Opportunity and power

2012-03-16 00:00

THE current provincial leadership battles in both the ANC and the DA are a reflection of a changing scenario that could lead to a vastly different political landscape within the next few years. An obvious statement you may say, but one worth exploring.

Both parties are in the process of electing provincial leaders. It is normally the ANC elections that are beset by infighting and allegations of dirty tricks. This time it is the ANC that is putting its best foot forward with the DA misbehaving.

Locally, ANC regional elections are going seemingly smoothly. The aim appears is to be a united front to ensure that President Jacob Zuma gets his second term in office. Regional slates (candidates and their team) being elected are all in the Zuma camp and are seemingly behind Premier Zweli Mkhize. The message going around is that infighting and contestation will weaken the campaign and that it is far more important to have a president from this province. KZN needs to go to the national elective congress in Mangaung as a united front.

There is no such unifying factor in the DA campaign, which reportedly is turning nasty. The party’s final debate in Pinetown on Thursday night was apparently hectic with members freely trading insults. According to older party members, the debate has descended to a clash of personalities. Fighting for the position of provincial party leader for the first time are two black contenders — already a reflection of the changing face of the party. However, for many DA members this is a welcome development towards the party’s non-racial agenda. What seems to be at the heart of the conflict is party tradition. Some long-standing members are struggling to come to terms with new members who come from other political parties. One contender, Sizwe Mchunu, is a long-standing DA member and the other is former IFP national chairperson Ziba Jiyane, who joined the party in April last year. Independent Democrats secretary Haniff Hoosen and Greg Krumbock are competing for the provincial chairperson position.

Member of Parliament Dianne Kohler Barnard, who is firmly in the Mchunu camp, fired a salvo questioning Jiyane — “a party member for five months”, who wants to be the leader. Apparently, the battle has gone to cyberspace with Mchunu complaining of leaked e-mails that besmirch his integrity.

Who would have thought that one day we would see the local ANC behaving and a DA succession battle getting downright dirty? Then again, just a few years back it would have been inconceivable to walk into a DA meeting and find that half those present are black. If it wasn’t for the sea of blue T-shirt­s on Wednesday night, I would have thought that I had wandered into the wrong meeting when I popped into the party’s leadership debate at the Golden Horse Casino.

That there are 17 people contesting positions in the DA leadership battle underlines that politics is a lucrative game. It offers opportunities and remains an abiding interest for most South Africans.

At this stage a scenario is emerging, which commentators predicted. The DA is becoming a party of the middle class for all races and the ANC a party for the poor and the working class. A pointer in this direction is the election of Alpha Shelembe as chairperson of the ANC’s Moses Mabhida region (REC). His secretary, Supa Zuma, made a telling comment in the media last week. He said that Shelembe had great support at branch level, despite the charges of fraud that he faced. Zuma added that when Shelembe resigned as the deputy mayor of Msunduzi Municipality there was serious resistance from the party’s branches.

Chatting to some of the branch members, a picture emerges of members backing him because he may be able to offer them more opportunities. Shelembe was chosen over Bheki Nzimande, who has a clean record and was also in the Zuma camp. Letter writer Richard Hawkins got it more or less right in yesterday’s paper when he wrote that for the majority of members at branch level it is not the quality of a leader that counts or the party’s policies and principles. It is about gaining access to jobs and positions.

Shelembe, a former council speaker and deputy mayor, was seen as a better candidate because he is perceived to be a better prospect to open doors for jobs and positions within municipalities in the district. Many members were expecting Shelembe to get back into the Msunduzi Municipality. Others felt that even if he didn’t get back in he would still be chairperson of the REC and according to them it is the REC which puts councillors into the municipality and therefore calls the shots. This is just anecdotal information but has enough resonance with what has happened in the past to be credible.

In a country where unemployment and poverty is high it is not surprising that people join the ruling party for the opportunities they perceive it to offer. Long-standing members of the ANC talk about the changing composition of the branches where most members are unemployed community members looking for a better life.

In an ideal world politics is about service to community, the country and the nation. The reality is that it is still about opportunity and power.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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