The game is on

2011-04-16 00:00

“THE game, most certainly, is on,” a senior alliance figure said on the steps of the National Assembly after the Minister of Economic Development’s Budget speech.

The game to which he was referring is the race to Mangaung 2012 – the ANC’s 53th national conference in December 2012, where the leadership corps’s mandate will be either renewed or revoked.

Reports in the media point to a conspiracy that apparently involves advanced plans to unseat President Jacob Zuma. According to a secret, 22-page intelligence report, the existence of which was revealed by murder accused Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli, head of the police’s crime intelligence unit, numerous senior ANC leaders have already met to discuss this strategy and various plans have been set in motion.

Conspiracies, the whispering of names, intelligence structures, an upcoming election of leaders … sounds familiar?

Well it should, because during roughly this same period preceding the ANC’s historic Polokwane conference in 2007 the country was in the throes of the unfolding drama of the power struggle between former President Thabo Mbeki and Zuma, the then ANC deputy president.

The first bombshell was the bugging of businessman Saki Macozoma’s conversations by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on the instructions of Director-General Billy Masetlha in the spring of 2005. It formed part of Project Avani, which (without the consent of the former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils) tried to determine what impact the succession struggle was having on internal stability.

According to the inspector-general of intelligence, who was later investigated by Avani, the information gathered by the NIA was founded largely on internal ANC dynamics – so the NIA was well informed on who stood where.

Masetlha was later sacked by Mbeki for conspiring to concoct hoax e-mails to create the impression that a conspiracy existed against him, Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe, the then secretary-general of the ANC.

Then in May 2007 an anonymous fax was sent to Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi containing explosive accusations against Zuma.

The Special Browse Mole Report, as it became known, provided details of a conspiracy in which Zuma was allegedly involved to overthrow Mbeki in a coup.

This report was compiled by the then directorate for special operations (DSO), the Scorpions, and also formed the basis for the subsequent disbanding of the unit by the Zuma ANC.

However, this was declared false and unfounded and in the venomous run-up to Polokwane it was held up by Zuma supporters as an attempt by the Mbeki-ites to scupper Zuma’s aspirations.

The net effect of these incidents was to pollute the political environment; paranoia was rife; and the misuse of intelligence and security structures for political gain was exposed.

Masetlha, who, like Zuma, came from the ANC’s intelligence structures, evidently wanted to abuse his position to spy on influential people within the ANC and control the flow of information. The Scorpions, in turn, made a clumsy attempt at tripping up Zuma.

Both Avani and Browse Mole had destructive consequences and both were the product of factions in the ANC and the succession struggle.

Mdluli’s revelations about the crime intelligence report are no less explosive than Masetlha’s e-mails or Browse Mole.

According to these, an anti-Zuma grouping, including Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa, Julius Malema, Fikile Mbalula, Jeff Radebe, Zweli Mkhize, have already met to discuss Zuma’s demise.

They are apparently known as the Mvela group (derived from Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda Resources). According to Mdluli, who is also charged with obstruction of justice, the report is the product of an investigation into alleged corruption involving national police chief Bheki Cele.

Mdluli alleges that Cele has thrown his support behind Sexwale’s aspirations to replace Zuma next year.

The police have rejected the credibility of the report, saying it is in no way related to any current intelligence project or report.

It is undeniable that there are already noises about possible presidential election campaigns.

Some parties positioned themselves even before Polokwane in anticipation of a possible election campaign next year, while others (like Zuma) may possibly be held up as the front man of a number of interest groups.

The credibility of Mdluli’s allegations appears suspect on first impression. First, Mdluli stands accused of murdering the husband of a former mistress, with the investigator in the case testifying that dossiers relating to the murder were found in his locker.

Preliminary evidence against him therefore appears reasonable and it may be assumed that someone in that position will say anything to get off the hook.

Consequently it is impossible to determine the soundness of the report or test the information.

An authority figure in the tripartite alliance said yesterday that Mdluli’s claims are nonsense, but that some parties referred to in them will not be too unhappy about their names having being mentioned.

“It confirms, for them, that they are being touted out there as presidential material.”

The biggest names are Sexwale, Phosa and Motlanthe.

Sexwale burnt his fingers badly before Polokwane when he made a short-lived attempt to promote his candidature as successor to Mbeki. Money, he was told, is one thing, but without a strong support base he would get nowhere. He took the counsel to heart and temporarily set his business interests aside in order to re-enter the political arena.

Phosa is “someone with ambition”, and if he sees the building of a support base as being at all important, his defence of Malema during last year’s disciplinary hearing was a significant investment.

Motlanthe was held up as a compromise candidate pre-Polokwane and appeared on both Mbeki’s and Zuma’s nomination lists. In this round he is in a strong position: his firm and clear handling of the debacle surrounding former president Nelson Mandela’s hospitalisation earlier this year impressed many people.

“There are some people close to the president who say that public opinion in favour of the DP (deputy president) is a threat to Zuma,” someone in the presidency recently said in the parliamentary press gallery.

However, the chances that Zuma will lose his position in 2012 appear slim at this stage.

While he was under pressure in the run-up to the party’s national general council meeting in September last year, he has been standing stronger than ever since then.

But disenchantment at grassroots level, as well as growing disunity and spats in the ANC and the broader alliance could put this to the test.

Nevertheless, South Africa should prepare itself for more glimpses into the shadowy world where internal ANC politics, national government and intelligence and security structures overlap.

“Indications that, as happened pre-Polokwane, the intelligence structures will again be used are worrying,” the alliance leader said yesterday.

“Willie Hofmeyr and the Hawks’ special investigation unit (SIU) are doing good work, but they must be careful not to target people of only one faction. Mdluli and John Block (Northern Cape ANC leader on trial on fraud charges) are both Zuma people, so in that respect action against them is good.”

Opposition to Zuma definitely exists and Malema could possibly come even more strongly to the fore as the spokesperson of those who want to replace Zuma.

The country’s intelligence structures played a large part in national politics both before and after Polokwane.

Bugged telephone conversations allegedly proving a political conspiracy against Zuma helped Zuma in his corruption case.

Expect the same to happen in the run-up to Mangaung.

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