Ghosts of Polokwane back to haunt the ANC

2012-05-10 00:00

NOSTALGIA is one way that we feel the effects of historical complicity as it laments and revives a desirable version of the past, a factor which might explain Frank Chikane’s sentiment about the current government.

In a frank interview with The Witness, the former director-general in the presidency singled out factionalism and the blurring of the line between party and state as a threat to the survival of the African National Congress (ANC).

Ironically, his former boss, Thabo Mbeki, was accused of having contributed to the creation of factions within the ruling party in the run-up to the great upset in Polokwane. Chikane was the key man in the presidency at the time. He says the ANC needs to make a clear distinction between party and state, and that the government should do things by the book if it is to win back the support of all its citizens, as growing unhappiness about the ruling party spreads from the public into its own internal organs.

He says the ANC should, as a party, not seek to govern from Luthuli House but allow those it has elected into public office to do so without interference.

Chikane cautioned against using security organs to support factions, yet another accusation once levelled against Mbeki in the Zuma saga, which ultimately saw Msholozi removed as deputy president.

Asked if Mbeki would have done anything differently to alter the course of events, Chikane maintains his former boss did his best, and his unceremonious ousting had nothing to do with how he managed government.

He says the popular view is that the party must be in control of the government. “My view is that the ruling party must provide the policy framework and those who are appointed or elected to serve  in Government should be given space to effectively manage Government".

He says South Africa must go back to the beginning where the struggle was about justice. “Every person must feel they belong here,” he says.

The controversy surrounding his book Eight days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki is a tad overexaggerated, he says.

“The interesting thing about this so-called controversy is that the public can’t measure statistically how large [it] is. Actually there are only two people who made statements about the book: it’s the premier here [KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize] and [SA Communist Party secretary-general Blade] Nzimande.”

He dismissed Mkhize and Nzimande’s criticism as “unfortunate”, adding that the book was not about the ANC, but his experience in government as the key man in Mbeki’s office. “I am writing from a government perspective, and not a party perspective, as my experiences are based on my job within the presidency.”

Mkhize and Nzimande recently lambasted Chikane for being on a campaign to discredit President Jacob Zuma, with the premier going as far as demanding that the author apologise.

“Reverend Frank Chikane writes a completely biased book as if we were not there when the matters he is speaking about took place. It is as if we were not there when there was a sustained offensive by his ilk against communists in our movement,” Nzimande said during a Gauteng SACP conference in Benoni.

Chikane says he didn’t set out to write a book about Mbeki — his former boss just happens to be the main character in his story.

“Eight days in September: The Removal of Thabo Mbeki, was a chapter in the book I’ve been writing titled The Things I Could Not Say. It was the publisher who made the decision that this chapter was a book on its own,” he says.

Chikane writes in the book that Mbeki’s removal was constitutionally dubious, and the country was in his debt for putting nation before self and resigning in a dignified manner.

“Our much-vaunted Constitution, under which a president can be voted into and out of office by Parliament alone, makes no provision for a ‘recall’ by the ruling party. Mbeki’s removal amounted to a coup d’état and was a misuse of the ‘list’ system. It created a precedent that could one day have unforeseen and unfortunate consequences,” he writes.

Chikane doesn’t have nice things to say about the post-Polokwane ANC’s ability to distinguish between party and state.

“As I worked with comrades during these difficult times, it became clear to me that some of them had no respect for the law, being prepared, in pursuit of their own interests, to break the law or violate the constitution,” he writes.

Chikane still finds no fault with his former boss’s actions and sees nothing wrong with the extent of public disaffection for Mbeki in the run-up to Polokwane.

The closest he comes to admitting there were things that went wrong is when he defends Zuma against public insinuations that corruption was a given under the current president, as he is still perceived to be tainted by the unresolved charges that were dropped on a technicality.

He says corruption was there even under former president Nelson Mandela and has been escalating since to reach current levels.

Many questions have been asked about Mbeki’s protection of former police commissioner Jackie Selebi even after he was briefed by the national director of public prosecutions about the evidence against the former top cop regarding corruption.

It was claimed that former National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli became a casualty for having instigated criminal charges against Selebi, was suspended by Mbeki and subsequently fired by Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe during his brief tenure as president.

More questions were asked of Mbeki’s relationship with Selebi when the South Gauteng High Court’s Judge Meyer Joffe convicted the former national commissioner and sentenced him to 15 years’ imprisonment, calling him an “embarrassment to South Africa and the police” in August 2010.

Pikoli also initiated corruption charges against Zuma, and Mbeki didn’t hesitate to force his then deputy to step down, leading to the formation of a league of the walking wounded comprising the SA Communist Party, Cosatu and disgruntled members of the ANC and the ANCYL, who eventually disposed of him in Polokwane.

Chikane admits that Polokwane was more about the removal of Mbeki than about a change of policy.

“Those who were at the conference to make sure Mbeki was not re-elected as the president of the ANC did not focus on policy issues.”

He says even Motlanthe’s deployment to Parliament was not to keep a watch on cabinet’s implementation of the policy decisions taken at Polokwane, but was based on “a crude and debased view that there might be ‘looting’ before the then-government left office”, he says.

Chikane says that history will show that Mbeki carried the flag of success and was tripped just before he crossed the winning line because of internal party dynamics, and not governance or policy issues.

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