We are in a very confusing moment of post apartheid politics. At one level much of the support base around President Jacob Zuma is under attack or eroding and Zuma himself may well find himself facing one of a series of charges in the courts –those being the long delayed 783 fraud and racketeering charges, as opposed to new ones that could well also arise in relation to state capture and other questions. He may also face impeachment proceedings in parliament.
ANC Political crisis
At the same time the ANC is in disarray. The mainstay of Zuma’s support and that of aspirant presidential candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is seen as a “stand in” for and protector of Jacob Zuma after he leaves office, has been the KZN province of the ANC. When the membership and branches of the KZN ANC ballooned into being the biggest province in the ANC it raised questions about the way in which that membership had been constituted and some has been found irregular.
At the same time the peace process between the IFP and the ANC resulted not only in “peace” but also importing of IFP warlords into the ANC, which already had its own warlords. This has fed into the depoliticised nature of the ANC in general and in KZN in particular. Battles in the last decade or more have always been over positions and these have now turned very bloody especially in KZN before and after last year’s local government elections and continue to this day.
So eager were the supporters of Zuma to remove the incumbent ANC leader of the province, Senzo Mchunu, that they engaged in gross irregularities that have now been found to render the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) an illegally constituted structure and presumably all their decisions are null and void. If a court application were to be brought to clarify their current status or through an intervention of the NEC they could be removed from office. They would then be without any status in the process of regularisation that will need to be embarked on prior to any conference.
This legal decision has come to be seen in the context of the contest for the ANC presidency with Dlamini-Zuma supported by the disbanded structure and her main presidential opponent, Cyril Ramaphosa supported by those who litigated and the previous chair of the province Mchunu. Mchunu could possibly be held by the court to be the rightful person to oversee any regularisation of processes leading up to the national conference, in the light of the elective conference being held prematurely.
The problem, however, is, that it is now less than three months before the scheduled December ANC conference and it seems very unlikely that the KZN province would be able to regularise all its delegates and structures in time for that date. It is not only the PEC that comes into question but other structures, like that of the eThekwini region, whose election was overseen by the now, found to be illegally constituted PEC
Although not on the same scale of litigation and murder, similar problems are being encountered in other provinces. This is because the battle for positions, which merges with the battle to elect one person rather than another in order to secure the future of some rather than others- is a universal concern within the ANC that exists today.
The ANC is no longer an organisation, which infuses people with hope for their future (except in monetary terms) or that of the country as a whole. It is no longer an organisation identified with notions of freedom as evidenced by its having pioneered or played a crucial role in key statements of political, social and economic rights like the Bill of Rights of 1923, African Claims of 1946, the Women’s Charter of 1954 and the Freedom Charter of 1955, all of these paving the way for our current rights-bearing constitution.
The ANC is now decadent and decay goes with decline and disappearance from the face of the political earth. Who knows whether or not the ANC can recover? The ANC may still be around for a long time, but it will be a very different organisation from that which inspired so many to give their lives on the basis of what it was understood to be. That is not to say that all members or leaders of the ANC are villains. There are many people at all levels who have tried to play their part in the organisation with integrity.
Many of us may have romanticised the ANC and been unaware of or in the case of some people, colluded in concealing some features of the organisation that ran against the widely held view that the ANC represented the future, represented freedom, was the party of the poor and the marginalised. That is what we believed and why many of us used to carefully study every word of the annual January 8 anniversary statements for guidance over what we should do. At the same time, in a hostile environment many of us were reluctant to believe reports of abuse that did in fact occur, because these were mainly spread by sources that were antagonistic to the ANC and the struggle more generally.
In the meantime while some long for the ANC that was (or never was, but was thought to be something entirely pure), the ANC may not be able to hold its long awaited December conference in December. This will be devastating for the ANC but it is also a blow to the many commentators and business people who have seen this conference as signifying a decisive moment where the organisation may remedy the various flaws that it now manifests with disastrous consequences for the country. These are unrealistic expectations but nevertheless widely held and perpetuated by the many commentators who devote much space to one or other move by various prospective ANC presidential candidates.
State capture under pressure
The crisis of the ANC comes at the same time as those engaged in state capture have been widely exposed and seen the closing of banking facilities for the Guptas, the downfall of Bell Pottinger and the potential crash of KPMG. All of this is part of a push back to remedy some of the damage done to key state institutions like SARS and a range of state departments and state owned enterprises.
Where to from here? Who are the agents for change?
Much commentary gives the impression that we are simply waiting, watching the moves of Zuma and various other players, who will decide our future, who will do one or other predictable or unpredictable thing. Jacob Zuma is so wily we are told that he may still avoid trial. That may be true, but are we simply observers? John Berger repeatedly speaks of “waiting” for something being characteristic of being a prisoner. But we are not prisoners and we need to work out how we- as citizens- use our agency and take action, wherever we are located, to remedy what Zuma and others have visited on our country and our freedom.
If Zuma and some of the other rogues are experiencing setbacks who are the agents for change? Who do we rely on and where do we devote our efforts or give our support in order to ensure that at the end of this mess we see malgovernance turning into a flourishing of democracy and an emancipatory process instead of a variant of what we now have?
In the last year or more there have been repeated demonstrations of popular anger and protests. Some of these have been aimed at re-directing the ANC towards its supposed “true” path; others have mainly focused on a return to legality an end to corruption and clean government, without necessarily being linked to any political party.
Politics of broad unity and popular demands
We need to grasp at least two elements of the present and the future, distinct elements within what may become a broad unity to rebuild our democracy. One of the reasons why our democratic institutions have failed is that they have not been sufficiently close to the citizens of the country, and especially the poor who have been hardest hit by the looting. There is a need to resurrect popular politics. It is an illusion to suggest that the sporadic protests and the organisations that have emerged amount to a revival of the UDF. The UDF was a national movement with structures throughout the country representing a range of sectors. I do not deny the significance of what has been created but it is important not to overstate what has been achieved.
There is precious little direct presence of popular organisation in all the organised formations that have made their presence felt. There are NGOs but NGOs are institutions without membership and cannot substitute for social movements. Nowadays there are not many social movements. That is not a fact of life and many people and communities lack the resources to sustain such social movements. NGOs and foundations need to do more to help build grassroots organisations and devote resources towards building and sustaining their capacity. That is part of the broad task- falling on a range of actors- in resurrecting the popular.
But the anger of the present is felt not just by the poor but also by all sections of South African society including the wealthy. That there is this shared grievance represents a powerful force whose unity needs to be built and not squandered by sectarianism.
There is thus more than one task for the future. The initial one is to defeat the attacks on legality, corruption, and state capture and violence of the present. In this there is a commonality, shared by the rich and the poor. A unifying vision needs to be developed in order to hold these disparate forces together as an organised force behind the values they share, which may be simple constitutionalism and clean government.
Some sections of the left are sceptical about defending regularity in government and constitutionalism, depicting these as barriers to radical transformation. But without legality there will be nothing left to transform or no resources with which to remedy inequalities. The rule of law helps defend what belongs to the country and its people. Defending legality is a condition for redistributive policies, whose character still need to be decided, through debate and struggles of various types.
The future democracy we need to build must safeguard constitutional institutions and accountability of people in these institutions.
At the same time being a disparate collection of forces one cannot impose on such a broad unity of peoples and sectors a common vision on how to address inequality, transformation and redress. That will be won by debate and struggle. The land clauses of the constitution, it has been repeatedly emphasised by leading jurists like former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, has not been used to the fullest extent to remedy landlessness and achieve transformation. This is not because the constitution is flawed but because there is a lack of political will. That will must be created through the actions of popular organisations, some of which exist and some of which need to be created to advance these demands. That applies not only to land but also to gender and sexualities, economic opportunities in a range of spheres, health care, education, cultural issues and many other areas.
The courts will need to play a role. But what we have seen in recent times is vital judicial interventions that have become necessary partly because of the abuse of institutional structures. That abuse can be combatted in more than one way, not only by expensive recourse to litigation. That is a place that needs also to be occupied by civic and other popular organisation in a range of locations.
Trust, respect and agency
Current political leadership and many of those who have recently jumped ship from Zumaism have forfeited the trust that people vested in them (though not all, for many are people with great integrity). They are no longer respected and many have also lost their self-respect in the various actions they engaged in to justify or condone Zuma’s rape trial, the violence of this period, Nkandla diversion of resources from the poor to benefit the president, the social grants scandal, the destruction of the integrity of NPA, the Hawks, SARS and other key institutions. In the case of SARS, of course sections of the private sector like KPMG also bear considerable blame.
We have to recognise that people make mistakes and they may take time to recognise these or believe that they can change what is happening in a range of ways. But before we entrust leadership to some who sponsored the rise of Zumaism, we need to understand that what they now “regret” is not simply an intellectual issue, a misreading of Zuma’s personal and political character. That is a side issue that hardly matters in the broader scheme of things and programmes in which the leadership of the entire alliance colluded and made happen. Much of this that was enabled by others under Zuma will be with us for a long time ahead.
The rebuilding of our institutions and broader focus of democratic manifestations will take time, listening and learning from one another. There is no quick fix. We need to build solid foundations to avert a similar calamity.
This column first appeared in Creamer Media's polity.org.za.
Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. 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 has recently been reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” by Jacana Media. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner