… as Cde gouge each other’s eyes out in pursuit of political ascendancy
By Mondli Makhanya
Here we are at the start of yet another ANC elective cycle.
As always, the bold headline on the script of the governing party’s conference year reads “paralysis”.
This is the time when the comrades sharpen their knives and plunge them into each other at will and gouge each other’s eyes out in pursuit of political ascendancy. For us in the fourth estate and for all political junkies in society, it is a great show to watch. Nothing beats the drama of an ANC conference build-up.
But to the country, this period usually means that those who are charged with running the affairs of the republic get distracted and focus on getting elected, getting their preferred candidates elected or getting their respective faction to dominate.
Be they politicians or “deployed cadres”, theirs is a singular obsession. Governance and policy-making don’t quite come to a standstill, but get terribly subordinated.
It is not unusual for election seasons to interfere with the work of governments. However, other democracies have figured out ways to keep the wheels turning. This is mostly by making sure that the civil service is professionalised.
So when the politicians are out there on the hustings, the machine grinds on. Not so in the land of cadre deployment, where we have conflated the state with a political party. The politicians drag the “deployed cadres” with them, with or without their consent. Some who are not necessarily deployed cadres also play along for purposes of workplace peace.
And these are just the official elections we are talking about. When it is ANC election season –whether at provincial or national level – everybody is supposed to do their bit to ensure that the political principal’s particular faction prevails.
It is not unusual for government programmes to be repurposed to suit a particular faction’s objectives. The work of the state gets consumed by the party’s internal machinations.
What makes the ANC’s election processes even more paralysing is that they are toxic and never-ending. In conventional politics, party leadership races have a beginning and end. Someone wins, someone loses and everyone moves on. The losing faction pledges support for the victors and actually carries those through with action.
Not so in the ANC. Immediately after an election, the losing faction begins hatching plans to undermine the tenure of the victors. The victors fight back and the battle ensues until the next elective conference, immediately after which the fun and games begin anew.
This has been the state of the party since the ANC’s last national conference in Nasrec in December 2017. Although there was no clear winner, current President Cyril Ramaphosa managed to edge out his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on the slates. The thinly balanced situation enabled the losers’ fight-back campaign – which they waged from day one – to be an effective one.
Added to this was the fact that Ramaphosa did not have the appetite to take the fight to his opponents, despite their open and undermining fight against him. He left the bruising work to his allies, who often felt that their hands were tied.
It has nevertheless been a war of attrition ever since, with Ramaphosa’s side only properly gaining ascendancy early last year, less than two years before the next conference.
While the president appeared to have finally been in control by mid-2021, this seemed to be slipping as the year drew to a close. The July riots severely undermined his grip, as did the ANC’s disastrous performance in the November local government elections.
He entered this year a much weakened leader at the exact moment that he should have been exhibiting strength ahead of a re-election drive.
So here we are at the beginning of 2022, preparing for a tumultuous year dominated by the ANC’s poison. Most indications are that Ramaphosa will be unchallenged for the ANC’s presidency. Even his most bitter foes admit that the party’s appeal would plummet even faster if one of their own were to be the face of the ANC.
So, they will most likely tolerate him at the helm and then flood the top structures with their own people so that he is totally under siege. This means that the races to watch will be those one notch below president, as well as the packing of the party’s national executive committee.
If they succeed with this strategy, it will increase their ability to get his government to implement some of the irresponsible and reckless resolutions that the ANC adopted at the Nasrec conference. All of that will be dependent on his agreement to be part of this untenable arrangement. And, of course, on his faction being second-best.
But, then again, this could be a fanciful strategy, given that the so-called radical economic transformation (RET) faction has been in disarray, with their rallying points being two men who are potentially facing jail time. If it were to mount a challenge, it would need that person. That could be former health minister Zweli Mkhize, but he has troubles of his own and these could get serious in the not-too-distant future.
Enter Lindiwe Sisulu, who will settle for nothing less than the top job. She is Ramaphosa’s only potential threat. She has seen the vacuum in the RET camp and is willing to risk her job as she positions herself as the matriarch of malcontents. Her grotesque attempt at social commentary was a manifesto for the high office she craves. That manifesto can be summarised in a single sentence: “I will destroy South Africa.” That message resonates well with the dim-witted malcontents she hopes will carry her to the Union Buildings.
It is going to be a very long year.
—Mondli Makhanya is the Editor In Chief of City Press