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 Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - Hlophe is Gov­er­nance Spe­cial­ist at Unisa School of Gov­er­nance. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity. Twit­ter: @Kun­jaloD

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!

PIC­TURE: PHANDO JIKELO

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.

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