Free for all politics

2008-01-12 00:00

The farce in which two law enforcement agencies — the police on the one hand, and the Scorpions on the other — embroiled in a destructive turf war, is an indication of the frightful escalating battle for control of the African National Congress (ANC), since the movement’s national conference last month, in which Jacob Zuma was elected ANC president.

The deep divisions in the ANC, sadly, are unlikely to abate, unless the legal proceedings against both Zuma and police commissioner Jackie Selebi are allowed to take their course, without hindrance, and both Mbeki and Zuma stand down from their positions, and are replaced by less tainted, younger leaders.

The polices’ arrest on Tuesday of Gerrie Nel on alleged corruption charges — the National Prosecutions Authority’s (NPA) leading investigator in Gauteng; the NPA’s Scorpions unit about to charge Selebi for alleged links to criminal underground figures; and the NPA’s subsequent denunciation of Nel’s arrest as partisan, underscores the severe crisis South Africa’s democracy is faced with. Nel led the investigations into the shooting of mining magnate Brett Kebble and into investigations concerning Selebi’s criminal involvements.

The sense that the centre is falling apart, that no one is in charge and that there is free for all, is now inescapable. In this climate it is unlikely that any inroads will be made into any of the social problems plaguing South Africa: rising crime; grinding poverty; unemployment; a faltering nation-building project; and the increasing economic hardships due to rising food prices, fuel prices and interest rates. The perception of paralysis at the centre of government, and the sense of a pending crisis, will only fuel more uncertainty. Sadly, neither Mbeki’s leadership of government nor Zuma’s leadership of the ANC is, or will, inspire any sense of confidence, except to their most myopic partisan supporters. In fact, it only adds to the increasing sense of foreboding.

It will be too much to expect Parliament to give much leadership in this crisis. For starters, the ANC’s majority in parliament means that the divisions within the party itself will be reflected within the institution itself, laying it prostrate with the same paralysis that government is afflicted with. For another, the opposition parties are just not offering sober leadership either, neither are they getting closer to connecting with the poor majority.

All eyes will now be on the ANC’s traditional January 8 statement to see whether the party’s new leadership can rise above their own partisan interests. The Left — Cosatu and the SACP — in alliance with the movement’s populists — the ANC Youth League and populist leaders such as Tony Yengeni and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela — now appears to be in full control of the top leadership structures of the ANC. Not only is the top six the NEC, but the ANC’s powerful national working committee is now also in the hands of the Left. The SACP’s chairman, Gwede Mantashe, is the new ANC general secretary, and both the SACP’s general secretary and his deputy are now on the ANC’s national working committee. Not since the 1960s when the ANC was in exile has the SACP Left dominated the top leadership structures of the ANC.

It is significant that Mbeki did not attend the new ANC’s NEC first meeting. It is unlikely that Mbeki will be keen to attend coming meetings either. Other key Mbeki aligned figures such as the ANC’s policy czar, Joel Netshitenzhe, were also conspicuously absent. The battle lines are now clearly drawn between the Zuma’s populist-Left alliance dominated ANC leadership structures in the party, versus the Mbeki aligned ANC centrist in government. Zuma’s prosecution is now one of the main fronts of that battle. The great danger is that South Africa’s fragile democratic, audit and security institutions will be trampled in this fierce tussle for leadership of South Africa.

The first salvo in the new battle was the ANC’s December conference’s resolution that the Scorpions should be disbanded. The second salvo was the ANC’s new pro-Zuma NEC’s endorsement of him as the candidate for the presidency of South Africa next year, in spite of the fact that the ANC’s president was charged last month and will appear in court in August on charges of corruption and fraud. The judiciary will have to brace itself to come under intense pressure. Cosatu and the SACP this week renewed their criticisms of the judiciary’s handling of the Zuma case.

So far in this leadership vacuum caused by the ANC’s internal battles, which have been compounded by the lack of imaginative and relevant leadership from the opposition parties, the judiciary — in spite of its failings — has been a beacon of political leadership. Indeed it has often set the moral, policy and visionary standards so lacking in South Africa’s politics. Off course it is important that citizens hold the judiciary, like all other democratic institutions, accountable, but publicly criticising decisions the citizens are unhappy with and populist organised mobilisation against the judiciary, is very dangerous. This, especially, if it takes place within the context of the paralysis of government, destructive infighting in the ruling party, faltering democratic and audit institutions and bickering security agencies. It is not going to be very easy getting South Africa out of this mess created partially by the selfishness of Mbeki wanting to cling on to power, and Zuma wanting power at all costs – notwithstanding the consequences to the ANC, South Africa and Africa. Perhaps the only solution now is for Selebi, Mbeki and Zuma to stand down, a new presidential leadership election in the ANC to be called, and immediately thereafter, general elections to be brought forward. If both Selebi and Zuma must be given presidential immunity, on condition they step down and cooperate with the investigations, so be it.

•WM Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.