Up the creek without a paddle
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).