The ANC’s dangerous schizophrenia

2008-06-07 00:00

The country is a mess. The political paralysis of President Thabo Mbeki has left a leadership lacuna and — despite the enthusiasm of his supporters — there is little evidence that Jacob Zuma will be able to fill it.

Given the influence wielded by the South African Communist Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, the next administration clearly will have policies different from those of Mbeki. It is, however, not clear from the public statements made by Zuma exactly what those policies will be. Depending on the audience he is addressing one can choose equally to believe them to be market-friendly or socialist.

In democracies, parties set their policies before the voters. If these pass muster, the newly elected government quickly finds that it pragmatically has to adjust the sails of dogma according to the winds of prevailing realities.

If the government’s public representatives feel that the head of the government is failing the nation or betraying the party line, they can stage a revolt and force his or her resignation and hold a new election.

Not in South Africa. Post-Polokwane, the African National Congress has displayed an acute schizophrenia. It acts as if it is simultaneously both government and opposition, with the government supposedly in charge, but the party repeatedly and publicly rebuking it and demanding about-turns.

Mbeki is not going to be forced out nor an early election called. In the interests of party unity, the country instead will limp along until his term ends in April 2009.

There has always been some dissonance within the ANC, given the broad church nature of its association with the SACP and Cosatu. Post-Polokwane, this has reached debilitating proportions.

A government can’t operate effectively when it has lost the confidence of the majority of the party members and when two centres of power — government and party — vie viciously for control, both abusing the state broadcaster and the security apparatus to further their aims.

When faced with a crisis — although we know that Mbeki has yet to be convinced that his administration has ever had to face a crisis, be it HIV/Aids, Zimbabwe, crime, poverty, service delivery, corruption or lynch mobs — this can mean a dangerous paralysis.

When the xenophobic violence that recently claimed some 60 lives erupted, there was a struggle behind the scenes as to how it would be handled. Government initially refused to send in the army and vacillated between blaming it on criminal elements or a mysterious conservative “third force” bent on subversion. It also denied that the intelligence services had any inkling that the attacks might happen.

The ANC party apparatus, in contrast, called the xenophobia by its name and demanded military deployment. It vacillated between blaming the intelligence services for incompetence in failing to predict the violence and incompetence in the Mbeki administration for not acting on it.

All governments face crises, whether they choose to publicly acknowledge them or not. All governments face foreign foes and pressures which can harm their country if not handled properly.

No government, in a time of turbulence and in a society of growing pressures, should limp along for almost a year solely for the sake of party unity.

Mbeki must govern or go. If he can’t govern because of Luthuli House interference, he should call an election and take it to the people. Let them choose between centrism or socialism.

If he won’t go because of personal pride or another reason unknown to us all, the ANC parliamentary caucus should force his resignation through a vote of no confidence that it would most likely carry with the necessary two-thirds majority.

The paralysis induced by the ANC’s schizophrenia must end.

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