JUDITH FEBRUARY: How uneasily the crown rests for the ANC
“[Petraeus] hooked his thumbs into his flak vest and adjusted the weight on his shoulders. ‘Tell me how this ends'," he says. These are the now famous words spoken to journalist Rick Atkinson by US General David Petraeus in 2003 when commanding the 101st Airborne division during the US invasion of Iraq.
That may well be the question on all our lips as the ANC stumbles and bumbles its way to the May elections. The ANC seems to be firmly in ‘own goal’ territory. On the weekend, large and damaging extracts from Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster state: unravelling Ace Magashule’s web of capture were published. If one thought Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keeper was shocking and spine chilling, Myburgh’s book is in a similar league.
A statement in support of Magashule was issued by the ANC, but bizarrely by Wednesday midday it was withdrawn. The initial statement seemed to be a statement by Magashule clearing himself of any wrongdoing. How convenient.
So from now onwards, upon reading an ANC statement, we ought to ask ourselves which faction of the ANC might have issued the statement? Certainly the ANC speaks with the proverbial forked tongue. The initial ANC statement came amidst allegations that Magashule had manipulated the ANC’s electoral lists to include many who face allegations of corruption themselves. That list is now with the ANC’s integrity committee, but let us not expect much from this toothless part of the organisation. So Magashule has now been put firmly, if temporarily, back in his box which indicates too how fluid and unpredictable the balance of power within the ruling party really is.
The allegations against Magashule also come while the Zondo Commission continues to provide a ‘drip drip’ background to our daily lives - as distressing as a dripping tap.
Then, to top the madness, along came ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte’s media conference outburst. It has been clear for a pretty long time that Duarte has aligned herself with Magashule and the Zumarite faction of the ANC. Tuesday’s rant against eNCA journalist Samkele Maseko was a new low even by Duarte’s standards.
It was all the more embarrassing given that Duarte worked so closely with Madiba in the first post-apartheid government in 1994. He must have been turning in his grave listening to her calling Maseko, ‘the lord of the media’. It was an egregious attack on a journalist doing his job. During this outburst, Duarte asked the SABC to turn off its camera. One wonders why? It can only be that Duarte realised her conduct was beyond the bounds of the acceptable and that she did not want it to be broadcast? The SABC, however, refused to play ball and carried on filming. Kudos should go to them for showing Duarte no deference.
She seems to have entirely lost her moorings and her understanding of constitutional democracy. We live in one and that means politicians do not tell journalists which questions to ask or what to print or broadcast. It also means that Duarte needs to answer questions at a press conference she calls - even if she does not like them. This is not Russia, Turkey or North Korea, after all.
Sadly however this disgraceful conduct by Duarte is commonplace as many journalists have attested to since the Maseko incident. In one clip circulating on social media, Duarte goes on a tirade and tells a journalist to ‘go to hell’ (sic) when asked about a corruption allegation regarding her son.
To sink as low as Duarte did this past week indicates how uneasily the crown rests for the ANC - a diminished, insecure, corrupt version of its former self.
The party continues to stumble along as President Ramaphosa doubtless watches his back. Magashule and others will have no qualms about turning the knife even to the detriment of the country. ‘Number One’ Jacob Zuma did so for nine years, after all. All these thoroughly unpleasant characters have much to lose if Ramaphosa continues to cut off their patronage networks as he has started to do. They wish the reform project to fail, of that we can be certain. Thus far Ramaphosa has been playing a careful, methodical game, yet we can be sure he is being undermined at every turn by the rogue elements within his party.
It is trite to say but worth remembering that for Ramaphosa much rides on the results of the May election. However, even if the ANC manages to break the 60% margin - because the jury is out as to how much influence incidents like the Duarte outburst and allegations against Magashule will really influence the rank and file voter - Ramaphosa will have his work cut out trying to deal with the deep dysfunction within the ANC. It is arguable whether the ANC can fix itself and as former President Kgalema Motlanthe said this past week, the ANC may need to lose an election in order to truly introspect.
As each discrediting day passes, its ability to introspect wanes. However, it is certain that the ANC will not lose the May election and we would do well not to underestimate the ANC’s election machinery and its appeal, even in its current state.
And so while it does seem as if Ramaphosa is being dealt a poor hand by some of his ANC colleagues (deliberately?) the ‘long game’ is still on and thus he needs the ANC to win the election convincingly.
But apart from the election, there will be plenty more forks in the road for Ramaphosa, not least of all the ANC’s midterm conference in June 2020 and its elective conference in 2022.
While 8 May is some kind of line in the sand, no-one quite knows how all this ends - like the Iraq war, it is bound to be messy, complex and drawn out.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy'. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february