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The uBaba Rebellion dismembered


Susan Booysen is Director of Research, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), and visiting and emeritus professor, Wits School of Governance.

The uBaba Rebellion, spearheaded by Jacob Zuma (aka uBaba ka Duduzane), could still be a blessing in disguise for the African National Congress.

The uBaba Rebellion could help free the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa from the accusation of “purge!” each time the spotlight falls on a Zumaist’s excursions into the state coffers. It could free Ramaphosa’s hands in ridding government of the worst of corruption. It would put to the test Ramaphosa’s sincerity to really pursue a “New Dawn” – probably to the benefit of the ANC. It could make a substantial difference to the calibre of candidates for the 2019 elections.

At the core of Zuma’s rebellion against the broad Ramaphosa alliance is his threat to reveal who, besides he himself, has done what in the corruption stakes:

Some say that I’m corrupt. I know some of them; they are also corrupt. I could easily let out their secrets,” are the recent Zuma words, assumed to make many run for cover.

However, there are benefits. Zuma letting every possible ANC corruption cat out of the bag will help lift the burden of revealing-or-not-revealing that the Ramaphosa ANC inherited in December 2017. Ramaphosa’s dual task of both cleaning up the ANC and government and building ANC unity has been hamstrung by the accusations of purging political opponents (viz. Nasrec supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma). Former premier Supra Mahumapelo sketched this on the steps of the Durban High Court last week. “Political motives” is the shorthand.

Ramaphosa is heading an unbearably fragile alliance of the truly corruption-free, the almost clean bearing minor skeletons, skeleton-ridden converts from the Zuma camp who crossed in pursuit of political protection, and many shades in between. Tainted ones are all around. Ask Women’s Leaguer Minister Bathabile Dlamini. Her tale of “all of us in the NEC have our smallanyana skeletons” (2016) refers.

Naturally, a tell-all will bring damages. All it takes for a helter-skelter of allegations and counter-allegations to become the order of the day is for a (threatening to become) rogue politician like Zuma to go outside the structures of the ANC and reveal information on the rest of the rogue gallery, past and present. It will be disruptive and painful. It could also be the best of favours to the ANC.

But was Zuma’s threat to tell all an empty one? Last week’s words were after all not Zuma’s first threat. Vintage November 2016, Zuma claimed to have full knowledge of who was stealing from the public purse. Obviously true; he had and has extensive knowledge. As I write in Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma, Zuma often appointed flawed and corruption-prone ones to important positions, from where they would sustain him in his power projects. He had a hold on them. But instead of blowing the whistle, Zuma said that he was “… just watching them. I know them.”

Full knowledge of reputations of aspiring candidates would help the ANC claim a position of moral authority and, in Ramaphosa’s words, accurate or not, “be the ANC we have always been”. This will be a useful launching pad when the ANC national and provincial list committees and conferences start compiling their 2019 election candidate lists.

The ANC’s discussion document, Through the Eye of a Needle, sets the tone. Furthermore, ANC guidelines specify that candidates have to be “above reproach in their social and political conduct”, and “be honest, have integrity, be incorruptible and actively fight against corruption”.

Two of the specific criteria are: no criminal record (excluding political acts committed before April 1994), and no history of ill-discipline or corruption (besides no history of involvement in fostering divisions and conflict).

The ANC’s 54th conference resolutions (unless intended as paper tigers) could strengthen the ANC in justifying its claim to a new dawn. They specify that a member “accused of or reported to be involved in corrupt practices accounts to the Integrity Committee immediately or faces [disciplinary committee] processes”, and that the ANC will “summarily suspend people who fail to give an acceptable explanation, or to voluntarily step down while they face disciplinary, investigative or prosecutorial processes”. Now may be the time for the ANC to uphold these resolutions, replacing past practice of factional loyalty and usefulness to top leaders.

Should Zuma assist and reveal all he will obviously also be partial, probably malicious. However, the list will grow domino style beyond the original Zuma names. And as the Zuma list meets the ANC candidate longlist the ANC will need a formula to weed out the suspect ones. In most cases there will not be completed investigations and court cases. Other factors to consider will include political motivation behind being named, severity of allegations or charges, pre-existing evidence, details of political interference to safeguard aspiring candidates, and association with corrupt patrons. Perhaps there is space for a panel of retired judges or other wise souls to facilitate impartial candidate screenings.

It will be a minefield, but one that the ANC cannot avoid. If not done, and not executed credibly and with public scrutiny, the old, Zumaist ANC will re-enter to rule in the place of or alongside Ramaphosa.

If Zuma is bold enough to do bean-spilling he will thus do the ANC a favour. If he does not, the Ramaphosa ANC might consider some lessons. First, prevent being held hostage to corruption in future; act as if there is an army of vengeful little Zumas that can spill it all at any moment. Second, stop being haunted by possibly losing Zuma-linked KwaZulu-Natal votes. Should chunks of KwaZulu-Natal’s 2.5 million ANC votes of 2014 migrate to a split-off headed by the Durban High Court podium contingent, or the Inkatha Freedom Party, write off the losses. KZN voters who value integrity over corruption-ridden unity, along with the bulk of ANC supporters in the rest of South Africa, will make those KZN losses worthwhile. DM


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