ANC may yet ca­jole de­struc­tive el­e­ments into the fold

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - JONNY STEIN­BERG

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.

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