Defend Truth


Striking a delicate balance as we enter our own ‘Glasnost and Perestroika’ moment


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.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s strategy to revitalise his Mother Russia, in the late Eighties failed dismally because the openness and reconstruction Glasnost and Perestroika strategy took place without a framework of where they wanted to end up or, better yet, where Russians saw themselves at the end of that process. President Cyril Ramaophosa needs to be mindful of this as he embarks on rebuilding the ANC and the state.

In the end, Mikhail Gorbachev’s strategy failed spectacularly and led to the total collapse of the Soviet Union and, with it, the Eastern European communist bloc countries, all because he and his party at the time did not know where their Glasnost and Perestroika strategy would take them. They had not properly planned or strategised as to what the end result should be and whether the country and the party were ready for such an eventuality.

I have been one of those who have been calling for renewal. A clean-up campaign is needed and everyone has been clamouring at the president’s door calling for all those responsible for corruption, State Capture and bringing the organisation into disrepute over the last nine years to be brought to book. In other words, arrest them, imprison them, discipline them and, if needs be, expel them from the ranks of the party.

This, many pundits argue, is the minimum that needs to be done if the governing party wants to see its electoral support surge and disillusioned voters return to the voting polls. In short, without truth there can be no trust. And the ANC dearly needs the citizens of SA to trust them again.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s task in this regard is much more complex and is indeed a Gordian knot.

His major challenge is the fact that he also has to keep his eye on the impending general elections due to take place next year and, as a result, he has to think of the state of his political party, the ANC, and its readiness. A divided, battered and weak party means poor results in the elections and a poor showing by the electorate, which will harm the ANC and indeed himself.

I hear some of you saying, but if the rot is so deep, let the entire ANC be brought to justice or capitulate. As appetising as that might sound, we should not fool ourselves into believing in narrow political rhetoric about opposition parties being able to take over the mantle of governance in SA.

The DA is a shadow of its former self and is hardly coping with the running of the metros that they recently won in the local government elections. The party is factious at a national level and time and time again has proven to us that they cannot get their race and gender priorities right.

As for the populist rhetoric of the third largest party in Parliament, the EFF, they can hardly muster 6% of the electorate. Their policies, though popular among the youth, are archaic, a blast from a bygone era and have been seen not to work.

Here, I’m referring to large-scale nationalisation and old-style socialist programmes. It might appeal to the poor and downtrodden but it simply does not work in reality. Modern-day examples of Venezuela and Bolivia abound, notwithstanding our Cold War examples such as the Soviet Union and all its smaller European partners.

The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 precisely because such callous ideological programmes could not provide for the people of those countries.

I’m the first to acknowledge that capitalism cannot provide our people with all the necessary solutions, but when facing such a broken global financial architecture, the latter has proven to stand the test of time. And until a credible alternative is found, we simply cannot fall prey to populist rhetoric that appeals to the plight of the poorest of the poor in our country.

We have to admit that it is the ANC that can navigate these complexities in our modern-day body politic in Mzansi. A full-blown implosion of the party will not be better for SA, it will be wholly disastrous for us all.

The racist Afrikaners among us would like to believe they can govern South Africa as they did in the recent past, but they forget that they did it on the coattails of racist policies, exploitative black labour and a brutality unmatched in recent historical times.

The liberal whites in the DA largely think that simply having a strong economy and meritocracy will lift the country out of its unequal historic past. And others, shame, simply think prayer will do the trick.

In order to fully understand and comprehend the nature of the problem you only have to read and analyse the historic speech delivered by former president Thabo Mbeki at a seminar hosted by the Canadian Parliament held in Ottawa, Canada in 1978, The Historic Injustice.

In it Mbeki outlines the very historic trajectory of our journey as black South Africans towards subjugation and colonialism and ultimately to a crime against humanity called apartheid. It makes for deplorable reading, but is our true history which we cannot deny, but constantly need to attempt to correct.

Ramaphosa clearly understands the complex nature of this beast called SA and, more important, the animal called the ANC. Openness is needed to close the Zuma chapters and yes, the reconstruction must begin in earnest, because the ANC allowed too much damage to take place under its leadership over the last nine years.

But is there a framework, good sir? Do you know where you are ultimately taking us? Do you have a strategy for how to manage the openness (truths) that will come with the clean-up through our public courts and various investigations? Putting various individuals on the stand to testify in court can indeed back fire on your party. Who knows what will be said and who will be implicated in all sorts of things. Investigations can also reveal all sorts of other unintended consequences for your party.

The Cabinet reshuffle that everyone is hastening you towards also comes with residual risks – your choices will almost certainly be associated with factionalism stemming from the December Nasrec conference. Do you only fire them or do you also revoke their status as Members of Parliament? Do you expel some with a view to take the heat away from the party, and so on?

Then there is the matter that no one is talking about – that after the recall of President Mbeki, some felt so aggrieved that they formed a new political party, COPE. Also, after the expulsion of Julius Malema, another new party was formed – the EFF. Can we expect these aggrieved comrades, including perhaps Jacob Zuma, to form a new political party as we enter the election race towards 2019?

Gorbachev’s heart was in the right place when he embarked on such a noble cause of openness and reconstruction. He genuinely wanted to lift and improve his country’s lot. But the failure to execute such plans within a carefully understood and crafted framework meant failure in the end.

Let’s hope the ANC and its new leadership under the stewardship of Cyril Ramaphosa have such a framework for South Africa.

I need not remind you that a total collapse and failure will surely take us all into the abyss from whence, I fear, we will not be able to return. DM


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