The rise of the coalition of the wounded - again
IN 2005, then Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi likened the overwhelming support for Jacob Zuma at the Polokwane conference to a tsunami no one would be able to contain.
Vavi later apparently described the Zuma support base as a coalition of the “walking wounded” – people with axes to grind because they felt they were victims of former president Thabo Mbeki’s machinations, or perhaps because they felt they had been denied access to the patronage that inevitably trickles down from high office. (Gevisser 2009)
Five years later, on September 3, 2010, the Mail & Guardian ran a story, “Coalition of the wounded turns on Zuma”, ahead of the ANC National General Council on September 20 that year.
According to the article: “Several ANC sources linked to the youth league, the SACP, Cosatu and the government, and many party leaders who had their eye on government deployment or wanted to punish Zuma for not rewarding them sufficiently for their support in the run-up to the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, had come together in what could only be called a coalition of the wounded.” Those cited, including Vavi himself, were now turning their overwhelming support against Zuma.
According to the paper, there was also a second group of leaders calling themselves the “new frontier”, that questioned Zuma’s leadership. They were talking to one another and their constituencies about what they saw as the erosion of traditional ANC values.
An ANC insider close to them said that they were discussing a return to such values as a rejection of corruption and a clear division between party and state. It had taken slightly more than two years for Zuma to alienate some of his staunchest supporters, including the ANC Youth League, the article said.
Fast-forward seven years to April this year and the complaint of Zuma abandoning ANC values is a daily occurrence. Most vocal of late have been Makhosi Khoza, Derek Hanekom and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, with the “ANC 101 veterans”, Umkhonto we Sizwe military veterans’ council steering committee, SACP, and Cosatu, all lamenting Zuma’s abandonment of ANC value.
Former ANC secretary-general Cheryl Carolus slammed Zuma for behaving in an “anti-ANC way”. Adding his voice to this group recently was Popo Molefe, who found himself fighting corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and daily losing ground on the agency’s board.
The question is whether these are genuine voices of ANC comrades concerned about the erosion of the party’s values or are they people who are once again blaming Zuma for not rewarding them with protection and positions or that he has removed them from lucrative positions.
Gordhan, buoyed by what has widely been deemed as unfair and irrational dismissal, joined this growing anti-Zuma chorus and has since moved aggressively to call on Zuma to step aside.
In her latest reply to the KwaZuluNatal ANC, Khoza laments: “There was a time where ANC members were required to truly live the values and principles of our organisation… our current leadership is not putting the people first. Our current leadership does not live the values of our organisation yet they choose to selectively apply sections of our constitution to quell voices of discontent.’’ Khoza says she will vote against Zuma in the looming no confidence motion. There have been seven previous votes and Khoza has not been this vocal. On February 21, the Daily Maverick reported Khoza, an ANC MP on the finance committee, was moved to the committee on public service and administration after chairing the ad hoc committee that interviewed the public protector. It was said she had her eye on a ministry post and the shift signalled she would be snubbed.
Her new crusade seemed to coincide with this, although she would have been keen to serve in the same executive she now heavily criticises.
Then there is the SACP, whose general secretary Blade Nzimande says the blame for the alleged state capture should be placed squarely at the door of Zuma and his son Duduzane. Awkwardly for Nzimande, it seems he’s playing a psychological game, one which says: “To continue to keep quiet will make people think I am under patronage.” This make his call one of political gamesmanship.
Then there is Cosatu, which has also added its voice to growing calls for the president to step down, saying it no longer believes in his leadership abilities as head of state.
Cosatu’s anti-Zuma campaign started with Vavi and his cohorts who were also rumoured to be bitter about not being deployed to the government. The relationship has never been the same. Today, as they did then, they justify their calls for Zuma to step aside by saying he has abandoned democratic constitutionality and transparency.
ANC structures so far have not shown an enthusiasm for the narrative that Zuma or the national executive committee (NEC) has lost its way. The NEC has warned many of its members to back off and gone further to take disciplinary action. Interestingly, looking back at the Nelson Mandela years, you will find groups accusing him of abandoning ANC values. One analyst said there were many ways in which he was wonderful and a unifier, but had the same weaknesses of other ANC leaders, “and that weakness has deepened. It is party first”.
Mbeki abandoned ANC values, as has Zuma, and even Mandela. This begs the most important question: Why is the ANC always abandoning its values to those who find themselves outside the government, outside SOEs, or simply outside the ANC?
Even Mandela was accused of abandoning party values
Yonela Diko is a media consultant and strategist