Centrifugal forces open cracks in ANC façade

2010-08-21 00:00

MORE often than not, poor leadership at the head of a functioning democracy does greater immediate damage to the governing party than to the country. It sets loose internal momentums that can lead to a change of leadership, electoral losses or splits in the party.

So it should be intensely reassuring to democrats that President Jacob Zuma’s government is in such chaos. It means that these centrifugal forces are, after only 16 years, opening the kinds of cracks in the African National Congress that took twice as long to manifest themselves in the old National Party.

Zuma’s presidency is characterised by hesitancy and ambivalence. He appears to be out of the country as often as his predecessor Thabo Mbeki was.

But whereas Mbeki stomped the international stage in pursuit of a personal vision — the African renaissance — Zuma’s cross-border getaways seem a bit like those of a child in a dysfunctional family. He just wants sleepovers in order to escape from all that stressful conflict at home.

To keep together such a disparate array of factions as comprises the Tripartite Alliance demands strong leadership and the unambiguous exercise of power, with dissenters swiftly marginalised and despatched. Mbeki was a despot not only by nature, but also by necessity.

Zuma, in contrast, is an equivocator. The crown sits uneasily, with what increasingly looks like a non-renewable sticker pasted to the side. Whatever Zuma’s true nature — it is disconcerting that the hammer of the apartheid spies during the struggle years seems such an affable fellow — the tenuousness of his position forces him to tread lightly among his jealous and ambitious courtiers.

Problematically for Zuma, a result of hesitancy is that it accelerates the factional forces within a party. Suddenly, space is open for contention, allowing plots and counterplots to flourish with an increase in the jostling for influence.

Even the one issue around which he might have hoped to rally his forces, the always carping and supposedly perfidious media, has not much helped. While the South African Communist Party has come out in enthusiastic support of the proposed Protection of Information Bill, the Congress of South African Trade Unions has been as implacably opposed.

And while the SACP supports the idea of a media tribunal, Cosatu remains divided and as yet undecided. According to the Sowetan, a number of unions have privately voiced concerns that it takes South Africa down the banana-republic route.

The ANC, in turn, has had to slap down publicly the overexuberant baying hounds of its youth league, who want to jail “treasonous” journalists.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Sexwale, the Minister of Human Settlements, has stated at separate public events that a “sinister” ANC plot against the media “can’t happen, shouldn’t happen” because it would be “unconstitutional” and “running against any value that Mandela stands for; that I stand for.” He said the proposed tribunal is merely being debated and is far from being a “done deal”.

While it is no secret that Sexwale sees himself as a potential successor to Zuma, for him to stake out a position that differs starkly from that of Zuma indicates that there is plenty of disquiet within the senior ranks on the issue.

And it is not only the media that is a divisive issue.

Because of Zuma’s inability to lead firmly, an array of matters are pushing up internal temperatures in the ANC. There’s land distribution, mining rights, and nationalisation, to name a few.

The ANC is a coalition of ideologies and coalitions are inherently weak. It takes adroit and inspired leadership to hold them together.

Zuma has proved to be nimble but has so far failed to display any kind of vision that the ANC, never mind the country, can unite behind.

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