The ANC just can't Cope

2008-11-22 00:00

The African National Congress is frightened and angry. Not a good combination when what South Africa needs at this moment is good leadership and cool heads.

The ANC’s response to the formation of the Congress of the People (Cope) shows the confusion and turmoil in its ranks. Even as it predicts boastfully that it will obliterate Cope at the polls, it is pulling out every stop to smear, harass and threaten the breakaway faction.

Some of the reaction reveals the pettiness of power, like the withdrawal of the South African Police Service members who were protecting Cope co-leader Mosiuoa Terror Lekota. Other responses display its exaggerated sense of destiny, like misguided attempts to deprive its opponents of a name.

ANC office bearers have labelled the dissidents as snakes, dogs and cockroaches that should be “flushed out with Doom” insecticide. To toy with incitement to violence while withdrawing the protection that is the primary obligation that the state owes its citizens is intimidatory brinkmanship which, if it goes awry, could have terrible repercussions.

How can a government that accords even insignificant functionaries the privilege of

trigger-happy blue-light motorcades balk at protecting an opponent who has had death threats?

More risible is the ANC’s funk over its opponents’ name. Loosely paraphrased, it contends that the 1955 Congress of the People was a seminal event in the ANC’s history and is thus its intellectual property.

Aside from the fact that it was not only ANC members who gathered at Kliptown to adopt the Freedom Charter, this is delusionary stuff. By this tenuous reasoning, no new party could use any form of words associated with the liberation struggle.

Exit the Freedom Front Plus, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance, the Independent Democrats, the National Democratic Convention, the United Democratic Movement and the Pan Africanist Congress. And given that political party leader Jacob Zuma is given to making flattering comparisons between the ANC and Jesus — including one this week in which Cope was relegated to the role of “the lucky donkey that bore Son of Man to Jerusalem” — the African Christian Democratic Party is lucky it registered before this particular bout of megalomania.

The Polokwane Conference attempted to reassert the control of the ANC membership over its leadership. It ended up going further and stripping the party of leadership itself, substituting instead an amorphous collective will, a situation which is being well exploited by party radicals to assert their agenda.

Acting president Kgalema Motlanthe dare not exercise leadership, lest he be thought to be usurping Zuma’s limelight. Zuma, himself, appears to be incapable of leadership, his every public statement unhappy proof of his shallowness.

So far his vision for South Africa apparently is to send underperforming pupils to re-education camps, have daily prayer in schools, and repeal laws that allow “offensive” material on TV. He will change SA’s investor-friendly policies. Or maybe he won’t. It all depends on who he is speaking to. But that which is needed, he lacks the courage to do.

He will not control the howling young hooligans who threaten his opponents with extermination. Nor, despite the supposed control by the party of Parliament, does he rebuke the likes of ANC MPs Butana Komphela and Cedrick Frolick, who spew shockingly racist bile.

The Kliptown People’s Convention was visionary, racially inclusive and imbued with a sense of social compact. It was an act of considerable political courage.

Whether these are qualities that are today most apparent within the ANC or within Cope, or some other political party, is best left to the voters to decide, not the courts. One can understand, though, why the ANC leadership seems nervous about what the people’s verdict might be.

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