Ideas not criminal

2009-09-26 12:38

THE media had a field day with the figure of Smuts Ngonyama denying that there was a succession race in the period leading up to the Polokwane ANC conference.

Ngonyama’s denials that there was a contest, to put it mildly, ­between then ANC president Thabo Mbeki and party deputy Jacob Zuma became legendary, ­rivalled perhaps only by comments by Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf – known to most as Comic Ali.

But the joke on Ngonyama was that he had so willed himself not to see the reality that he had become our own Comic Ali, who kept denying that the Americans had taken over Baghdad in the 2003 war.

Having learned its lessons from the sorry saga that the Mbeki/Zuma succession was, the ANC has now found a way of managing when the party faithful may start talking about who succeeds Zuma and his cohort.

In his address at the Cosatu conference early in the week, Zuma talked of how people were meeting in the stillness of night to concoct plans on how they would catapult themselves and their allies into higher positions in the movement. He said that despite these plans being hatched in the darkest of corners, they were known.

Zuma commented that for the “sake of our country”, those busy plotting should be “named and shamed”. How convenient.

Is it now a shame to work the masses well ahead of another conference in the same way he did at the last ANC national general council in 2005? Zuma went about addressing all sorts of alliance functions at which he unashamedly talked about how ANC deputies went on to become party presidents to make the point that he would not be the exception.

Why must others be ashamed when he was not?

At the time, Ngonyama kept asking: What race? We knew he was only fooling himself.

Ngonyama, like Zuma and the ANC now, said “at the right time” ?– whatever this means?– “the ANC will open the debate on succession”. And as Ngonyama found out, when the debate was finally opened the race had ended. Zuma had won. The results of the nomination process served merely to confirm what was known.

But why would the ANC now not want people to learn from Ngonyama’s denialism; to avoid the fate that befell Ngonyama and Mbeki? Could it be that Zuma, aware of how he won, does not want others to use his strategy against him?

Clearly, once activists start talking about the future, you can’t stop that. It would be ideal, but it’s just not feasible. So this naming and shaming exercise may just as well be a self-serving, or rather self-preservation, scheme.

My view is that if a handful of people want to plot the downfall of ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe at the 2012 ANC conference, let them – as long as they do their work and do not engage in criminal activity. But to stop people from speaking about who should succeed you or control their timing is a vain attempt to legislate against thought. As others have said, the fact that some opinions are not expressed or expressed at the time you prefer does not mean that those opinions are not held. The thought police are not an option. Our intelligence service should apply itself to weightier issues than policing nightly succession gossip.

Mbeki’s mistake was a paranoia that made him see plotters everywhere he looked. Has Zuma forgotten how, without evidence, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale were named and shamed? Or how others were named and shamed, Mbeki-style, in his online newsletter ANC Today? In the same way Mbeki labelled the media “fishers of corrupt men” he became a fisher of perceived plotters. And Zuma is not learning from Mbeki’s flaws.

And this naming-and-shaming saga is my last post from the trenches to you, dear reader, at this proud publication. City Press has been my beloved home for a full five years and my heart is torn by my departure though, at the same time, I am ecstatic and look forward to serving you as editor at another platform. 

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