Window of opportunity to change our course
JUDGE Jerome Mnguni’s ruling that the KwaZulu-Natal ANC’s 2015 elective conference is null and void is a major event in the politics of this province, and the country as a whole.
It raises serious questions about the legitimacy and ethics of the current leadership and is potentially a huge set back for the presidential ambitions of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. However, there are also serious risks of further violence and authoritarianism. Within minutes of the judgment, grass roots activists were warning it could result in more violence.
It is vital that wisdom prevails and that there are calm heads all around as we navigate a way forward. Any attempt to ignore the judgment must be resisted by all role players, including faith-based communities, civil society and trade unions. As with the court judgment regarding the recent election in Kenya, the KZN judgment is potentially a watershed moment.
In both Kenya and in KZN our immediate future will be determined by the responses to the judgments. Any attempt to ignore the court, or to undermine it, will set both societies on a clear path to an entrenched authoritarian system. And once a society has gone down that route, it is, as the dictatorship to the north of us shows, difficult to get out of it.
If these judgments can be an opportunity for democratic renewal, it will be possible to set a new course.
The urgent task that confronts us now is twofold:
First, we must be vigilant against any attempts to respond to the judgment with illegality, threats or violence. Our second urgent task is to begin to use this moment to achieve genuine democratic renewal.
If this moment is lost it may well not return. It is vital that the broadest possible consensus be built around these two urgent tasks.
At the end of apartheid, South Africans came together, with a clear sense that it was necessary to negotiate a new future. Against all odds, a massive breakthrough was achieved. There is no reason why we can’t do this again. It is simply a matter of shared political will and commitment.
If we are not able to use this opportunity for democratic renewal our future will be characterised by massive looting, a steady degradation of our democracy and, more than likely, an escalation of what is already a crisis situation with regard to political assassinations.
The frog in boiling water cliché is useful to make the point because if the frog doesn’t sense the steady escalation of temperature, it will die before it realises it’s in serious danger. The steady degradation of our democracy has often been described in these terms.
Under such conditions, a sudden shock, a crisis of some sort, can be a welcome development if it makes the nature of a slow collapse into crisis very clear.
The Marikana Massacre and the firing of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan were two moments that woke many South Africans up to the escalating crisis of life under President Jacob Zuma.
The KZN ANC will play an outsize role in determining the future leader of the party, and therefore, the country. If the internal democracy in the ANC in this province is corrupt, and if this corruption is not challenged, there is a real risk that the same virus will affect the party’s national politics. However, if we can hold the line on democratic practices in the ANC in KZN, the risk of a national degeneration will be much reduced.
There is a sense in which it is now an exaggeration to say that, in the short term, the future of South Africa will be decided in KZN, and specifically with reference to how this judgment is dealt with.
It is, perhaps, a pity that the two factions in the ANC in this province are so clearly divided by their position on Jacob Zuma. One faction, a faction that embraces the politics of looting, supports Zuma to the hilt and would like to see him replaced with Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
The other faction, which has come to have serious concerns about the staggering scale of the looting, wants Zuma out and Cyril Ramaphosa in.
The divisions between the two groups are bitter.
In this situation, many will be tempted to take a position on Judge Mnguni’s finding on the basis of whether or not they are pro or anti-Zuma.
This temptation must be avoided at all costs. The recourse to political expediency in 2008 and 2009 did serious damage to our democracy. We cannot go down that road again.
This is a time for a principled position in support of democracy. All democrats, irrespective of their position on the ANC’s factional politics, must take a clear position in support of the rule of law and democracy within the ruling party and in the country.