The politics of intrigue

2011-08-23 00:00

THE tension bet­ween the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the National Freedom Party (NFP) should not be a surprise. They are a natural consequence of a power struggle where one party is declining and the other has grown at the expense of the former. This is normal in politics of new democracies. But the depths of such tension, especially the violent nature of the recent flare-up of power struggles, is concerning.

It is a pity that KwaZulu-Natal is fast becoming a scene of violent political conflict between followers of two big regional parties. The province earned a bad name worldwide for the ugly scenes of political violence involving the supporters of the African National Congress/United Democratic Front and the IFP. This provided opportunities for the apartheid state to manipulate black-resistance politics in a desperate attempt to delay its collapse. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirmed that arms were supplied to IFP supporters to fight ANC supporters. The IFP vehemently denied this.

It is rather unfortunate that the IFP is involved again. The passage of time will tell whether this old party of the region is a victim or a villain. An even more worrying thing for me is a seeming inability of the leadership of the two parties at local and regional level to manage their hotheads.

I hate to hear people in Gauteng joke about the resurgence of a warrior culture associated with Zuluness. Indeed, politically inspired groups of people are helping to perpetuate this stereo­type. The pictures of recent political meetings and demonstrations send an unhelpful message, that of imminent political violence.

Political dialogue at all levels is important to isolate warmongers and to build a mature relationship between the parties. Leaders are being called upon by circumstances to show courage by leading the dialogue process and to build trust between supporters.

As for the nomination of Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng for the position of chief justice for the Constitutional Court, the brouhaha about his unsuitability makes a mockery of the critics' supposed commitment to judicial independence. The same critics launched a scathing campaign against the president's extension of chief justice Sandile Ngcobo's term, saying it was unconstitutional. They selectively forgot that the same law was used before in respect of Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson. They now say Mogoeng is unfit for the job because he failed to recuse himself from a case prosecuted by his wife. They selectively forget that Chaskalson's son, Michael, routinely appeared before the Constitutional Court chaired by his father.

The critics may have been outwitted by the president in that by forcing his hand on Ngcobo's term, he will not be able to give them their man. Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is thought to be that man, but careful analysis suggests that this is not true. Mose­neke has a long history in the pan-Africanist movement, a political background the liberals, who dominate public discourse on this by virtue of their access to the media and institutions of knowledge behind the campaign, fear. When he was first appointed by Thabo Mbeki to the Constitutional Court, they queried if he still shared the PAC's opposition to the Freedom Charter's declaration of South Africa as belonging to whites also. Anyway, he has indicated his unavailability for the position. Liberals are so bold that they would have declared him as their preference. They have not, suggesting that it must be one of the five judges they have put forward in the past few weeks. The most likely favourite of these is Justice Edwin Cameron, the man whose appointment to the court was hailed as wise by the same group.

But the campaigners were outwitted by President Jacob Zuma who justifies his nomination on the basis of younger age and the need for continuity, considerations generated by the brouhaha created by the same campaigners around Ngcobo.

Suddenly, every civilian is an expert on legal jurisprudence, pronouncing Mogoeng unsuitable by citing the inferior nature of his past judgments. This exposes the entire campaign as fundamentally political, aimed at the president among others, rather than constitutionalism. In the process, the Constitution itself, the rule of law, the integrity of the position of chief justice and the judiciary are being sacrificed just because the liberals do not have their man in this critical position.

Here, too, we need an open dialogue on what we mean by constitutionalism and the rule of law, separation of power and restraint in public discourse on sensitive matters such as these.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.

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