Disarray in the opposition robs us of the debate we need
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a country where contestation between political parties is so competitive that it actually matters more than the internal shenanigans of a single, dominant party? If remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa and various other government leaders, as well as the Independent Electoral Commission, are anything to go by, we will have local government elections by the fourth quarter of this year despite calls by the EFF and others for the polls to be postponed.
Yet, once again, the political discourse is not dominated by debates between the ruling party and the opposition on how best to run municipalities.
Instead, it is the now-tiresome “step aside” toing and froing at Luthuli House that seems to be occupying most minds.
Indeed, it does matter who wins the step-aside battle between Ramaphosa and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.
A victory for the latter on this score would perpetuate the culture of impunity within the ruling party. A culture whereby leaders who are standing trial for serious offences are allowed to continue holding public positions even though doing so brings those offices into disrepute.
Ramaphosa’s followers would have us believe that come the end of the 30-day grace period, Magashule will have either stepped aside or been suspended and the president will be free of the radical economic transformation (RET) menace, and will therefore be able to run his government without having to constantly look over his shoulder.
But believing that would be folly on the scale of thinking that if Kaizer Chiefs somehow miraculously beat the unstoppable Mamelodi Sundowns in their league match next Sunday, Amakhosi will go on to win the DStv Premiership.
There is no denying that Magashule is on the ropes and that the RET forces are on the retreat, but this does not automatically translate into Ramaphosa cruising to a second term and ANC factionalism melting into thin air.
The problem with much of the analysis of what is going on with the ANC right now is that it tends to see the divisions within the party only in terms of the Magashule vs Ramaphosa faultline.
But the real story is much more complex.
It is true that an overwhelming number of ANC leaders and party structures have stood firmly behind Ramaphosa’s bid to clean up the party’s image by forcing those accused in court of crimes to step aside. But this does not mean there is consensus among them that the president should continue to lead the country beyond December next year, when his current ANC term comes to an end.
Already there are murmurings of discontent among those who maintain that the Guptas have been dislodged under Ramaphosa’s tenure only to be replaced by established white business at the expense of black companies.
The president has not done enough to dispel this view among his ANC comrades. Hence those considering contesting his leadership see this as his soft underbelly as they ready themselves for the December 2022 contest.
When Ramaphosa appears before the Zondo commission at the end of the month, his potential rivals will not just be watching how he responds to allegations of ANC and government complacency during the Gupta state capture years under the then president Jacob Zuma.
They will also be keen to see if he can convincingly deflect allegations by former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, among others, that mining giant Glencore banked on him to help it keep lucrative deals with Eskom.
Of course, all of this is the hallmark of an ANC that has become so consumed by its own internal battles that they have become part of its DNA. The defeat of one faction now only means the rise of new ones competing to fill the vacuum.
Imagine if we had a strong opposition that could take advantage of this handicap of the ruling party. But the largest opposition party is entangled in meaningless infighting of its own, while the others seem to be practising social distancing from the electorate, publicly coming out occasionally to praise or condemn one government announcement or another — depending on their changing mood.
And then, come election day, voters will either stay away from the polls or stick with “the tried and tested”. Nothing will change, and the chattering classes will once again blame “the masses” for returning the same government to office.