Two kings in the pack

2008-02-11 00:00

THE very thing that President Thabo Mbeki wanted to prevent in the ANC leadership elections and what Jacob Zuma said would not be a problem, has now come to be: two warring centres of power in South Africa, whose mutual, separate and hidden interests have the potential to sideline the country’s growing service delivery needs.

The influence and power of the office-holder in the Union Buildings have been effectively eroded, while the influence of the office-holder in Luthuli House (and of those in his inner circle) increases weekly.

Polokwane was an example of a calculated but democratice takeover of the power of one interest group by another.

Calculated, because the vote tallies for each of the six top positions were almost identical and were reflected in the number of votes polled by Zuma’s major supporters on the National Executive Committee (NEC); and democratic because the process took place in accordance with the ANC’s constitution, broad consultation took place, and the results were ratified by its electoral commission.

The collapse of Mbeki’s influence then began at a mercilessly rapid rate.

The election of the governing party’s extended NEC on the last day of the conference gave a strong indication of how the wind was changing direction. It was the beginning of the cleansing process.

Not only did Zuma’s six candidates for the positions of president, deputy president, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general, chair and treasurer defeat all Mbeki’s by roughly the same margin (2 500 to 1 500), but Zuma’s lieutenants were all included in the NEC.

Tokyo Sexwale, Blade Nzimande and Fikile Mbalula are all among the top 20 in the NEC. Augmented by Mbeki opponents like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Ace Magashule and Ngoako Ramathodi, they form a strong power base.

The election was followed in the new year by the appointment of the National Working Committee (NWC), which essentially manages the party’s daily activities. The chairs of the NWC’s different sub-committees were also appointed.

The Mbeki camp was routed in both elections, with precious few proven supporters of the deposed president remaining in any important post. The most important exceptions were the re-election of Joel Netshitenzhe and Trevor Manuel to the NEC, both exceptionally close to Mbeki, although having plummeted to the bottom of the rankings since the previous NEC elections in 2002.

Mbeki, addressing the media at the end of the Polokwane conference, made it clear whom he believed to be in charge of the state.

But when he didn’t attend the first NEC meeting, and also decided to avoid the ANC’s birthday celebrations (and Zuma’s first public appearance as the new ANC president) a few days later, the new ANC leadership promptly made it clear where the real power lay.

The message after the second NEC meeting of the year was unambiguous: the government’s agenda is determined by the ANC. And the pace of its execution, as well as who the agents are for executing it, take place at the party’s behest.

The result of this “party-based, democratic coup”, as Professor André Duvenhage of the University of the Northwest has called it, is the articulation of a stronger ANC position in South Africa.

Nothing illustrates this better than two interesting pronouncements about the judiciary and the media — two sectors which, as the ANC itself believes, the party has not yet been able to make a part of its hegemony.

The ANC has accused both, to a greater or lesser degree, of being (in ANC parlance) “anti-revolutionary, not representative of the views of the majority”, and the last bastion of the old dispensation.

First it was the judiciary that was said to be suspect, according to the NWC, which has said the idea exists that those who had occupied positions in the agencies of the apartheid government, can go unpunished, while attacks on cadres of the democratic movement are strengthened. There have also been continued insinuations that Zuma cannot expect a fair trial.

Then Zuma intensified his attack on the media by stating that they do not represent majority opinion and are not diverse enough — a statement following closely on the heels of an ANC resolution proposing a media tribunal.

The run-up to the statements about the judiciary included the renewed corruption charges brought against Zuma over the Christmas holidays, those against National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, and the saga involving Gauteng Scorpions boss Gerrie Nel.

First came noises from Cosatu ranks about “bloodshed” should Zuma be found guilty. These were followed by a variety of pronouncements about his chances of getting a fair trial.

These attacks were so ferocious that advocate George Bizos and former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson decided to make their voices heard. They warned against casting aspersions on the judiciary and said such utterances were aimed at “undermining democracy”.

But danger lights started flashing when, on the day that charges were withdrawn against Nel, Gwede Mantashe, the new secretary-general of the ruling party, also stated that “it appears as though those who served in the security machinery in the apartheid era get off scot-free from prosecution, while cadres of the liberation struggle get targeted”.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) recently had to reprimand Mantashe for saying, “We do not know Nel as Scorpions boss in Gauteng; we know him as a member of the riot police.” (Nel was never involved with the riot police.)

Such pronouncements are a strong indication of the extent to which the ANC sometimes believes itself to be under siege. However, whether it is genuinely and unjustly under threat from the security machinery, or whether its indignation is designed to turn the searchlight away from itself, is an open question.

The ANC resolution to disband the Scorpions does, however, seem to suggest the latter.

Deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke’s remark on his 60th birthday to the effect that he wants to use his remaining time on the bench to do what is in the interest of all the citizens of the country and not only that of the ANC, provoked an astounding stream of criticism.

The situation calmed down after Moseneke and Chief Justice Pius Langa met with the ANC top structure. “We have faith in the justice system,” the party said afterwards.

There is a clear difference between words and deeds.

To say the judiciary is occupied by former supporters of apartheid and to say that the media should be tackled because they are in the hands of unsympathetic and privileged capitalists is one thing.

However, it would be an entirely different game should the ANC decide to force its needs and philosophies on the judiciary and the media.

At present, no reasonable suspicion exists that statements against the judiciary are a precursor to greater action, even though the media are definitely very uneasy about what is being said.

The protection offered by the Constitution — not only to legal and media practitioners, but also to an ANC that is worried about improper interference or influence — is crystal clear.

A change in the status quo cannot take place without a change to the Constitution. From contact with grassroots ANC members and members of Parliament it is clear that the sanctity of the Constitution has never been under threat.

Despite its comfortable two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, which would enable the ANC to change the Constitution, it has never been on the cards to do so in order to serve the ANC’s self-interest. It is doubtful whether the new dispensation would be inclined to do it now.

But the climate being created through inflammatory and insinuating statements is problematic.

Emotions are being stirred up through repeated insistence that Zuma’s case has been prejudiced and that he will not receive a fair trial.

Judges’ and legal representatives’ task of prosecuting the person who seems likely to be the country’s next president is already going to be a demanding one, without the bona fides of the legal system having to be defended throughout the process.

The ANC has been more circumspect in its statements about the judiciary, but its hostility towards the media is evidence of how it sees South African society.

According to the ANC, the media are currently representative of a minority, out of touch with politics, opposed to democracy, and striving to retain established apartheid conventions in society.

Zuma recently wrote in his newsletter that, like every other sector in society, the media have to be representative of all groups and standpoints, because at present only the needs of an established white minority are being served.

According to ANC resolutions the media should be building a “national consensus” that is “based on a common value system” and is “loyal to the new democratic order”.

Since, therefore, the majority of South Africans support the ANC, reporting and coverage in the media should be in line with the ANC’s standpoints.

If not, the media are anti-revolutionary and are trying to entrench minority privilege.

The ANC tends to present its interests as primary in terms of the country’s needs. Since it is the ruling party, it is certainly playing the primary role in the creation of a just society — but it should not be at the expense of and detrimental to sound democratic principles. The definite dividing line between state and party, and party interests and the national interest, is rapidly disappearing.

In any working democracy there will be a certain interplay between the government as service provider, the ruling party, opposition parties, the judiciary and civil society — which all have the best interests of all South Africans at heart.

Pronouncements like those about the judiciary and media create the impression that the interests and needs of only a small elite within the ANC are being put first, and not those of the rest of the party’s supporters and their fellow South Africans.

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