The tactics of survival

2012-06-23 14:31

Like you, I sipped the post-Polokwane Kool-Aid.

ANC President Jacob Zuma was what the country needed after the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki.

While my view has been finessed with time, back then I thought Mbeki had made us anxious and ill-tempered.

Zuma felt like he would soothe the nation with his calm and jovial ways.

He was part Nelson Mandela, part embracing chief and part Ronald Reagan.

He was more prescient and kind about our frayed racial nerves; traditional and therefore better suited to a country which in the main did not respond well to Mbeki’s Ivy League intellectualism; and a guy who everyone thought would enjoy office but leave the tough stuff to the technocrats.

Office does strange things to political leaders in our loud, challenging and testy country: I’ve watched it alter personalities and so it has done to Citizen One.

Now I see Zuma as far more chillingly Machiavellian, his personality a far cry from the uniting character many anticipated he would display after Polokwane.

Race relations are as delicately balanced as a bone china cup on a thin ledge and the unity of the ANC is like a frayed and faded dream coat which has seen better days.

His every calculation and action is a power-play.

Conspiracy’s dragnet is thrown over the state, its grasp so tight it almost bequeathed to us a man as dubious as Richard Mdluli as national police commissioner because he reflected and reinforced the prince’s view that in all corners enemies lurked.

“It would seem, then, that conspirators have all been men of standing or intimates of the prince and, of these, those who have been moved to conspire by too many benefits are as numerous as those moved to conspire by too many injuries,” wrote Niccolo Machiavelli in his treatise to the Renaissance princes or rulers he counselled in the art of dealing with conspirators.

The president’s actions during the campaign built around The Spear were a mirror image of a fleeting moment at Polokwane which illustrate the style that made him head of ANC Intelligence.

On the first day of the watershed conference, the delegates were going bananas, rolling their arms in the universal symbol of time for a substitution, while poor national chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota’s efforts to call order were drowned out like a rat’s squeaks for help.

The delegates were singing for Zuma, who stared studiously ahead, letting the delicious moment of truth sink right in for a painfully long time before he signalled to then secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe to put a stop to it.

Then, it was clear who the choreographer was.

Though he had played the hapless victim until then with perfection, the mask slipped in that moment and the game-play was clear.

Jacob Zuma is a ruthless tactician, a master of the end justifying the means.

Spool back The Spear tape and see what JZ was doing as his shock troops went berserk for a fortnight.

While people marched, burnt, threatened, defaced and placards scribbled with “whites hate blacks” flashed their way across national and international television screens in defence, again, of a hapless victim, where was our leader?

The president went into man-of-the-people overdrive.

Images of that time show the president grinning in a sea of children, turning on a tap for a woman in Hammanskraal who had petitioned him, hopping on a peak-hour train to hear the tales of the common traveller.

This was the sub-text: “All I want to do is serve you, I am a simple man like you, but we are being prevented from getting ahead because of those people who don’t respect us, don’t respect our culture.”

He was everyman, the hardworking and innocent victim.

It was a master-play.

In the Star last Friday, editor Makhudu Sefara gave another example.

Deputy President Motlanthe threw down his gauntlet at Zuma earlier this year when he called for the enforcement of an ANC rule that said ANC provincial bosses couldn’t also hold National Executive Committee positions.

His purpose was clear – to prise the premier princelings like Free State’s Ace Magashule, KwaZulu-Natal’s Zweli Mkhize and Mpumalanga’s David Mabuza away from holding too many influential positions of patronage and power before Mangaung.

These three will deliver a second term to Zuma unless something happens and Motlanthe had struck upon the “something”.

Or so he thought. Zuma dispatched Motlanthe to the funeral of the late Malawian leader Bingu wa Mutharika and got the position overturned at an executive meeting of the governing party.

The princelings are safe.

Another brick in the road to Mangaung is sealed.

See the president’s actions through Machiavelli’s kaleidoscope and it all falls into position.

Why does he reshuffle so often when, as analyst Anthony Butler has pointed out, it leads to no greater efficiency?

It keeps the top leadership loyal and also nervous; a good position from which to secure his position and their fealty.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the uber-loyal provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala is tasked to swell ANC membership in the province to 350 000, so it accounts for more than one-third of total membership of the ANC.

That is like taking a personal army to Mangaung to deal with the rabble your enemies may assemble.

In battle mode, these shock troops will eviscerate any histrionics the youth league thinks it can pull, as it did on Youth Day in the Eastern Cape.

This is the brilliant, tactical politics of survival.

But it does put us in a different era where the good of the people, the unity of the organisation and the slogans of development are subverted to personal ambition and the raw exercise of power.

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