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We – the good guys in the ANC – await battle orders, Mr President


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.

We require active leadership and a capable developmental state to defeat the masterless warriors who once kowtowed to Jacob Zuma.

I read Sello Lediga’s article of 3 July 2019 in Daily Maverick with some trepidation as I must confess that over the past few weeks I too have grown uneasy with what is going on in our country and the ANC, and with the seeming inability by the Presidency to respond to such effect.

I think what Lediga was trying to bring across to us all is that old saying, often misattributed to Edmund Burke, that, The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In light of this, I also have to ask whether Ferial Haffajee is correct when she says the Presidency has lost momentum and is already dead in the water as far as the war in the ANC is concerned.

It’s all good and well that your office is forging ahead with matters of state, especially on the economic front – believe you me when I state that none of us takes issue with this, Mr President. It is rather apparent that such a strategy to revive the economy is desperately needed. But we are losing the battle in the Party, Sir.

Without revolutionary organisation, there can be no revolution.

A few of these points illustrate the magnitude of the challenge:

  • Factionalism and “money politics” are some of the critical weaknesses sapping the very revolutionary core of the organisation. While some detailed issues may have been attended to, there hasn’t been a systematic campaign to root this out. Indeed, it is these and other weaknesses that have resulted in disruptions of ANC meetings, worsened the ructions in the leagues and presented the spectre of violent conflict among Tripartite Alliance partners. Further, many of the acts of corruption in government derive from party dynamics, and similar challenges afflict allied organisations in various centres of power.

  • National Conference (Nasrec) was resolute that the ANC could “no longer allow prolonged processes that damage its integrity”; and needed firmly to deal with “public officials, leaders and members… who face damaging allegations of improper conduct.

  • Unremitting efforts have been put into preventing a split within, and thus the fundamental weakening of the progressive trade union movement, represented by Cosatu. However, can we genuinely claim that all leaders of the ANC are committed to this objective and are promoting it wherever they may be located?

  • Beyond the subjective efforts required to address this challenge is the very question of how the progressive labour movement has found itself in such a rut. Briefly, this is a reflection of a variety of issues, including: the social distance between the union leadership and the mass of the workers; the business unionism that derives from poor management of union investment resources and co-option of some leaders by capital; blatant thievery that has played out in some unions; and the importation into the union body politic of the factionalism prevalent in the ANC and the SACP.

Organisational renewal of the ANC, the leader of the progressive alliance, is central to addressing all these challenges. This requires more serious and practical intent to implement “the urgent and central tasks of renewal”. And yet, we are preoccupied with the “bulldust” of infighting and factions. I hear all this talk of “integrity committee this and integrity committee that” but nothing at all about the ANC’s disciplinary committee. Yes, it is time that certain individuals are called out for sowing division within the organisation – an offence, punishable with expulsion. We have seen this being applied before in the ANC, Julius Malema was the most recent example. Use the constitution of the ANC to effectively deal with these rōnin.

A while ago I wrote an article in which I asked the president: What is the order of battle? Perhaps the intelligent ones in his kitchen Cabinet actually do not possess the answer. Be that as it may, we need battle orders, good Sir. We the good guys in the ANC, the ones whom Lediga warns about when he says: “Although they may not be aware of it, their cowardice and blind loyalty make them traitors to the common good that they sacrificed their lives for. They are Yeats’s ‘best, who lack all conviction’ by surrendering to ‘the worst, full of passionate intensity’ in their party.”

The Japanese tale of the 47 rōnin, is well known to most: these samurai’s master was betrayed and killed by another lord and they became what is known as rōnin. A masterless samurai, disgraced by another man’s treachery. This is effectively what happened at the Nasrec ANC conference. So, they plan and plot and one night they strike, slipping into the castle of their lord’s betrayer, and killing him. Now, after they had fulfilled their revenge in honour of their master, custom dictated that they all commit seppuku, ritual suicide. Disembowelment with a sword – you stab yourself with a sword towards the side of your bowels and cut towards your centre, effectively spilling your guts. There’s a warrior code about taking delight in the battle, but also something more, something outside of yourself that has to be served, and when that leader is gone, when belief has died, what are you?

A man without a master.

Among the major issues that have been thrown up by developments in the past few years and ongoing discourse in society are the following, Mr President:

  • We require active leadership and a capable developmental state;

  • The National Development Plan calls for an active citizenry; but most critically that the various social partners should work together to realise Vision 2030. What is required in this regard is a social compact of common and varied programmes to realise the objectives of the NDP;

  • Social compacting should be founded on an appreciation that there is serious intent on the part of the state and the business community to deal with the root causes of poverty and inequality;

  • Given the paucity of resources available in the fiscus – in this period of low economic growth and a huge budget deficit – it will be necessary to ensure proper prioritisation and sequencing of state interventions. It is also necessary to find creative ways of drawing in the private sector in realising some of the objectives such as urgent infrastructure projects; and

  • As has been emphasised repeatedly, most of the challenges with regard to the intensification of the programme to provide basic social services do not derive from the availability of resources.

We have too much to lose if we lose this war. We cannot sit idly by while evil men triumph and good men do nothing.

Which will it be, the rōnin of Zuma or the samurai of Ramaphosa who will ultimately commit seppuku in order to honour their respective Masters? The time to act is now. DM


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