Allister Sparks

ANC needs to find its own FW de Klerk

2015-02-25 07:36

Allister Sparks

A disturbing number of people have asked me these past few days whether I think we are heading for a dictatorship. It is a troubling question. I am not given to hyperbole, but I have to admit that when armed police are called into the debating chamber of Parliament to evict an entire opposition party, and when the President of the Republic makes it clear he doesn't regard himself as being accountable to the people, we have already gone some distance down that road.

Yet my answer has been a cautious no. Our once proud new democracy has certainly been grievously tainted, but I don't believe we are going to become a full-blown dictatorship. Firstly, because I don't believe the shambolic Jacob Zuma administration has the discipline and capability of achieving such a goal. And, secondly, because I don't believe that is what the broad body of the African National Congress wants.

The ANC has stumbled into this mess because Zuma dragged it into the quicksand of corruption right at the beginning of his tenure, and in his desperate efforts to survive he has dragged more and more individuals and institutions in with him to the point where all are now in a panic as they sink collectively deeper into the mire.

The instinctive response to such a dilemma is to thrash out aggressively.

Strikingly similarities

I have been covering the political events of this country as a journalist for 64 years, from the regime of DF Malan to that of Jacob Zuma. I have watched the rise and fall of apartheid, and now I am watching the rise and decline of our nonracial democracy. What strikes me about these two parabolic arcs is how alike they are.

Certainly, the issues are very different, but the patterns of behaviour of the two regimes are strikingly similar.

Both have been driven by ethno-nationalist parties that enjoyed unquestioning loyalty from dominant ethnic constituencies that saw their respective parties as their liberators from poverty, inequality and indignity. Both therefore found themselves in a situation of single-party dominance, where defeat at the ballot box was unthinkable. They could rule until Christ came again.

But each then ran into a political cul de sac of its own making, from which there was no easy exit. At which point frustration and authoritarianism set in.

Apartheid was the magic formula that hoisted the National Party to power, offering the underdog Afrikaner community liberation from the humiliation of the Anglo-Boer War defeat, the agony of poor-whiteism during the Great Depression, and the economic dominance of the English-speaking minority.

What the Afrikaner leaders of the time didn't recognise was that World War Two, with the defeat of Hitler and the total discrediting of his concept of Rassenkunde, which had formed the basis of his eugenics policy leading to the holocaust, had ended the Western world's long tolerance of racial segregation.

Recognising this, Hendrik Verwoerd rewrote the crude apartheid script into the more sophisticated concept of "separate development", of each group being free in its own area. But as long ago as 1964 Laurence Gandar, then editor of the Rand Daily Mail, pointed out that the concept of partitioning the races into separate territorial areas was patently impossible, since the national economy was already irrevocably integrated. There was no way "white" SA could ever have a white majority, so race discrimination could never be abolished under Verwoerd's system.

A political cul de sac

The intellectuals at Stellebosch's South African Bureau of Racial Affairs (SABRA) realised this as well. I have no doubt many National Party leaders did, too, yet they clung to the fantasy because they couldn't let go of it. It was their lifeline to power.

So the National Party was stuck in its cul de sac. Apartheid was what kept it in power, yet it couldn't be implemented, nor could it be abandoned.

The NP stumbled along with various wondrous modifications to the formula, until at last FW de Klerk emerged with the intellectual insight and political courage to draw all the realist elements in his party into a new coalition able to confront the absolute necessity for change.

Now we have Jacob Zuma stumbling his own way into a political cul de sac. I have some sympathy for the dilemma which he, and  the whole ANC, faced in the early nineties .They returned from exile and prison with no money to accommodate thousands of jobless members and their families. They had to prepare for the protracted Codesa negotiations and the even more costly national election that followed.

Where to find the money? My assertion will surely be denied, but I have no doubt in my own mind that this need was the underlying reason for the arms deal. Everyone knows the arms bazaar pays fat kickbacks. Fancy warships, submarines and jet fighters must have been far down the ANC's crowded priority list, but they needed money urgently.

So did poor Jacob Zuma. He was deployed early on to end the civil war raging in KwaZulu/Natal, which to the country's eternal gratitude he did. But it meant taking a ministerial job in the provincial legislature at a monthly salary of about R30 000. Not enough for a polygamous man with many wives and a vast retinue of children and other dependant relatives.

So, as Shabir Shaikh told judge Hillary Squires at his own trial, Zuma came to him in desperation saying he couldn't come out and would have to leave politics and find a job.

To which Shaikh replied in words which effectively said: Don't do that, boss, we'll take care of you.

What does the future hold?

And so Zuma took his first step into the quicksand of corruption. And he has been sinking deeper into it ever since. Once he was elevated to the presidency, he set about ring-fencing himself into a protective circle of loyalists occupying every position and controlling every democratic institution that might threaten him with exposure and prosecution - with the notable exception of the Public Protector.

It has meant the core of the administration has been sucked into that quicksand along with Zuma. They form a coalition of the useless, a gaggle of  ANC toadies, SA Communist Party carpetbaggers and a broken Congress of South African Trade Unions, all pulling in different directions and going nowhere. Which is why the state of the nation address was such a mishmash of unrelated issues.

So what does the future hold? Things can only get worse, especially on the economic front. The Treasury is already out of money and I reckon we shall hit the wall around this time next year when the rating agencies rate hit us with junk status ratings. That will be slap-bang in the face of the local government elections.

But the key factor is that there are still good, sensible people in the ANC who know what needs to be done, just as there were verligtes in the old NP. If we are to be saved from a Grecian fate, the ANC will have to come up with its own FW de Klerk who can build a new coalition to chart a positive course for recovery.


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Read more on:    cosatu  |  anc  |  fw de klerk  |  jacob zuma

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