Where do we go from here?

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the Gupta-owned New Age news­pa­per is use­ful for pro­tect­ing the be­hinds of ca­sual job­seek­ers from hard and dusty pave­ments as they sit wait­ing for the odd bakkie to come and pick them up for a day’s work. And the Gup­tas’ ANN7 news chan­nel is good for a laugh.

But th­ese two out­lets do have an­other valu­able use – they chan­nel the thoughts of the na­tion’s most no­to­ri­ous fam­ily. So if you want to know what in­struc­tions the Sax­on­wold She­been pro­pri­etors are bark­ing at their ser­vants – and what in­sults they are hurl­ing at the en­e­mies of their ser­vants – it is ad­vis­able to tune in to the truth ac­cord­ing to Ajay, Tony and Atul.

This week, the out­lets were telling us how the Gup­tas felt the camp of their num­ber one ser­vant should re­act to last week’s tabling of a no­con­fi­dence mo­tion in Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma.

Through­out the week, the heat was on the min­is­ters who ei­ther spear­headed or sup­ported the mo­tion. The New Age quoted sources say­ing those min­is­ters should prac­tice what they preach and re­sign be­cause they had “ar­gued on moral grounds that the pres­i­dent must step down”. Oth­ers were call­ing on Zuma to fire them be­cause “you can­not hu­mil­i­ate the pres­i­dent in this man­ner and not ex­pect to pay the price”.

“For a while now, th­ese min­is­ters have been ques­tion­ing his in­tegrity. How­ever, this is the first time they came out in the open as a bloc. The pres­i­dent can­not have peo­ple in his Cabi­net who can­not be trusted ... The pres­i­dent needs to get tough. Th­ese peo­ple are not in­dis­pens­able,” the ven­tril­o­quist news sheet said.

An­other source de­manded that “the pres­i­dent must act and he must act now”.

The pa­per even spec­u­lated that the Cabi­net meet­ing had been canned to al­low “the im­pli­cated min­is­ters time to con­sider their predica­ment”.

Which brings us to the mat­ter of what next af­ter the un­prece­dented events of this week. Were there win­ners? Were there losers? Was it a draw? Is South Africa in a stale­mate?

Zuma is no doubt heav­ing a sigh of re­lief that his troops re­cov­ered quickly from the am­bush and mounted a spir­ited defence of him. Zuma will have been pleased that he was able to take to the podium along­side the heroic Raúl Cas­tro, leader of a heroic so­cial­ist party, while still bear­ing the ti­tle of leader of a heroic African lib­er­a­tion move­ment.

But Zuma would have been a wor­ried man – both about the ef­fec­tive­ness of the am­bush and about the na­ture of the “vic­tory”. The am­bush meant that Zuma, the quin­tes­sen­tial se­curo­crat, had been failed by his net­works in the state and in the omi­nous ANC se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus. The marathon defence at the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC) hinged on two re­lated things: that there should not be a vote on a mo­tion of no-con­fi­dence and, fail­ing that, the vot­ing should not be by se­cret bal­lot.

When Zuma has been un­der siege pre­vi­ously, he has re­lied on an All Blacks level of brutish­ness to fight off his chal­lengers in­side and out­side the ANC. Any pos­si­ble re­bel­lion would be crushed through some shrewd chair­ing by Na­tional Assem­bly Speaker Baleka Mbete, who would tilt the bal­ance in favour of the de­fend­ers. They would come run­ning at the op­po­si­tion at light­ning speed and crush them be­fore the dis­cus­sion took on any se­ri­ous shape. They would then slink away.

This time, there was no such thing. The pro­posers of the mo­tion knew that there would be enough steam to with­stand a stam­ped­ing at­tack from the other side. A lot of this had to do with the mood in the ANC and in the pub­lic.

Rather than bol­ster Zuma, the NEC’s ral­ly­ing around him af­ter the Con­sti­tu­tional Court’s damn­ing judg­ment ear­lier this year served to dis­credit it and to alien­ate South Africans. Die-hard ANC sup­port­ers and mem­bers were so of­fended by their party’s be­hav­iour that they de­cided to pun­ish it in the Au­gust elec­tions.

The party lead­er­ship’s re­sponse to the elec­tion re­sults also did not help – it smacked of ar­ro­gance and hubris. The “col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity” story and the re­fusal to recog­nise the ele­phant (or is it a mam­moth?) in the room showed that the downslide was ir­re­versible. In­stead of see­ing the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s re­port on state cap­ture as a fur­ther wake-up call, the ANC saw fit to use it as yet an­other stick with which to beat Thuli Madon­sela. She was the devil and those she was im­pli­cat­ing were merely vic­tims.

The Zuma bri­gade fur­ther dug its grave by swat­ting away con­cerns by long-serv­ing party veter­ans, who re­mained loyal de­spite the rot. Th­ese veter­ans were rub­bished and told they did not mat­ter. Civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, led by peo­ple sym­pa­thetic to the ANC, were tagged as en­e­mies and told to shut up.

There is no turn­ing back the tide now. If Zuma chooses to vic­timise the min­is­ters, as he is be­ing urged to do, he will open an­other on­slaught from within the party. If he does noth­ing, it will em­bolden the silent crit­ics to join in the clam­our.

The next two months will be cru­cial in this bat­tle. The cel­e­bra­tory Jan­uary 8 an­niver­sary oc­ca­sion in hos­tile Gaut­eng will be closely watched by Zuma’s peo­ple to make sure it is not used to hu­mil­i­ate him. The NEC lek­gotla at the be­gin­ning of the year will be the next oc­ca­sion where the two sides will lock horns. By then, a lot of ground­work will have been done by loy­al­ists and crit­ics.

The bat­tle is joined.

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