ANC may yet cajole destructive elements into the fold
When the ANC came to office in 1994, wise people warned that our new democracy would have passed its first test only once power had peacefully changed hands. But the ANC was so ascendant, its decline so far off, that the idea of this moment remained hazy and abstract.
Is the long-awaited test finally upon us now in the closing months of 2017? Part of the strangeness of the situation is that we don’t know. Matters are so uncertain that nobody at all — not Jacob Zuma, not Cyril Ramaphosa and certainly not Mosebenzi Zwane, who claims that everything is wrapped up — can predict what sort of state SA will be in come January.
True, those who warned of democracy’s first test were not imagining the situation we’re in now. The ANC is in office with a healthy majority and no election is scheduled for another two years.
But factions of politicians, bureaucrats and businesspeople have hijacked the state with criminal intent and the ANC’s elective conference in December may very well test their willingness to give it up. What are the options? One is that they’ll win the elective conference, install their new leader, keep looting the state and brace themselves to face the people in 2019. Another is that they will defame, cheat and murder their opponents to ensure that the conference doesn’t take place. A third is that they will lose, fair and square, and that under a fresh leadership both party and country will purge and renew.
Any of these scenarios is possible and all will show signs of life in the coming weeks, rendering the situation increasingly opaque.
But there is a fourth possibility. For all that has happened to the ANC since it came to power, the manner in which it took control of the 1994 settlement remains in its DNA. And what it did back then was identify those with the destructive power to upend the settlement, and, one by one, cajole each of them into the fold.
First was the apartheid security apparatus, whose leaders were convinced to join the settlement by the promise of amnesty and a guarantee against reprisals. Then there was the civil service; the ANC pledged that no apartheid state employee would be dismissed during the first five years of democracy. The chiefs were promised that a place would be carved out for them in the administrative apparatus of the new order. And there was the far right, which was cajoled into endless negotiations on a future volkstaat. Finally, at the last moment, the belligerent Mangosuthu Buthelezi was seduced with the promise that his party would be seen to have won the provincial election in KwaZulu-Natal.
And so a settlement came together, bit by bit, shaped by the compromises made with those who had the power to destroy it. The whole business was packaged beautifully and offered to a willing electorate.
In a very different form, this is precisely what is happening again.
Those with the means to bring havoc to the land are being cajoled. Only this time, they are all inside the ANC. If it works, and the organisation’s warring parts find a modus vivendi, the whole business will be packaged as prettily as reality permits and presented to the electorate in 2019.
Will it work? It is impossible to say. But if it does, the consequences will be bittersweet.
South African democracy’s great test would have been averted for now. But at what cost? President Cyril Ramaphosa would be head of state only in name. He would be shackled to so much rot and filth he would barely be able to move.