Ace Magashule’s political strategy to entrench his power in the ANC and government is well known in the Free State. This strategy entails three steps. Step one, undermine the current ANC-run administrations to create service delivery crises in government. Step two, announce a plan that centralises power in the structure that he controls to deal with the crisis. Step three, step in to take over government. Steps two and three are interchangeable depending on the circumstances. This strategy has the end result of combining the political power of the party with the administrative and executive authority of government under his control.
In the Free State, Magashule used his political power as provincial chairperson of the ANC to take control of the administrations of government using the Leninist communist strategy of democratic centralism (cadre policy). In terms of this strategy, the ANC plans to transform South Africa into a national democratic one through redeployment committees that will ensure that cadres loyal to the party are placed in positions of power in government. In most instances, however, the cadres serve a self-serving faction of the party by building a network of patronage that is conducive to the criminal abuse of state resources.
In a speech delivered at the University of Pretoria in 2006 titled “The state of democracy in South Africa today: the good, the bad and the ugly”, former DA leader Tony Leon warned that:“The ruling party’s own strategy documents describe it (transformation) as a process of extending the power of the National Liberation Movement over all levers of power in the state and beyond it. In relation to our constitutional democracy, transformation is something rather different from what the ANC once described it in 1994 as a people-centred society. In fact, it is a programme of building a party-centred society, where the ANC is omnipresent and omnipotent.”
Using the cadre deployment strategy, Magashule was able to undermine various provincial premiers including Mosiuoa Lekota, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, Winky Direko and Beatrice Marshoff until he was in a position to take over the premiership himself. He then immediately implemented his “Operation Hlasela” (operation attack) strategy in government.
While the noble administrative and service delivery objectives of Hlasela were sold to desperate residents, the real, less noble objectives were implemented amid a smokescreen of political rhetoric. During a Portfolio Committee meeting of the Free State Provincial Legislature, a former late MEC for Public Works, Fezile Ngumbentombi, indicated that, according to her understanding of Operation Hlasela, it was possible (if not imperative) to bypass tender procedures in order to speed up procurement of goods and services for government. In a 2016 report, the former Public Protector concluded that Hlasela conflated the party and state in a manner that was inconsistent with the Constitution and the Electoral Act and benefited the ANC to the detriment of opposition parties in the province during elections.
The latest announcement by ANC Headquarters Luthuli House, where Magashule is resident king, of the Khawuleza plan to speed up service delivery has many political similarities with Hlasela. The Khawuleza model plans to realign the three spheres of government with district hubs that will centralise skills and capabilities to deal with the problems of disintegrating municipal administrations. The problem with this approach is that it implies the deployment of more cadres to oversee other cadres. It is the cadre policy that has eroded municipal governments through the appointment of often unskilled party loyalists to serve factional financial interests in all spheres of government. This has become blatantly clear during months of presentations and cross-questioning at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
Magashule’s model is not new and will ensure the further entrenchment of political and administrative power in Luthuli House. The ANC creates crises in government that are then used as a pretext to implement strategies that further centralise power in the party, while being sold as plans to resuscitate service delivery and improve municipal administrations. This will erode the constitutional independence of municipalities and metros across South Africa before the municipal elections in 2021. Similar to Hlasela, Khawuleza will be detrimental to opposition parties that have been gaining ground in previous municipal elections. Through Operation Hlasela, Magashule left a legacy of eroded local service delivery, economic decline, increased poverty and unemployment, and a culture of patronage and dependency in the Free State.
In his book, Political Ideology in the Modern World, Bernard Susser’s quote from Leon Trotsky is relevant to what is taking under place in Luthuli House at the moment: “… the organisation of the party takes the place of the party itself; the central committee takes the place of the organisation: and finally, the dictator takes the place of the central committee”. While Trotsky was warning about Stalinism, Tony Leon’s observations as far back as 2006 indicate that South Africa faces a similar danger as that which led to the rise of the communist party, but the eventual demise of a country, in the former Soviet Union.
While it has become increasingly necessary to deal with the poor financial management, lack of basic services and disintegrating administrations under ANC municipal governments, the replacement of a cadre deployment strategy in government with one that recognises skills and merit in bureaucracies will be a good first step. A sound second step could be the implementation of the Auditor-General’s constantly ignored pleas for consequence management for administrative and financial malfeasance.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is either complicit in Magashule’s strategy that will eventually give him ultimate power over South Africa, or he is very naïve. In either case the ANC continues to implement strategies that are leading South Africa down the low road of political, economic and social ruin. DM
Dr Roy Jankielsohn is Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Legislature.
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