Invisible enemies abound

TRAVELLING to Africa for a three-country tour this week, Pope Francis was asked if he was concerned about security risks.

“I’m more afraid of the mosquitoes,” the pope quipped in response.

There was, of course, a massive security operation put in place to ensure the pope’s safety during his visits to Kenya, Uganda and particularly the Central African Republic where conflict is raging.

As Islamic extremist groups continue to cause death and mayhem in several countries, the world’s most prominent and vocal Christian leader is an obvious target.

Even in the face of threats against him, Francis refused to change his plans to visit the African nations where he wanted to take his message of peace and reconciliation. In a world now so defined by fear and violence, it was a refreshing approach from the pope to play down threats and trust that the best in human nature would prevail.

It is a stark difference from the paranoia that defines our own politics.

In South Africa, politicians seem to be scared of their own shadows. You see this by their massive security contingents, menacing convoys, heavily protected homes as well as in the language they speak.

Paranoia and conspiracy theories were quite evident this week during Cosatu’s 12th national congress in Midrand.

President Jacob Zuma urged Cosatu to unite to fight “enemies” plotting against the ANC and its alliance partners.

“Those who oppose us gang together,” Zuma said. “That is why we need to unite to fight the onslaught.”

It is quite ironic that the president issued warnings about invisible enemies when the ANC has been besieged by internal factional battles for years that, among other things, have caused breakaways from the party.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told the congress that people with a sinister agenda are fuelling the federation’s problems. He named the United States government as among those plotting to influence Cosatu against the ANC and South African Communist Party.

This is not the first time Dlamini has lashed out at “imperialist forces” for funding a dirty tricks campaign in Cosatu. When you consider how Cosatu’s leadership has been caught up in power struggles, causing instability and fragmentation of the federation, it is difficult to see how anyone else, even the U.S. with all its resources, could engineer that.

Cosatu purged its biggest affiliate, metalworkers union Numsa, and its former general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, because of this infighting and is now trying to pin this on a world power’s grand agenda.

The SACP is also claiming to be under attack by sinister forces. But when you read between the lines, it is clear that the enmity is with another faction within the alliance. The SACP in KwaZulu-Natal recently claimed that state resources are being used to spy on its leadership. It said the surveillance is “reminiscent of the apartheid regime”.

But the state and its intelligence resources are controlled by the ANC, the SACP’s alliance partner. This could only mean the SACP believes its comrades are using apartheid-era tactics against it.

It is not clear why the SACP has not raised its concerns about the abuse of state resources with Zuma, under whose charge the alleged acts are taking place.

The provincial arm of the SACP also claimed the party’s general secretary Blade Nzimande is under attack in a “well-orchestrated and co-ordinated” campaign and that “a coterie of leaders” want to align the ANC with the ideals of capitalism.

There have been many such conspiracy theories featuring in the ANC’s leadership struggles in recent years. From what Zuma himself said at Cosatu this week, it is clear that he too sees shadowy figures plotting against the ANC and its allies.

One has to wonder what South Africa’s politicians would do if ever they faced real threats, the kind other world leaders have to contend with. They need a reality check and to stop looking for demons where there aren’t any.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

It is not clear why the SACP has not raised its concerns about the abuse of state resources with Zuma, under whose charge the alleged acts are taking place.

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