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The ANC “succession race” and rebuilding South African democracy

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The ANC “succession race” and rebuilding South African democracy

Photo by Ivor Markman
Professor Raymond Suttner

18th April 2017

By: Raymond Suttner

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There is something uninspiring in the activities of aspirant and unacknowledged candidates for the ANC succession. They give one little confidence in the idea that the ANC and the country are set for regeneration when Jacob Zuma is scheduled to vacate the ANC Presidency in December.

Insofar as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa are described as “frontrunners”, neither has advanced any political programme. This is in line with the broader depoliticisation of the ANC, where the debates that excited so many people in the past are no more.

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The country is in the throws of multiple crises, but no significant debate or contestation is evident in the ANC, including for the forthcoming policy conference.

Nowadays, as we know only too well, the ANC is about jobs and contracts and people are still being murdered for that in KwaZulu-Natal and sometimes in other parts of the country. Since a commission was appointed in October to enquire into the political murders during the local government elections of last year, a further 12 people have died. It is no longer simply councillors, but also people in other positions such as town manager who are killed. (http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/no-end-to-political-murders-in-kzn-20170415)

Now Dlamini-Zuma may be provisionally supported by the “Premier League” - that is the premiers of North-West, Free State and Mpumalanga - as well as the majority of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, although that province is now deeply divided. (http://www.iol.co.za/sunday-tribune/news/factions-are-tearing-apart-the-anc-in-kzn-8559896)

That support base links her firmly with the most venal section of the ANC, those most determined to perpetuate the patronage, corruption (and related violence) that have characterised the rule of Jacob Zuma. That legacy affects the ANC in general, where branches and support for candidates are now bought in many parts of the country.

That she is in no way uncomfortable with the conspicuous consumption that goes with this version of the ANC is demonstrated by her swift entry into the world of luxury through a vague and disputed report of a threat analysis leading to her being accompanied by a blue light brigade, normally reserved for a head of state or someone holding her previous position as chair of the African Union Commission. 

This conveys a sense of entitlement, that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma sees herself as a president-in-waiting, but that she need not wait until 2019 to access the benefits associated with the presidency. That she is now reported to be living most of the time in Nkandla also symbolises continuity with what has gone before.

Dlamini-Zuma has decided to re-enter the public realm with a series of speeches.

I have not seen her for some time, but some of these interventions reminded me of when I was with her in the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) in the 1990s. I remember her then, and also as Foreign Minister, as being articulate and clear. I remember being impressed with her reading to familiarise herself with the Great Lakes region when she was appointed Foreign Minister. She had some professionalism, wanting to know the areas in which she was tasked to act.

But there was an intimidatory side that would periodically emerge. I remember experiencing that during an NEC meeting in the 1990s, when I made some suggestion about accountability for funds, not directed at her, but more generally, on the need to be aware of the danger and monitor the question.

She upbraided me, as I recall, outside the meeting, albeit with others present, for suggesting that such dishonesty could arise. In other words, the honesty of officials, their possibly succumbing to temptation could not even be raised and anyone who did that, mentioned what was beyond debate. I return to these memories because they bear on some of her actions in her public re-emergence.

We saw that intolerance in her reaction to the suggestion that ANC MPs could be intimidated into voting in a motion of no-confidence and needed a secret ballot. The mere suggestion, she said in a tone of anger, was an insult. In other words, some things ought not even to be raised.

“I would find that as an insult because as a public representative you are there to represent the electorate and you are there as an ANC MP to represent the ANC. Why do you want to hide from the ANC what you are doing in parliament‚” she asked.
“There must be something wrong there and I’m glad that the ANC has not agreed to that because even if you want to vote whichever way‚ you must do it with integrity and honesty and be able to defend your position.
“Why do you want to do things and hide and not be known. It’s strange.”
 http://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2017/04/07/Did-Dlamini-Zuma-dismiss-countrywide-anti-Zuma-marches-as-this-rubbish

She has also entered the debate over education, not in order to engage with the manifold problems in basic and university education, but to claim that these are hotbeds of anti-ANC sentiment.

She told party members that she was shocked‚ after speaking to the youth‚ at what pupils were being taught at some schools.

“They are actually taught against the ANC …. It’s not surprising that kids will think ANC is corrupt‚ ANC is useless … because this is what they are fed at school and I think that must also be transformed.”

She said some universities‚ such as Wits‚ refused to allow their students [to] call the country a “democracy”.  (http://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2017/04/13/Dlamini-Zuma-on-secret-ballots‚-opposition-politics-and-school-pupils-taught-to-hate-the-ANC)

Personally, while not being a specialist on school education, I am sure there are many issues to criticise, but does Dlamini-Zuma engage with any of the problems that concern the poor, such as the lack of basic needs in an educational environment, including safe toilets, clean water, electricity, and textbooks? Instead, she makes an unsubstantiated claim regarding Model-C schools having an anti-ANC sentiment. Even if there is an anti-ANC sentiment, is there no basis for the perception of corruption in the ANC? In simply dismissing this, in denying what is proven in very many cases, Dlamini-Zuma again signals continuity with Jacob Zuma’s approach to this question.

With regard to Wits, it is just plain nonsense to suggest that students are not allowed to call South Africa a democracy. I do not agree with the views of many of the lecturers, but no one would think of denying that South Africa operates under a democratic constitution. Insofar as they would question the quality of that democracy and the applicability of the word “democracy”, it would be part of debates over theories of democracy, whether one can be a “consolidated democracy” where a single party remains dominant over time. Others may question the electoral system or other issues. All of this is standard political science debate, whether or not one agrees with the views expressed. 

Students, in my experience (I taught in the Political Studies department at Wits a few years ago), have no instruction on what they should write, although in the power dynamics of education, many students do write in a way that they believe will please their lecturers. That is part of the power dynamics in educational institutions, where some believe they will do better if they mimic teachers, and some teachers may encourage this.

What astonishes me is that this is advanced as part of a serious discussion by a potential president. Is this the basis on which one may criticise how Model-C schools and universities perform? This is very unlike her earlier preparation for entry into international diplomacy. If that is how she will relate to controversies, it does not bode well for the democracy that Dlamini-Zuma says they deny exists.

Quite a number of people advance the candidacy of Cyril Ramaphosa in business, in the media and amongst ANC members who are disaffected with Jacob Zuma. There is some doubt that Ramaphosa has significant support in ANC structures outside of Gauteng and possibly one or two other provinces that are more divided than Gauteng. It is not evident that he has built support at a branch level. That all counts in terms of being elected at a conference. It also means entering a world where the ANC under Zuma has been transformed into one where members are “bought” in order to secure their votes, and where people join the ANC in order to secure lucrative employment or contracts.

It is said that Ramaphosa is not corrupt and I have no reason to believe that he is. He has his own sources of income and wealth and does not need to accumulate through corrupt means. 

It is said that he gets things done and that he will return the state to a regularised mode of operating and end the multiple forms of mismanagement and corruption that we now witness. Ramaphosa has been complicit in almost everything that he has seen Zuma do, mainly through silence. But if he is elected president, he is likely to restore legality and regularise government to a great extent. This will be a big job, but I do believe that he would engage with that. He has nothing to gain from maintaining the present parasitic mode of governance.

The first problem with the candidacy of Ramaphosa, assuming he is a candidate, is that his performance as Deputy President cannot fill people with confidence. He has spent these years relatively passively, often defending Zuma or in silence while Nkandla, social grants, State of Capture and other scandals have occurred. 

He recently joined ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize in criticising the cabinet reshuffle. He had previously expressed confidence in Pravin Gordhan as finance minister while he was facing charges and threats of further charges.

But after being reprimanded by the ANC National Working Committee (NWC) over his criticism of the reshuffle, Mantashe assured the public that this would not happen again. Ramaphosa has not responded to the criticism and “self criticism” by Mantashe to the effect that these matters ought to be discussed within the ANC only.

All the time there are people who are looking for signs that Ramaphosa is a candidate and to see him representing something different from Zuma, as in his recent differing response to marches calling for Zuma’s resignation. 

But what represents an alternative to Zuma goes deeper than the Nkandla scandal and corruption. Assuming Zuma leaves office in 2019 and that it is expected that the ANC president will take his place, what will be put in place to remedy what has characterised the Zuma era?  My concern is that many of the calls for removal have been unclear on what are the main features of the Zuma era, for they are not simply corruption. Zuma has done things to the ANC and government that affect the moral standing of the organisation and of state institutions. Their connection with the most marginalised and poorest communities and their representation of the values of the constitution that are aimed at remedying the continuing legacies of apartheid, have been undermined. This rupturing of the link with the ANC’s traditional constituency will take time to rebuild, if indeed it is possible to achieve that.

My belief is that if Ramaphosa is officially a candidate for president of the ANC and ultimately the country, he should commit himself to set in motion a broad debate. It may be that Zuma is forced to resign and that Ramaphosa enters as a caretaker or acting president till Zuma’s term ends. In either case, Ramaphosa should indicate very clearly that he does not accept what he has inherited and that he will initiate debates within and outside the ANC to remedy the breach of trust between the ANC, government and the broader population.

I suggest a series of consultations and discussions because one needs to hear the problems from the mouths of those who are experiencing the wrongdoing of this period. There needs to be humility. It may well be that Ramaphosa falls by the wayside. But if he is to represent an alternative, he needs to signify that he will act with this humility and that what ideas he has are subject to discussion and scrutiny with the broader South African public and within the ANC.

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. Currently he is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA.  He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities.  His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison will be reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” and will be published by Jacana Media in mid-2017. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner

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