ANC obsession with conspiracies is dangerous

2015-03-16 06:00

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How many of us remember that Nelson Mandela faced a coup plot in the late 1990s?

And that among those plotting to overthrow Mandela and his government were his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, then deputy head of the SA National Defence Force Siphiwe Nyanda, former Umkhonto weSizwe guerrilla Robert McBride and Bantu Holomisa, leader of the nascent United Democratic Movement.

Michael Jackson was apparently also in on the plot.

This group recruited members from the ranks of the ANC and formed itself into the Front African People’s Liberation Army, which even got support from the US and Cuba. McBride had been assigned to acquire weapons and got hold of AK-47s, Makarovs and bombs from a Mozambican.

Sound crazy? The then defence force head Georg Meiring didn’t think so.

He took this lunacy so seriously that he compiled the infamous Meiring Report and handed it to Mandela. Mandela then appointed a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the source of the allegations.

The inquiry, headed by Chief Justice Ismail Mohamed and including eminent judges Pius Langa and Richard Goldstone, rubbished the report and basically labelled it a fantasy. Meiring resigned in disgrace.

The “plotters” went on to greater things in life and most of them are still involved in public life.You’d think that this episode would have taught us a thing or two about conspiracy theories. But such is our love for the world of cloak-and-dagger that there have been several more since then.

In the early 2000s, Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa and Mathews Phosa were accused of plotting to overthrow Thabo Mbeki.

A few years later, as the war between Mbeki and ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma intensified, two more conspiracy reports alleging plots by different factions of the ANC and other forces came to the fore.

The one was a file of hoax emails containing yet more information about an anti-Zuma conspiracy by Mbeki supporters.

The emails purported to be intercepted chats between Mbeki allies, members of the Scorpions, as well as media figures who were plotting to undermine Zuma and prevent him from rising to the top of the ANC.

The other, known as the Browse Mole Report, alleged a coup plot by a pro-Zuma faction to overthrow Mbeki’s government. It also detailed funding from foreign leaders to Zuma.

The common denominator in these “intelligence reports” was that they were all obviously rubbish. Anyone with slightly more education than our sitting president would just laugh out loud when reading the gumpf.

The latest “intelligence report” about Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema and former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko has continued this tradition of madness.

For the record, this is what it had to say about whether or not Madonsela could be a CIA spy: “This is a question [that is] hard to answer because the CIA protects its agents. We would need documents to prove this to be true, but maybe we will never have them or maybe we will.”

Wow, now that is definitive. The rest of the document reads like something compiled by world-renowned sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie.

But that did not stop State Security Minister David Mahlobo from announcing a probe into the veracity of the claims. Note that the purpose of the probe is not to look for the source of the crazy information, but to actually see if the allegations are true.

While many have been shocked that Mahlobo is taking this nonsense so seriously, the reason is very simple: there is a great appetite for conspiracy theories in some quarters of the ANC.

To many in the organisation’s leadership, nothing is ever as it seems.

The rand never loses value because of objective economic factors; there has to be a hidden hand that is trying to undermine the economy.

Workers do not strike because they have grievances; they are controlled by some forces that want to destabilise the country. Residents do not just protest simply because they are dissatisfied with services; there is a “third force” at play.

Mosquitoes do not bite you because mosquitoes bite; they are agents of anti-African imperialists. And so on.

This obsession with conspiracies is very dangerous. It feeds information peddlers who love to conjure up tales, and distracts the authorities and citizens from the real issues.

It polarises society and makes enemies of people who should be coexisting and engaging in normal, robust political activity.

Following the departure of Meiring and the outing of the authors of the conspiracy in the 1990s, the SA Communist Party pointed out that “had the political leadership of our country not been united and mature, the consequences of this kind of disinformation could have been extremely grave”.

Mahlobo should take note.

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