More of the same?

2008-09-26 00:00

Well, at least one or two plusses have emerged from the political upheavals of these past few days.

Firstly, it has manifestly been demonstrated that South Africa under black majority rule is mature enough in a notoriously volatile and democracy-shy continent to sack its political head of state and suffer multiple ministerial resignations without any bullets being fired, without a violent revolution breaking out and without any blood (other than political) being shed.

One unhappy surprise was provided by the unexpected behaviour of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, whose dramatic resignation caused damage to our currency as well as sharp losses on the stock exchange, and then an hour later he issued a statement saying that he was willing to accept reappointment. This selfish, melodramatic and self-centred grandstanding behaviour has hurt South Africa.

But make no error, what we have witnessed is nothing less than a bloodless political putsch, which has had the effect of transferring real power from one faction in the ANC to another, namely the faction dominated by the South African Communist Party (SACP) and

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). The putsch has been engineered by the newly elected National Working Committee of the ANC, whose members have convinced its 88-member National Executive Committee to wield the axe of recall. Which raises the question: who is in control of South Africa? Is it the elected Parliament or is it the unelected, unaccountable and largely anonymous membership of the ANC National Executive? The answer is obvious. It is the inner circle of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu that takes decisions behind closed doors, out of public sight and it is the ANC parliamentarians who puppet-like work hard to dance to the tunes dictated to them. The truth is that the ANC MPs are political robots whose very jobs depend on their unquestioning obedience. Their servile performance this past week confirms this.

So, what is new? We have short memories. This scenario is not an innovation in South Africa. Under the apartheid National Party government, when the Broederbond or the specially constituted Security Council passed the word, the supine National Party majority in Parliament defended it and did its bidding regardless of the merits of the issue.

Brutal leadership change is also not new. It happened to B. J. Vorster, condemned by a highly flawed judicial inquiry, it happened to P. W. Botha, whose bitterness at his dismissal lingered for the rest of his life. It happened to Tony Blair. It will soon happen to Gordon Brown in the United Kingdom.

In the end result few tears will be shed at Thabo Mbeki’s departure. His long guarded aloofness will see to that. What is disturbing is not the ministers who have resigned, some of them good, hard-working and competent executives, but rather those who have not. We are still blighted with Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, branded by the press as a thief and a drunk, one who has hampered the anti-HIV/Aids campaign. Charles Nqakula and his wife,

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Home Affairs Minister, who have made a total mess of their departments, and under whom efficiency and accountability have been thrown overboard, also remain in office.

I agree with the opposition leaders who have long called for the appointment of a judicial inquiry headed by one or more competent and respected retired judges to investigate the infamous arms deal in all its aspects and produce a report that will bring closure to this shabby episode in our public life.

We can expect little from the interim government other than more of the same, but after the elections next year, hopefully a heavily cut back ANC must at last concentrate with serious and competent intent on the key issues which continue to blight the lives of most South Africans.

These are poverty and job creation, violent crime, corruption and the crumbling justice system, the sagging health sector, the failure of delivery at primary and secondary school levels, the continuing “brain drain”, and the debilitating loss of skills.

These are but some of the most critical challenges facing Zuma and his new executive.

He dare not fail. If he does he will almost certainly face the same treatment that he and his associates dealt out to Mbeki.

In the meantime the opposition parties, splintered and ineffective as they have been, now have time to work for opposition unity and policy agreements which will pose powerful questions to the ANC, and offer solutions to the issues which darken our land and our people. The ANC pretend that they have suffered no damage, but don’t be fooled. Their precipitate actions have weakened their stranglehold on the electorate. The coming period before the next election must not be wasted by the opposition parties.

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