Zuma’s big finger points the wrong way

Baleka Mbete greets President Jacob Zuma upon his arrival on stage at Gallagher Estate in Midrand outside Joburg. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake
Baleka Mbete greets President Jacob Zuma upon his arrival on stage at Gallagher Estate in Midrand outside Joburg. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

President Jacob Zuma bemoaned the rot at the ANC’s core, negative public perceptions, dwindling member numbers and waning electoral support – somehow missing that it’s his fault, writes Mondli Makhanya

The introductory section of ANC secretary- general Gwede Mantashe’s report to the party’s midterm gathering contained two very interesting paragraphs that are an artist’s work in contradiction.

Paragraph 1.7 of the state-of-the-organisation report to the national general council reads: “We have continued to face an onslaught on our movement from the opposition forces.

“Chief among the issues the opposition used was the attack on our movement by attacking the president at a personal level in a very pointed way. The matter of the security upgrades was used as an entry for attack.”

Paragraph 1.8 reads: “Corruption is a big challenge facing our movement, both in government and inside the party. Whether this is a perception or reality, the movement should confront it seriously.

“There is a growing public concern that the movement is corrupt and is protecting those in our ranks who are corrupt. This reality, if not reversed, poses a threat to us whereby the people will lose trust and faith in our leadership and our organisation.”

Huh! Did anyone at Luthuli House bother to read these two successive paragraphs together before the document went to print?

Incorrect public perception

Earlier in the day, President Jacob Zuma had delivered the opening address in his capacity as leader of the party.

He also lamented the state of the organisation and painted a bleak picture of rot in the ANC’s moral culture, negative public perceptions, a plunge in membership numbers and declining electoral support.

“The ANC needs to work harder to reverse the incorrect public perception that the ANC and its government are soft on corruption and the ANC is a corrupt organisation,” said Zuma.

Seemingly immune to irony, in the front row on the stage, where the party’s national executive committee (NEC) members were seated, was one Humphrey Mmemezi.

He was fired as an MEC in Gauteng after being damned by the ANC’s and the legislature’s integrity and ethics committees in mid-2012. Months later, with his scandals still fresh in the public’s mind, he was elected to the NEC and subsequently elevated to Parliament.

Also seated there was one Pule Mabe, whose dodgy business dealings with Prasa became public after the Public Protector released her findings into the rail operator last month. ANC members on Parliament’s ethics committee are dragging their feet about acting on these findings.

Then, looking lost and bored on stage was Zoleka Capa-Langa, who was dogged by controversy during her tenures as mayor and MEC in the Eastern Cape, but who miraculously escaped censure.

She is now a portfolio committee chairperson in Parliament. There were others – some who have been tried by the courts and others by Parliament and the legislatures – with question marks hanging over them seated on that stage.

Then there was the main man – who is running away from 783 fraud and corruption charges and boasts a handsome collection of shady bosom buddies in several provinces.

As he stood on stage railing against “negative tendencies which undermine our credibility” the thought bubbles above the heads of many in the room may well have read: “But you are talking about yourself, aren’t you?”

When Zuma spoke of “ill-discipline, hooliganism, violence and other negative behaviour”, it seemed he had forgotten these were the same characteristics his supporters had used to mount the offensive against then president Thabo Mbeki between 2005 and 2007.

When he spoke of “manipulation, gatekeeping or the bulk-buying of membership”, he did not add that these were the very tactics that had been used to drive up his support base during that time and were used to help him retain control of the party at the 2012 elective conference in Mangaung.

In his diagnosis, Zuma also bemoaned the growing “cancer” of factionalism, a phenomenon he said was based on the hunger for power, which was intensified in the run-up to conferences.

“They [factions] exist because of greed and the hunger for power which, once obtained, is abused to take control of state resources and to further business interests.”

Respect for factionalism

Again, it was lost on him that while it has always been there and is a common factor in all organisations, factionalism grew into an uncontrollable pandemic in the post-Polokwane era. That divisive conference gave factionalism respectability.

Since then, this respect for factionalism has seen it become entrenched in all lower structures.

The factionalism bred the other tendency Zuma complained about – the emergence of “kingmakers”.

“We also need to address the reported existence of the so-called kingmakers in the ANC. There is no structure or league of the ANC that has been accorded the status of being a kingmaker. This notion undermines internal democracy and the authority and centrality of the branches of the ANC,” warned Zuma.

If he cared to remember, it was the kingmaker roles of the ANC Youth League and labour federation Cosatu that ensured his successful 2007 campaign. That culture became embedded in the organisation in ensuing years.

It is from this script that the now infamous Premier League reads and continues reading as it exercises control over the election of leaders to the ANC’s component organisations and prepares to influence the 2017 succession race.

Those who are vying for top positions at the next elective conference sat listening to Zuma, fully conscious that without kingmakers they stood no chance of making a showing in 2017.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who seems to spend more time worrying about 2017 than Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, has already bagged the Premier League and the women’s and youth leagues as her kingmakers.

Her rival, Cyril Ramaphosa, who spent much of Friday morning sucking up to his boss by laughing at his jokes more disproportionately than anyone else, is probably hoping someone other than the Holy Spirit will emerge as his kingmaker.

One of these two will inherit an ANC whose culture and ethos has been decimated by the current incumbent.

He or she will face the herculean task of regaining the “trust and faith” that was lost because it protected the corrupt in its ranks and mortgaged its soul to the most visibly corrupt one of them all.

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