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Let the games begin: The battle for the heart and soul...

Defend Truth


Let the games begin: The battle for the heart and soul of the ANC will involve hard, soft and smart power


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.

The ANC’s top six officials are taking us for fools. We are wasting time mollycoddling both Ace Magashule and Jacob Zuma, and forgetting that there is a much bigger risk at play here — that of losing our grip on the levers of power both in the ANC and the state.

In wanting to understand the current power plays and strategies employed by the various factions in the ANC, and now evidently also in government and Parliament, I seek answers from the vast number of theories out there about power and strategy.

In this regard, I read and consulted a number of readings that debunked the three concepts of power — hard power, soft power and, indeed, smart power. Scholars such as Cahn, Carr and Morgenthau all speak to the concept of hard power, whereas Joseph Nye debunks the concept of soft power and Suzanne Nossel debunks smart power.*

According to some of these authors, “the term ‘hard power’ describes a nation or political body’s ability to use economic incentives or military strength to influence other actors’ behaviours. It relies on a measure of power propounded by the realist school in international relations theory. In the realist school, power is linked with the possession of certain tangible resources, including population, territory, natural resources, economic and military strength, among others. Hard power is defined by the use of such resources to spur the behaviour of other entities.”

From what I can observe, Ace and his ilk are opting for hard power, the numbers game. The one with the most foot soldiers, marching towards the elective conference in 2022 will apparently win — the building of ANC branches everywhere. They always use tangible resources to manipulate members and voters in the ANC going to the elective conference. This is why they require control over state entities in order to abuse state resources for this political goal. This stratagem has worked for them for years now. 

“Hard power” is often measured in terms of military capacity, as described by Machiavelli in The Prince: “I judge those princes self-sufficient who, either through abundance of troops or money, are able to gather together a suitable army and fight a good battle against whoever should attack them; and I consider those who always need the protection of others to be those who cannot meet the enemy in the field.”

No wonder then that we observe murmurings from certain retired generals and indeed the formation of fictitious military veterans in order to attempt to intimidate some in the ANC and government.

‘Soft power’, on the other hand, is “a term used in international relations theory to describe the ability of a political body, such as a state, to indirectly influence the behaviour or interests of other political bodies through cultural or ideological means. While its usefulness as a descriptive theory has not gone unchallenged, soft power has since entered popular political discourse as a way of distinguishing the subtle effects of cultural influence on others’ behaviour from more direct coercive measures, such as military action or economic incentives.” 

Here we can observe that the Ramaphosa grouping has opted for this approach to an extent by wanting to influence people towards accepting concepts such as ethics, values and principles, all of which are anti-corruption and anti-State Capture — attempts to influence people to embrace unity, nation-building and respect for the rule of law and our Constitution.

According to Joseph Nye, “the basic concept of power is the ability to influence others to get them to do what you want. There are three major ways to do that: one is to threaten them with sticks; the second is to pay them with carrots; the third is to attract them or co-opt them so that they want what you want. If you can get others to be attracted, to want what you want, it costs you much less in carrots and sticks.

So, which strategy and which form of power should we employ to counter the opportunist grouping in the ANC? Or shall we continue to talk about the long game and have more talk about the frivolities of unity, I wonder?

“And soft power is more than just persuasion or the ability to move people by argument, though that is an important part of it. It is also the ability to attract, and attraction often leads to acquiescence … If I am persuaded to go along with your purposes without any explicit threat or exchange taking place — in short, if my behaviour is determined by an observable but intangible attraction — soft power is at work. Soft power uses a different type of currency — not force, not money — to engender cooperation. It uses an attraction to shared values and the justness and duty of contributing to the achievement of those values.”

So, is there room for smart power? Can there possibly be a smart approach, such as using tech and sophisticated mechanisms to win this war? “Smart power after all is the effective and efficient combination of hard power (the power to coerce) and soft power (the power to convince), in pragmatic ways that help nations or political formations advance their interests.” Suzanne Nossel first developed the concept of “smart power” in a March 2004 article in Foreign Affairs magazine.   

Why am I obsessing about these different power toolkits? Well, you see, we are so focused on having to deal with Ace and Zuma, so much so we are impatient with the court processes even though we know that the wheels of justice turn slowly. We cannot wait to see them in orange overalls, and as a result, we are losing focus on the real war, the real stratagem: winning the leadership race of the governing party.

Because once you do that, you control everything. What is the strategy? We are told that strategy is a plan to achieve a long-term overall aim or the art of planning and directing overall operations and movements in battle.

Let’s look at a simple scenario: the courts and the prosecution take its course; Ace gets sentenced, we rejoice; but the spadework, the groundwork to take over the ANC has been happening in parallel to the court proceedings; branches have been manipulated and voters are bought to vote accordingly; and once their real candidate wins the presidency of the ANC then we are screwed. Within weeks of having won, Ramaphosa is asked politely to resign and step aside. Soon after that, Ace and Zuma will receive presidential pardons making them free persons, still with their ill-gotten wealth.

The opportunistic group under Ace’s leadership would have out-manoeuvred us all.

While we are worried about meetings with former President Zuma and his intransigence with regards to our supreme law, a good friend of mine reminded me that “they [the top six] were not supposed to convince Zuma… they were supposed to convince South Africa that they told him he must go”. This was after the pathetic press conference held by the SG of the ANC on Monday, 8 March 2021, to effectively inform us of nothing. Hot air, humbug was spoken in that so-called productive and fruitful meeting.

The top six officials are taking us for fools. We are wasting time mollycoddling both Ace and Zuma, and forgetting that there is a much bigger risk at play here — that of losing our grip on the levers of power both in the ANC and the state.

So, which strategy and which form of power should we employ to counter the opportunist grouping in the ANC? Or shall we continue to talk about the long game and have more talk about the frivolities of unity, I wonder?

One thing I’m certain about, in order to win any game, you must play. So, let the games begin, Mr President. DM


Cahn, Steven. Classics of Modern Political Theory: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1950.

Nye, Joseph S. Power in the Global Information Age: From Realism to Globalization. London, New York: Routledge, 2004.


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All Comments 4

  • Finally someone who sees through the distraction and speaks sense. We as a society need to galvanize and protest. It’s the least we can do.

  • Nice article. Maybe it’s not the hard, soft or smart we should be evaluating but power itself. We play in an inherited arena that needs change. New ideas about power are needed, or else we will find ourselves asking the same questions, at what appears to be shortening intervals, for ever.

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