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A big ANC election win will not be a happy ending — more like the iceberg in the path of the Titanic

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Yazeed Fakier was Communications Manager of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, during the period it was voted the leading think tank in sub-Saharan Africa. His responsibilities included the implementation of the centre’s Communication Strategy, and researching and editing the outputs of seminars and policy workshops on issues ranging from state, governance and military architectures to post-war societies in transition, transitional justice and reconciliation, and regional economic co-operation. He is a former Deputy News Editor of the Cape Times, in a galaxy far, far removed from its present incarnation.

Surely there is still a last-gasp opportunity for the politics of the possible, of effective coalitions, for the combined opposition to pool resources and collective brainpower to provide deserving and decent South Africans with a viable alternative.

A fiery four weeks leading up to and including the State of the Nation address badly caught out an ANC leadership desperately trying to have its members sing from the same hymn sheet. The only success it achieved was to fail dismally — and in public — to stay on-message.

Such was the nature of the contradictions and spoken comedy of errors that the ANC revealed the deep schisms and political schizophrenia sweeping its upper echelons, even as it tries to convince the public that it should be the party of choice come voting day on 8 May 2019.

In the process, it managed to rival even the missteps of the official opposition in the latter’s apparent determination to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory. The psychological knock-on effect on the rank and file should be cause for concern.

The challenge is not so much finding the supporting evidence, but keeping track of it — pick a week, any week, over the past year, and you’ll come across any number of contradictions and counter-contradictions illustrating just how deeply the schizophrenia has taken hold and become part of the very DNA of the party. For now, we’ll keep it down to just four weeks.

On 13 January, the ANC’s election chief and most vociferous tweeter, Fikile Mbalula, was reported as calling on the party’s political leaders implicated in State Capture allegations to refrain from dragging the organisation’s name down with them.

Mbalula said the party was still dealing with (the) perception that it was reluctant to deal with corruption, which he said the party was working to improve under President Cyril Ramaphosa,” according to the report.

Problem is that the president himself had made a mockery of this call less than a week earlier, during the ANC’s birthday event in Durban. There, he had endorsed the political rehabilitation of his vilified predecessor, Jacob Zuma, using the reverent term, “Nxamala”, in addressing the Man from Nkandla:

Thank you, Nxamalala, for handing over the baton to me,” said Ramaphosa, “I will run with it together with the ANC NEC and we will make you proud and make the country great.”

The president’s unseemly effort at ingratiating himself with Zuma would, however, later be slapped down by the very hand he was symbolically trying to shake in a rather forced public show of camaraderie.

When Ramaphosa referred, during a dinner speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, to “the loss of nine years” that equated to Zuma’s time in office, it drew howls of protest from his comrades. Zuma lambasted the “wasted years” (sic) comment, charging that all that he had done, and continues to do, was for the ANC: “These were not wasted years.”

All pretence of unity was further undone when Supra Mahumapelo, the ANC’s former North West premier and verbose poster-boy for middle-finger showmanship, also became involved. The aspirant philosopher-king, who apparently can conjure up his presence even in his absence, expressed his concern at the party image that the public spat might be sending out.

It’s not helpful for South Africa,” quoth he, ignoring a very public airing of disunity that he himself had instigated.

He would, in turn, be slapped down by Mbalula for his “rogue” tendencies, but by then Finance Minister Tito Mboweni had become another casualty of the disconnect at the top table; he suffered a humiliating public dressing down for supporting Ramaphosa’s “nine lost years” comment, especially for having the temerity to mention Zuma by name. Mboweni’s weak retort to the media was no retort at all.

The ANC has pronounced on this. That is the party line.”

But hardly had the ANC finished dealing with this embarrassment when its ability to hold its reputational line was tested again — and it would fail, again, even with the spectacular consequences that resulted this time. It came in the form of the 3 February Sunday Times report claiming that President Ramaphosa had been warned by five major world powers about his investment drive. It could fail “unless SA starts to take tangible action against the perpetrators of State Capture, corruption and other serious crimes”.

The report was smartly shot down as inaccurate by the five nations concerned, and though the issue was resolved with the South African government shortly thereafter, this didn’t stop the ANC’s head of the Presidency at Luthuli House, Zizi Kodwa, jumping in boots and all, condemning the move as “nothing else but… part of an agenda for regime change”. This raised the question of whether the ANC’s diplomatic right hand knew what the left was doing.

The “five nations report” would go on to elicit the further contradictory response from Ramaphosa in a different context. The timing itself was intriguing, appearing as it did on the eve of a crucial, week-long international mining indaba in Cape Town and just days before the all-important State of the Nation (SONA) speech. With Ramaphosa due to address the mining conference, it threatened his efforts at attracting investment — and to rain on his SONA parade.

It’s moot whether the report was a piece of mischief-making on the part of the Sunday Times and had been deliberately “leaked”, as has been alleged in some quarters, for Ramaphosa had by then spotted a golden opportunity.

Having maintained all along that there would be no talk of Bosasa prosecutions until the Zondo Commission’s final report was good and ready (which was never going to be any time before the May elections), he flip-flopped on Bosasa and changed his mind. His response was to turn a looming crisis of credibility with his international mining company guests (and potential investors) into a propaganda coup.

With its Zondo Commission testimony virtually still in full flight, there followed the summary arrests of chief Bosasa whistle-blower Angelo Agrizzi and his cohort of fellow testifiers. For further effect, former Correctional Services commissioner Linda Mti, deeply implicated during the inquiry, would be the expendable token arrestee conveniently placed in front of the oncoming bus, thereby eliminating any political risk to ANC unity via further pesky arrests within its own ranks. The rest was collateral damage-control.

In the process, any more whistle-blowers considering heroics by coming forward to testify were also effectively discouraged from entertaining any such thoughts. In one fell, cynical swoop, the president had shut up not only Agrizzi — whose daily outing of top officials caught up in bribery was becoming a growing disgrace of national proportions for the ANC — but also Ramaphosa’s constantly sniping detractors who’ve been accusing him of being soft on corruption. His way was then clear to make the SONA address with a relatively clean slate (relatively!).

But at the SONA event, and with Ramaphosa as its head, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to suppress the competing tensions at play within his party without coming off as a blatant fraud — not at such a prominent platform, with the entire nation watching.

That’s how the president, fully aware that his incumbency post-May was by no means assured, ended up going for broke, his speech sounding like a swansong, his attempts to be all things to all people patently obvious.

Some examples: How are digital tablets to be used at schools with no electricity? And what of the promise of a reliable power supply, with Eskom in meltdown and the unions still deeply disaffected about job security? Or the announcement of an intended crime-busting State Capture Investigative Directorate, when the unconstitutionality of such a step must have been wholly apparent to the president as a trained lawyer (see the elucidating analysis of Accountability Now’s Paul Hoffman here).

No matter, Ramaphosa’s shotgun approach paid off, swept up by a wave of desperate optimism and hitting all the right targets of expectation, while scoring for the president an important PR goal. Indeed, you ran the risk of being branded a sourpuss killjoy if you didn’t sing along to the melody of general praise the speech received. Three days later, the lights went out.

Thus, then, a cursory selection of just one month’s contradictions in the life of the country’s oldest liberation movement and South Africa’s pride. Readily available to the reading public.

And that would be fine if the party was left to its own devices as the closed-shop, invite-only VIP affair that it is (with the occasional look-in allowed those on the outside, if they command pockets deep enough and promise not to ask any difficult questions or make a fuss).

Unfortunately, like a Frankenstinian transfusion, the condition that has rendered the party operationally dysfunctional is seeping into the rest of the body politic, threatening necrosis of the entire patient.

It’s therefore not a stretch to see how the election campaign the ANC is inflicting on its supporters is increasingly taking on the aspect of the predatory uncle at the kiddies party — whose presence is acquiesced to with a sigh of resignation because he’s already captured in every photo in the family album. So what to do.

But it’s precisely the nature of the psychopathy that has allowed the “wasted Zuma years” to flourish in plain sight, while those in the inner circle looked on without protest, and those who could make a difference chose to close their eyes and ears to the rampant state thievery. (With notable exceptions, of course.)

There seems to be no end to the parade of ghouls that come tumbling out of the ANC’s Pandora’s Box, released by the succession of commissions of inquiry currently underway. The latest caught in the wash of news is former SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane, he of the insatiable desire to hog the limelight, and given to calling press conferences, there only to… appear (without saying a word).

Comfy in his delusional orbit, the stubborn Stalingrad defence that Moyane employed to recover his job has finally run out. The Constitutional Court has now cauterised all remaining options. The message from ground control to Major Tom was unequivocal — return to Earth; his application was dismissed “as it bears no reasonable prospect of success”.

Moyane had submitted in his court papers that he was “hated by the media and others” — a nicely accurate observation since he now joins the line-up of other notorious Zupta/Bosasa lieutenants who are among the most despised individuals in the country, Moyane for the enthusiastic manner in which he took to SARS with a sledgehammer, much like his benefactor who went gleefully about the rest of the state like a one-man wrecking crew.

For the sake of Mzansi, it’s about time that those who have brought the country to its knees evince a semblance of shame, recover a sense of self-respect and rekindle compassion for the most vulnerable of their compatriots caught in the crossfire and who end up suffering the most. It’s not too late to do the right thing (it never is). Those who think they have made it out safely and are sitting on piles of baksheesh and stolen public funds should seriously reconsider and “pay back the money”; the enablers in government who have caused so much damage should do the honourable thing, make like Elvis and leave the building already.

Our beloved republic is on the verge of facing its watershed moment of truth, standing at a fork in the road where Martin Luther King Jr’s “content of character” will be tested and life-altering decisions will have to be made.

A saying often quoted by the cynical (who sometimes have a point despite the cynicism) has it that people deserve the government they get. That may be a bit harsh considering the circumstances. But pickings are slim; perhaps the combined opposition (minus the obvious culprits to be excluded for their racist rhetoric and wanton conduct) can talk themselves into convening a patriotic alliance of some sort (a kind of Codesa 4.0 — on steroids — if you like).

Surely there is still a last-gasp opportunity for the politics of the possible, of effective coalitions, for the combined opposition to pool resources and collective brainpower to provide deserving and decent South Africans with a viable alternative; a coalition of political parties to urgently address the fast-approaching prospect of corrupt business continuing as usual when the last ballot has been cast and counted.

The May election, as it stands, has no happy ending, especially not in the event of an ANC returned to power with an overwhelming majority. Such a result will signify the death of reason and translates into the iceberg directly in the path of the Titanic.

Coincidentally, that’s also how the modern sub-Saharan African state has come to fail across the continent — gradually, and then suddenly, and by then it’s too late to change course. DM

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