Defend Truth


Who will make the next move in the intricate ANC chessboard shuffle?


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.

As the chess game in the ANC moves painstakingly towards some kind of resolution, will it be checkmate or stalemate? And who will emerge as the kingmaker?

Recent political manoeuvrings on either side of the factional divide in the ruling party are for me almost akin to the 1986 World Chess Championship. Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov were the protagonists in this encounter. The match was preceded by a game the previous year (1985) in which Kasparov won the championship title. No sooner was the game concluded than a rematch was set by the world chess body for the following year in 1986, a mere three months away.

Kasparov protested and indicated that he would not participate in the rematch so soon. He was threatened that failure to participate would result in Karpov being declared the new world champion. Kasparov kept to his resolve and eventually the world body conceded and scheduled the next championship game for later in 1986.

The first game where our own Kasparov (Cyril) won, albeit by a narrow margin, was at the Nasrec conference centre, south of Johannesburg. Karpov (Ace) was hopping mad and in the same vein almost immediately wanted to schedule a rematch in order to win back the coveted prize of champion of the ruling party and hence the king of the castle of South Africa. But it was not to be — a rematch was scheduled for July of 2020 to be held somewhere in Johannesburg.

Several moves on the political chessboard have been made over the past few weeks by both opponents, and depending on where you sit, it is a tight contest, some say. Monitoring the game from afar, Karpov made a few impressive moves recently in this Queen’s Gambit strategy. First, his co-conspirators, Supra and Zwane, while lending support to their erstwhile friend Bongo in court, stated for all the public to hear that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is doing a sterling job and that she will not be removed from office anytime soon.

Kasparov responded and made sure that his party equally went public on the matter, stating that these two are not allowed to speak on behalf of the party and that no such decision had been taken, let alone discussed. In response, Karpov (Ace) ensured that 10 women MPs visited the public protector and stated publicly their unequivocal support for her. They again repeated the notion that she had been doing a good job thus far. Kasparov had to think about his next moves. He made sure that Parliament constitutes the committee that would review the public protector’s fitness to hold office.

Then Karpov made his next decisive move and ensured that the 8 January birthday event of the party was a dismal failure, knowing that Kasparov must address the crowds. The attendance at the event was dismal and the prepared speech equally dull. Here Karpov scored a few good points. Next, Karpov took aim at one of Kasparov’s (Cyril’s) lieutenants, Pravin Gordhan. He is seemingly the one that is advising Kasparov on strategy and next moves, so getting rid of him would be a bonus. Pressure was brought to bear, but Kasparov would not have it, even in the face of threats from another corner, the EFF, that they would disrupt the opening of Parliament, if this demand is not agreed to. It seems there is some collaboration between Karpov and Julius Malema from the EFF. One is just not certain who is advising whom.

Then came the showdown at SONA, the EFF as a proxy played a brilliant game, coming up with some surprising moves. The De Klerk gambit as an opening move took Kasparov by surprise but he did not reveal his frustration. After all, the cameras were rolling on this all-important chess match.

Kasparov responded with a move not seen in recent times, announcing a state bank and sovereign wealth fund to be set up. Karpov, who for the longest time has been saying that Kasparov is not implementing party-specific resolutions, was taken aback. The resignation was evident on his face and afterwards, in the face of the cameras, he had to acknowledge that finally, party resolutions are being implemented. This was a big score for Kasparov’s team.

As the timing clock counted down, Karpov’s team released a media statement that insinuates that Kasparov and his team have a hit list, which they published in the Sunday Independent. A strategy intent on only spreading vicious rumours so that the necessary sympathy can be garnered from the public and in the same process, make Kasparov out to be the villain.

Kasparov took it on the chin, resolute in that he will not interfere in prosecutorial processes of neither the NPA nor the Hawks. For this is how Karpov and his crew got rid of the last World Chess Champion, a mere eight months before a general election. Kasparov will not be repeating such a mistake. Instead, with a stroke of genius, he changes four candidates for the Judicial Service Commission, getting rid of four that got there through appointment by the previous president, who Karpov adores.

A few last intriguing moves came from Kasparov to give him the upper hand as he delivered his SONA, and a veiled attempt from Karpov’s team came through a number of Daily Maverick opinion pieces attempting to counter such. Karpov is throwing everything at Kasparov, but to no avail. He knows that the current world champion is smarter than him and certainly more diligent at how he approaches chess as a game. As the chess game unfolds, many are complaining about the slow progress on the part of the World Champion, Kasparov.

It reminds me of what a friend told me when he set out to conquer the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro. He said the guide who climbed with him continuously told him in kiSwahili, “pole pole utapiga Kilimanjaro” — slowly slowly you will conquer Kilimanjaro. And that is what he did, in order to reach the summit. I think Kasparov is doing exactly that, slowly slowly…

As we move ever closer to the showdown to take place in June, the game of chess must continue to intrigue us all. And just in case you are wondering, Kasparov won the second World Championship in 1986, in just 42 moves. Karpov began a direct attack on Kasparov’s king as early as move 15 and had chances to build up a strong attack. Kasparov sacrificed a pawn to blunt the attack and then a second pawn to launch a blistering counter-attack. Under pressure from the clock, Karpov made decisive errors on move 36 and move 40. Kasparov won the World Championship after Karpov resigned on move 42.

Will history repeat itself at the National General Council of the ANC in June 2020? Only time will tell, but it seems this too is running out for some players. DM


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