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Battle Lines: War is the continuation of politics by other means


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

It is in the ANC’s best interests that an anti-corruption pro-organisational renewal slate must coalesce around one candidate. Battle lines are drawn. There is no space for delusion or confusion.

Carl von Clausewitz reminds us that war is the continuation of politics by other means. As the ANC prepares for both its policy and national elective conferences, the battle for both the leadership and the soul of the ANC is set to reach a deafening, perhaps deadly, crescendo.

The ANC leadership battle has, over the years, taken on an increasingly nasty and “winner takes all” character. The losing side is vilified and in most cases made to suffer the consequences of their democratic choice of leadership, long after the conference has ended. This is partly why the battle has become so vicious. To lose simply means that an appropriate measure of retribution will be exacted on the losing side.

In Sun Tzu’s famous treatise, The Art of War, he states, “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

The patronage slate (aptly so named by Steven Friedman) is already very arrogant even in the face of the #GuptaLeaks expos. Following the disturbing leaks, there is a last gasp chance for organisational renewal. Battle lines are drawn, ANC people! What are you waiting for? It is time to come out of the woodwork and claim your stake in this battle for the soul of the ANC.

I consider there to be several essential steps to realise an alternative – some would argue – return of the real glorious movement of the ANC:

If the ANC is to survive the fallout, corruption and criminal charges must also be laid from within the ANC

The ANC cannot allow external forces only to lay charges against ANC public servants, ministers and any other persons implicated. The findings of the ANC integrity commission need to be made public and the actions recommended enacted. Appropriate disciplinary action is essential. What is stopping the police from arresting implicated persons? Subversion and treasonous acts are very serious offences against the State. This is now way beyond just State Capture and corrupt practices. Our Operation Car Wash – or rather our Operation Saxonwold Shebeen – should be the first step towards moral renewal and a corruption free Mzansi. This ANC-led anti-corruption purge must gain traction before the elective conference. Decisions made at the elective conference will be equally critical to the survival of the ANC and the future of our nation. The art of war will be a necessary part of the weaponry for the elective conference.

Allow the leadership of the patronage slate to tear itself apart

Pondering the ramifications of the explosive #GuptaLeaks, I’m reminded of a scene in one of the James Bond movies, Skyfall. The villain explains a simple fact to the much loved commander Bond. He tells the following short story:

My grandmother had an island when I was a boy. Nothing to boast of. You could walk along it in an hour. But still, it was – it was a paradise for us. One summer, we came for a visit and discovered the whole place had been infested with rats. They’d come on a fishing boat and had gorged themselves on coconut. So how do you get rats off an island, hmm? My grandmother showed me. We buried an oil drum, and hinged the lid. Then we wired coconuts to the lid as bait. The rats come for the coconut, and…  They fall into the drum, and after a month, you’ve trapped all the rats. But what did you do then? Throw the drum into the ocean? Burn it? No. You just  leave it. And they begin to get hungry, then one by one…  [imitates rat munching sound.]  They start eating each other, until there are only two left. The two survivors. And then what – do you kill them? No. You take them, and release them into the trees. Only now, they don’t eat coconuts any more. Now they will only eat rat. You have changed their nature.”

As the #GuptaLeaks gain momentum, all the rats from the patronage slate are slowly realising that they are being, or are soon to be, thrown under the bus or into the oil drum. One by one they will begin to eat each other. Their will to survive and the fear from criminal prosecution will dictate that they must make sure that they be one of the last two rats standing. After all, Sun Tzu also tells us that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.  So, let them eat the coconuts for they are economic gluttons who will do whatever it takes to enrich themselves, but more so to survive.

Now is the time to divide and rule

Challenging the patronage slate will require organising in those provinces where they have support through their patronage networks. Their cracks must be found and exploited. The national Youth League and Women’s League have played their cards and pronounced on their preferred leadership collective. But the leagues of the ANC, last time I checked, are not homogeneous entities. Why then are the various provincial youth leagues and women’s leagues silent on their preferred candidate or leadership collectives? This silence gives the distinct impression that confused comrades such as Collen Maine and Bathabile Dlamini indeed speak on their behalf, when it is rather clear that this is not the case. Dissenting voices from within provincial structures are needed to restore confidence in the already battered ANC. The very same argument holds true with regards the ANC provincial structures. The Provincial Executive Committees (PECs) need to come out very clear on where they stand in the run-up to the National Conference. I also wonder whatever should happen now with regards to the call from our veterans for a consultative conference: a conference that would have, in an honest and reflective manner, put some of the very real concerns of leadership or lack thereof on the agenda. The moral decay, corruption and serious abuse of our State resources cannot be allowed to continue unabated. The ANC needs this consultative conference and must stop insisting on keeping its head in the sand.

Clarity of purpose, simplicity of message and a single figurehead leader are key

Having too many hats in the ring is simply a non-starter strategy. Learn from the past and acknowledge that the strategy leading up to the Mangaung elective conference simply did not work. Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa and Kgalema Motlanthe were all vying for the top position. They entered the race late, and never managed a coherent offering. The Zuma camp was always the main contender, and their efforts were not dispersed. There was no confusion among Zuma supporters and campaigners for who they wanted to promote. It is in the ANC’s best interests that an anti-corruption pro-organisational renewal slate must coalesce around one candidate. Battle lines are drawn. There is no space for delusion or confusion.

Reflect on the age and experience/ track record of leadership candidates

The current ANC organisational call is to reflect on the nature, character and calibre of leadership for the organisation. This is principled reflection, which necessarily involves holding up candidates against a set of ideals. I think that it was in this spirit that our current Minister of Police tweeted about the leadership calibre of the current Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura. He suggested that comrade David will make for an excellent Secretary-General (SG) of the ANC.

Makhura comes from a political tradition that flows directly from the June 1976 uprisings. Soon after that fateful day in Soweto, protests also started in Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats in the Western Cape and spread throughout the province, eventually engulfing the entire country. A direct result of these struggles was the formation of the Congress of South Africans Students (COSAS), which signalled for the first time that learners in schools were now also an integral part of the struggle for liberation and freedom. Scholars needed to be organised, conscientised and equipped with the necessary “tools of analysis”. “Each one Teach one” was the COSAS motto.

David and his generation were moulded and forged from that particular political consciousness. Although their schooling was disrupted – and they were referred to as the first “lost generation” – their education has been rich. Spending time in and out of detention and jail, working in self-defence units, finding their political homes in university and vocational training institutions, this generation graduated. Their schools and institutions of higher learning were their sites of struggle. Besides the obvious transformation imperatives needed at these institutions themselves, such as more demographically represented staff complements, free higher education (yes, this was an issue back then, and not just now), curriculum and syllabi changes (decolonising of Bantu education) and so much more, these cadres also knew and understood the bigger task at hand, nationally.

From COSAS, they were also schooled in various guises of the ANCYL (since the ANC was banned), the Cape Youth Congress (CAYCO), South African Youth Congress (SAYCO) and indeed at tertiary level were now cadres of the South African National Students Congress (SANSCO) which later, after the amalgamation with the then predominantly white student organisation, the National Union of South Africans Students (NUSAS) simply became the South African Student Congress (SASCO). These intellectual cadres schooled in the arts of political education, critical thought and revolutionary theories understood their role and had a firm grasp of what was expected of them insofar as the task of overthrowing the apartheid regime entailed. They helped to usher in a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

Now, of course there were among them some comrades that, due to various circumstances, could not access a tertiary education, be it lack of money and resources or because they were in detention, prison and so forth. They too had the acumen for, and engaged robustly in, political education, revolutionary thought, theories and critical thinking. Their “tools of analysis” were first grade. These comrades were considered to be “organic intellectuals” and added equal value to the discourse as those with the necessary degree qualifications.

The generation born in the Seventies are now in their mid-40s. They occupy positions of influence and power in our society. They remain broadly involved within the transformation project, in different guises. Some are in the back rooms at Parliament, others occupy senior positions in government and still others find themselves within the private sector, be it in medicine, engineering or teaching at institutions of higher learning and so on. They are not in the forefront of leadership nationally.

How many of the provincial and national leadership of the ANC have not come through the proud ranks outlined above? How many have any political education, can appreciate revolutionary thought and apply critical thought and analysis to certain situations? Instead of the calibre of cadres described above, we end up with rats, only interested in self-enrichment and short cuts which leads to corrupt practices. They have no skills besides tenderpreneuring. No wonder we then contend with unethical, immoral leadership only interested in crass accumulation at the expense of broader society.

Fikile Mbalula knows very well why he is making this clarion call for that generation of David Makhura to step forward. I have written about this gerontocracy phenomenon in the ANC and its alliance partners generally and would like to reiterate my concern here. Many claim that much of the ANC leadership has passed its sell-by date. One presidential candidate if elected will be in her 70s, with the youngest comrade proposed from certain quarters, for the top six, being in their late 50s. This class has lost touch with the modern needs of our society; in fact, their understanding and approaches are antediluvian.

Seriously, is this the best the ANC can produce? This gerontocracy class – mostly from exile – have been occupying the leadership space at the top for far too long. It cannot be allowed to continue in December 2017.

To battle, I say!

Battle lines are drawn, good people, because already it is patently clear that a schism exists between the ANC parliamentary caucus and Luthuli House on the one hand, and the patronage slate of Zuma on the other. But since all the forces are preparing for the mother of all battles, let us take a look at what it is we are all going to fight for and in some instances die for.

The first presidential candidate is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a woman, and as such, she will be the first female president of the ANC in its 105-year history, if elected. Some would argue that she has proven herself as a consummate manager, both in her roles of Health, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Minister and continued with this strength at the African Union where she has made her mark with regards to institutional capacity building, strengthening of systems and affording the office of the commissioner the requisite dignity and stature, internationally. The elephant in the room of course is that she comes with a leadership package which consist of the patronage slate: Ace Magashule, David Mabusa, Supra Mahumapelo to mention but a few. This patronage slate are the same people by and large involved in and caught up with State Capture.

Another presidential candidate is Cyril Ramaphosa. Some argue he is a man of some repute and integrity, though some will differ because of his supposed negative involvement in the Marikana tragedy. Another criticism put forward is that he has no leadership team thus far and perhaps some might say this is good because it somehow means this group is not involve in factional politics. But I think this is a mistake, because people need to rally around a good team.

And then there are of course those that subscribe to a notion that says these two groupings are factional in nature and therefore cannot take the ANC forward. Neither can deliver a successful election outcome in 2019. They ask, are these two camps too polarised and too factionalised to provide us with any credible alternatives?

Is there room for a third way? They mention the example of Thabo Mbeki and Chris Hani facing off at an earlier national conference, vying for the Deputy President position of the ANC. All and sundry at the conference could see that this was going to lead to bitter division within the organisation. Experience taught them to rather go with a third so-called neutral candidate in the form of Walter Sisulu.

Back then, was there more political maturity or was it, simply put, a different leadership collective? One that hailed from a school of thought that knew “you are secondary to the Struggle, you are but a mere servant to the people”. It is never about I but always about we. Why can’t the two slates come together, to resolve what can only be explained as political turmoil besetting the ANC for the next decade again, they say.

Well, all I can say, people, is that battle lines are drawn.

So take out your armour, sharpen your blades, gather your arrows, for the next few months are gonna get pretty rough.

May the best man or woman win. I hope Mzansi will survive this impending catastrophe. DM


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