A number of political bombs detonated over the last autumn weekend of 2017. President Jacob Zuma survived one of his most difficult NEC meetings when ANC heavyweight Joel Netshitenzhe questioned his leadership. Hours later, on Sunday morning, weekly newspapers dropped the second one. They revealed damning emails exposing the Guptas’ influence on government and their proximity to Zuma and friends. But what followed the explosive weekend was both insulting and worrying.
The president’s laughter on Monday morning was almost as big a middle finger to the electorate as his secretary general’s inability to call the spade digging the ANC’s grave, just that. The president addressed the inaugural Indigenous and Traditional Leadership Indaba in Boksburg, less than 24 hours after the NEC meeting wrapped up.
He shared a few laughs with the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen, who described Zuma as the “hero of the masses.” Despite the praises by a man – who knows a thing or two about surviving the weekend – for the president, there was no escaping the obvious. It was only 09:30, and a long day lay ahead.
By mid-afternoon, Gwede Mantashe at least acknowledged the issue. But, true to his form, he failed to address the matter with the urgency it required. To suggest opposition to the president – especially in parliament – is aligned with opposition parties’ nefarious plan to unseat the ANC government is nothing short of an insult to those who elected the governing party into power. He then goes further to remind ANC MPs that their actions should always be aligned to party sentiment, even if party interests are no longer aligned with supporters’ interests and despite MPs swearing to serve the public.
The afternoon is moving into its final stages and so far only Cosatu has reiterated its call for Zuma to step down. And then, just when it seemed political will died a painful death in Irene, along came the SACP.
The party’s general secretary Blade Nzimande, who has previously been hiding at universities as much of the crisis unfolded, pulled a massive anti-Zuma, anti-Gupta pistol from his hip and unleashed on all those who would have us believe that everything was in order at the ANC’s highest decision-making body.
He criticised senior leaders saying they are unable to lead themselves, much less a country. He also refused to remain silent on the crises unfolding in every sector the Guptas have had a hand in. “We’re being threatened because we’re supposed to keep quiet,” revealed Nzimande, insisting, “We’re not going to keep quiet.” He further told Cosatu’s central committee meeting of an open faction within the ANC doing as it pleases.
A lesson from you detractors Mr President: If you want to get the message across, be blunt; if you have nothing to hide, be honest.
Criticism of the president from within his own alliance carries weight in the public discourse. But he is nonetheless poised to serve out his term as party leader until December.
That’s because the only thing more concerning than corruption in the governing party, is its inability to address it. The current circumstances within the NEC, and the party as a whole, are evidence of a political stalemate. Progress – in any direction – seems a near impossible task.
Yes the NEC sent Mantashe with a list of decisions back to Luthuli House. What is concerning is that none of those give any indication that the party seriously intends to address the concerns, effectively threating the ANC’s political survival.
The party has tried to demonstrate leadership by swiftly dealing with smaller matters, such as Brian Molefe’s return to Eskom. But those are insignificant for the two major factions fighting for control over the ANC, and more importantly government. Control of the ANC would however mean little if it suddenly found itself in the opposition benches.
As much as the battle for the soul of South Africa’s liberation movement is between factions, it is also one against the clock. And as things currently stand, one can only wonder how long it will take one faction to convince the other that, for the ANC, winter has already set in?