Crumbling ANC the real threat
Faced with the prospect of losing power, the governing party could easily resort to undemocratic actions, making Zuma’s removal less of a danger than its internal erosion, writes Dumisani Hlophe
THE ANC is at a crossroad. It’s battling to remain an agent of democratisation and transformation, on the one hand, and a normal political party battling for dominance within multiparty politics on the other.
At this crossroad, the ANC is dwindling towards being one of the political parties battling for a political space alongside other political parties. Its distinctive liberation character is fading.
It’s also increasingly losing that historical capital of being a movement of democratisation, and a force of transformation. Much of this has manifested itself in the last few months, but succinctly captured by the ANC parliamentary caucus position statement on the DA-sponsored motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma.
The essence of the position as presented to the public by the ANC’s chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, is that removing Zuma would lead to the collapse of the government.
This is the thrust of the argument used to deal with opposition parties calling for Zuma’s removal. In this regard, Mthembu captures the role of ANC parliamentarians as follows: “As activists, we will not be part of actions that will bring our country to a brink of collapse”. There are few critical issues to note here.
First, it presents Zuma as the personification of government. Hence, Mthembu says: “The removal of the president will have disastrous consequences that can only have negative impact on the people of South Africa.”
In a larger-than-life characterisation of Zuma, Mthembu deploys the following scare tactic phrases: “It will lead to collapse in government”, “plunge the country into uncertainty”, “negatively affect the poor and working classes”, and that removing Zuma “would be doing more harm to our country”.
There are two parallel dangers here: first, it dethrones the constitution as the basic law and guide that determines South Africa’s democratic dispensation. Second, it builds a personality cult around Zuma. Presenting Zuma as the one without whom this country cannot progress, is democratically retrogressive as it introduces the “big man” syndrome typical of many undemocratic societies, and dictatorships.
South Africa’s constitution determines the eventualities of a sitting president not finishing his term of office. It is not worth stating it here because as law makers, the ANC parliamentary caucus, and its chief whip, should be fully aware of this. But what Mthembu chose has been to undermine South Africa’s constitutionalism over party political survival.
The ANC, therefore, represented by its parliamentary caucus, has abdicated the promotion and enhancement of democratic constitutionalism at the altar of self-preservation.
In essence, it is not the government that would collapse if Zuma were removed. Rather, it would be the ANC that would suffer irreparable damage. Political executives in government, such as the president and the ministers and their deputies, do not run government operations. This is done by the bureaucracy.
The president and his cabinet provide policy direction and oversee programme implementation. Therefore, the government would not collapse. All it would take is the implementation of relevant constitutional prescripts if the eventuality of the removal of Zuma were to occur.
Rather than the government and the country, removing Zuma would hurt the ANC. The ANC could implode with new and old factions repositioning themselves for the control of the ANC.
The fact that Zuma would remain the ANC president would add a critical dimension. His faction could even be more galvanised to fight back. Such internal power contestation could reach vicious proportions.
As ANC president, the interim state president would account to him at Luthuli House. This could divide the prospective new cabinet given competing allegiances between loyalty to Zuma as ANC president, and loyalty to the interim president as the one with the prerogative to appoint and dismiss ministers.
This would create uncertainty and anxiety in government circles. However, this has always been the case in the run-up to change in government political executive leadership. Therefore, it would not amount to the collapse of government as claimed by Mthembu.
Zuma’s removal would also have a huge impact on the December elective conference. There would be vicious factional accusations and counter accusations of having “sold” the movement to the opposition. In the extreme case, the December elective conference could be in jeopardy from taking place.
Broadly, removing Zuma with the help of ANC MPs would mean the ANC admits it has failed to govern. Therefore, the opposition would claim credit for the removal of the president.
Moreover, all the society ills mentioned in the ANC parliamentary caucus statement – “Cabinet reshuffle, downgrade to junk status, notorious Gupta influence, and state capture” – would suddenly be blamed on the ANC as a whole.
In 2019, the opposition would not campaign on the basis of having brought Zuma to his knees, but the ANC as a whole. It would genuinely campaign that the ANC cannot be trusted with the levers of government.
The ANC’s vote against the opposition’s motion of no confidence in Zuma may actually not even be an expressed confidence in Zuma. It may not even be premised on national interest, but mainly the preservation of the ANC.
It is correct for the ANC to defend itself against the opposition. But then, it beats liberation morality for the ANC to resort to scare tactics and compromise democratic constitutionalism. In some quarters, this could be interpreted as seeds of dictatorship.
That is, faced with prospects of losing it, the ANC could easily resort to undemocratic means to retain power. As a liberation movement with a revolutionary mandate, it’s important for the ANC to be seen, at all times, to be championing democratic consolidation in terms of the constitution, principles and systems.
But then, for the ANC to play this role, it needs to be an organisation of high levels of democratic integrity. It should have higher levels of internal democratic practice, accountability, transparency, discipline and cohesion.
The failure of the ANC’s internal democratic integrity, will inevitably lead into the ANC acting in a similar vein in relations to other political parties, and institutions of democracy.
Rather than the removal of Zuma being a threat to South Africa’s democratic state, it is actually the ANC’s increasing internal erosion that poses this danger!
CORE ISSUE: Presenting President Jacob Zuma as the one without whom this country cannot progress is democratically retrogressive as it introduces the ‘big man’ syndrome typical of many undemocratic societies and dictatorships, says the writer.