about the ANC because, for the most part, he doesn’t have to. Let’s just say that I’ve watched with my own eyes Van Rooyen’s replacement, two-time loser Pravin Gordhan, actually choke when questioned about the harassment he must deal with from Zuma’s shadowy political assassins.
The ANC? Nope. It ain’t a thing.
It’s taken a day or so to process the recent press conference called by coms poobah Jackson Mthembu, in which the old hack took a verbal panga to the chief operating officer of the SABC, the much-maligned Hlaudi Motsoeneng. It was in many respects a tragic performance: the head of the NEC subcommittee on communications checking in with the press two weeks after the breaking of the latest crisis at the state broadcaster, in a lame attempt to try to get the bad guys to stop censoring what remains of the “news”.
The panga blows were spirited; Mthembu was almost sweating as he struck away. And yet I’ve seen a pool noodle cause more damage to a grown human. The very next day, there was the chairman of the SABC’s board, Mbulaheni Maguvhe, telling Mthembu to basically get fucked.
“The strategies that the chief operating officer and his team have put in place and sanctioned by the board have worked for the organisation,” lied Maguvhe.“These political tugs of war by different political parties are diversionary and intended to defocus the corporation from its mandate. We need to reiterate that we will not make any decisions that are aimed at censoring the news.”
It was all, Maguvhe insisted – and tell me this isn’t straight from the ANC’s nonsense playbook – a dark corporate “agenda” to steal the SABC and turn it into, I dunno, the Spike TV?
Think about this for a moment: the man in charge of the policy-making committee that helped transform the state broadcaster from a National Party cheerleading squad into an ANC praise singer can’t even call its COO a moron without being slapped into silence. And he deserved the slap: Mthembu told an incredulous press corps that “we don’t know” who was protecting Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and that “we don’t know” who was responsible for the current mess. But we all know that Communications Minister Faith Muthambi belongs to Jacob Zuma, and that she will not give in without some panga blows of her own.
Her weapons cache, I’m guessing, comes with a better blade sharpener.
Ag, but it’s not just the SABC. Have you met the slavering David Mohlobo, he of the State Security ministry? Don’t. Or the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane? Or the embarrassment to 40,000 years of human civilisation that is Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko? Or take the SAA, the totally completely utterly broke state-owned enterprise that cost the last finance minister his job? Just yesterday, airline chairwoman Dudu Myeni and her board awarded a R256-million debt restructuring surprise present to an outfit called BnP Capital (no, not that BNP), all without putting the contract to tender. An act of grand larceny, right under the noses of the National Treasury, an institution staffed entirely by loyal ANC cadres.
Dudu Myeni, one of Zuma’s endless parade of willing executioners, couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the ANC. Her job is to rob the airline into eternal penury, and to spread the money around to the appropriately blessed. She doesn’t care about the ANC because she doesn’t need to. She isn’t afraid of the ANC because, over the course of the past decade, she’s watched her boss knock out all of its teeth with a plumber’s wrench.
The ANC doesn’t bite. It slobbers.
This can’t be blamed entirely on Jacob Zuma, of course. The rot began long ago, as it always does, when cadre deployment and patronage were understood to be the handmaidens of governance. And so the governing party isn’t really the governing party, it’s a necrotising vessel that contains the source of its own negation. Because of a million mistakes, the ANC is nothing more than something Jacob Zuma uses to get through the day, like a briefcase or an asthma inhaler. It exists, but it doesn’t exist.
“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality,” said Andre Breton, “which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak.” He would’ve enjoyed Luthuli House, the ultimate melted clock on the bough of a tree. The ANC: dream or reality, or both? It doesn’t matter.
Because in Jacob Zuma’s political dreamscape, the ANC ain’t s**t. DM
Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreals Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africas leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective. His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikhs Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africas 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014). Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africas Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada. Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continents 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift.
The air quality from pollution on a cruise ship can at times be worse than the world's worst cities.