Up the creek with­out a pad­dle

Mondli Makhanya

CityPress - - Voices -

Re­mem­ber the slo­gan “ANC Lives, ANC Leads”? It was dis­played boldly on T-shirts, caps and posters dur­ing the de­fi­ance campaign of 1989. In what was seen as the fi­nal push to dis­lodge the apartheid gov­ern­ment, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple thronged the streets of cities and dorps, chant­ing and singing rev­o­lu­tion­ary songs. When the Rivo­nia Tri­al­ists were re­leased in Oc­to­ber of that year, cel­e­bra­tory ral­lies were flooded with “ANC Lives, ANC Leads” para­pher­na­lia. By the time the ANC was un­banned and Nel­son Man­dela re­leased, the slo­gan was ubiq­ui­tous. It was to be that way through­out the early 1990s as the ANC pre­pared to lead the coun­try to­wards the des­ti­na­tion of free­dom and democ­racy. Watch­ing the an­tics of ANC lead­ers in a week in which the gov­ern­ing party was on the warpath, the big ques­tion was: If the ANC still leads, where is it lead­ing us to?

I awoke on Mon­day morn­ing to the ag­i­tated voice of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga, who had called into Power FM to cas­ti­gate Public Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela.

“Thuli must calm down ... Thuli must re­lax,” screamed Mot­shekga. As if jeal­ous that his wife had pipped him to the post, her less ar­tic­u­late hus­band, Mathole, fol­lowed suit 30 min­utes later and mum­bled some­thing I can’t quite re­mem­ber.

The rest of the day was dom­i­nated by re­lent­less gun­fire in the form of an­gry ut­ter­ances and of­fi­cial state­ments from the ANC. This lasted through­out the week as its lead­ers ral­lied to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s de­fence. Madon­sela was ac­cused of be­ing “pop­ulist”, “dis­dain­ful”, “dis­parag­ing”, and “con­de­scend­ing” to­wards Par­lia­ment and the ex­ec­u­tive. She also “crossed bound­aries she is not sup­posed to cross”, was “play­ing to the public gallery”, had made Zuma her “per­sonal project” and had brought her neu­tral­ity into ques­tion.

There were some loony as­ser­tions which made this lowly news­pa­per­man won­der what prod­ucts get dis­pensed at the vend­ing ma­chine in Luthuli House. ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, even hinted that Madon­sela had a con­spir­a­to­rial hand in the rowdy dis­rup­tion of a par­lia­men­tary sit­ting by the Economic Free­dom Fighters (EFF) last week.

“A leak at the same time when the EFF un­der­mines the peo­ple of South Africa is too much of a co­in­ci­dence,” Duarte told jour­nal­ists.

Man­tashe was more pointed. “Even more cu­ri­ous is that some MPs claim to have seen the Public Pro­tec­tor in the par­lia­men­tary precinct on the same day. With­out ac­cus­ing any­body, the tight co­or­di­na­tion of this of­fen­sive is in­ter­est­ing.”

Madon­sela and Julius Malema in the same bed? I know it’s dif­fi­cult to pic­ture, but the bearded one re­ally has a fer­tile imag­i­na­tion to see that hap­pen.

More omi­nous was the se­cu­rity clus­ter’s an­nounce­ment that it was putting to­gether a “con­tin­gency plan” to pre­vent future dis­rup­tions of Par­lia­ment. The se­cu­rity min­is­ters were cagy about the “ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures” they would put in place to en­sure that “the au­thor­ity of the state” and “the au­thor­ity of the Par­lia­ment” would never again be un­der­mined.

What we were be­ing told by the se­cu­rity clus­ter min­is­ters – who have been Zuma’s first line and last line of de­fence in the myr­iad scan­dals he has been em­broiled in – was that the na­tion’s se­cu­rity forces were go­ing to clamp down on mem­bers of Par­lia­ment. This con­sti­tutes an egre­gious un­der­min­ing of Par­lia­ment by the ex­ec­u­tive, a greater threat to democ­racy than 25 rowdy guys. Even those who were dis­gusted by the EFF’s behaviour, should be wor­ried about this pos­si­bil­ity.

An­other wor­ry­ing devel­op­ment was the de­ci­sion, taken some­where in the struc­tures of the gov­ern­ing party, to bus sup­port­ers to Par­lia­ment to “de­fend” ANC lead­ers from dis­re­spect by op­po­si­tion MPs. Ex­pos­ing mem­bers of the public to the work­ings of Par­lia­ment is a com­mend­able thing and should be en­cour­aged, but this week’s ac­tion was pure in­tim­i­da­tion.

Be­fore re­sort­ing to “ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures” and launch­ing a full-frontal as­sault on in­sti­tu­tions, the ANC might find it use­ful to pose some ques­tions to it­self.

How did South Africa get here in the first place? Why does the party find it­self per­ma­nently on the de­fen­sive, having to wheel out its top lead­ers to fight fires in­stead of fo­cus­ing en­er­gies on its po­lit­i­cal pro­gramme? Could it be that the real “en­e­mies of the revo­lu­tion” are the pres­i­dent’s weak­nesses and pro­cliv­i­ties? How long can this de­fen­sive pos­ture be sus­tained?

In ask­ing th­ese ques­tions, it will be worth not­ing a com­ment by Le­sotho Prime Min­is­ter Tom Tha­bane in an in­ter­view with In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers this week. Jus­ti­fy­ing his de­ci­sion to is­sue diplo­matic pass­ports to the no­to­ri­ous Gupta fam­ily, Tha­bane said: “Th­ese peo­ple are good friends of the ANC and we have good re­la­tions with the ANC. I was in­tro­duced to them by the ANC pres­i­dent and other ANC of­fi­cials.”

This speaks vol­umes about the pres­i­dent’s ser­vant-mas­ter re­la­tion­ship with the Gup­tas.

Back to the ques­tion of where we are be­ing led to. The ANC is best placed to an­swer this ques­tion, but there is a word in the mother tongue that aptly de­scribes our di­rec­tion: Siyanhlanhlatha (We are wan­der­ing aim­lessly in the wilder­ness).

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