Mail and Guardian October 20 to 26 2006

'Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped'

by Ranjeni Munusamy

In his political report to the African National Congress's (ANC) national executive committee (NEC) earlier this month, President Thabo Mbeki warned that strategic proposals conveyed recently by the South African Communist Party's (SACP) Blade Nzimande would result in the "destruction of the ANC and the rest of the democratic movement".

Considering the poisoned atmosphere, it is only natural that the president would worry about the "destruction" of the ANC and the democratic movement.

But how did we get here?

A proverb of the Vai people of Liberia advises how to determine the source of trouble: "Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped."

In 1994, Mbeki, then ANC deputy president, authored an internal party document titled From Resistance to Reconstruction: Tasks of the ANC in the New Epoch of the Democratic Transformation -- Unmandated Reflections.

Mbeki said "forces" would try to "destroy the ANC from within … [and] create contradictions and conflict between the ANC and other formations in the democratic movement".

He warned that the objective of these forces would be "splitting the ANC around the issue of leadership". Opposition forces would attempt to break the tripartite alliance by encouraging the SACP to project itself publicly as the "left conscience" and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) would be encouraged to project the pursuit of political and socio-economic objectives different from those the ANC had set itself as a governing party, Mbeki wrote.

"Change also demands that the ANC and the democratic movement as a whole should be able to shed some of its 'members' regardless of how this might be exploited by our opponents to discredit the movement."

Unmandated Reflections remained like a dirty family secret in the privileged possession of a few senior ANC leaders who feared its release would cause outrage in the ranks of the alliance. Those who did read it at the time were dumbfounded by the grave predictions.

Looking back now, it is almost eerie how the president was able to script the future. Does our president have psychic powers or is it possible that some in the ANC knew that the trajectory they were charting would result in the schism we now find ourselves in?

The course of events -- perhaps not all related -- over the next 11 years provides the answer as to where we "slipped".

In 1995 we saw the fall from grace of iconic ANC leaders Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Allan Boesak and Bantu Holomisa. The ANC fumbled in response, as it continues to do today.

The government's adoption of the growth, employment and redistribution (Gear) macroeconomic policy in 1996 saw the rupture with organised labour and the SACP.

That year also saw ANC secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa, who was outmanoeuvred for the position of Nelson Mandela's deputy in 1994, quitting politics for business.

In 1997, despite the skirmishes over Gear, Nzimande, at the time the SACP's chairperson, said ahead of the ANC's 50th national conference that the party did "not want the conference to degenerate into a war over Gear" and was "approaching the meeting in a spirit of unity".

A constitutional task team under the national conference preparatory committee submitted the following constitutional amendment for adoption at the Mafikeng congress: "The ANC president shall be the state president when the ANC has the parliamentary majority. The provincial chairperson shall be the provincial premier in cases where the ANC enjoys a majority in the provincial legislature. The coincidence of the ANC presidency with the state presidency and provincial chairmanship with premiership should be phased in from April 1999."

Despite the proposed amendment being viewed generally as harmless and being canvassed in ANC structures, it was never formally put to the conference and therefore not adopted. The reason was never explained.

Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were elected ANC president and deputy president respectively at the conference.

Addressing Cosatu's central committee in 1998, Mbeki said: "We must not fall victim to the easy temptation to label one another as this or that school of thought, and thus close the dialogue among ourselves."

But when he addressed the SACP congress later that year, the gloves came off: "Most remarkably, the SACP believes that we of the ANC represent this 'most serious threat'. Evidently, we having resorted to a call which constitutes what your documents describe with self-assured and superior sarcasm as a 'bureaucratic closing of ranks' in the face of an imagined rather than a real counter-revolutionary threat … We must not allow the situation such that we engage in fake revolutionary posturing so that our mass base … accepts charlatans, who promise everything that is good, while we all know that these confidence tricksters are telling the masses a lie."

Also in that year, Tokyo Sexwale resigned as premier of Gauteng.

In the run-up to the 1999 election, the ANC's failure to secure outright majority in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape provinces saw fervent horse-trading for power-sharing agreements. The failure to strike a deal with Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi over the premiership of KwaZulu-Natal led to Zuma being appointed deputy president of South Africa.

The year 2000 was a nightmare for the ANC, having to navigate a minefield of controversies over its ridiculous approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe, international outrage over Mbeki's questioning of the causal link between HIV and Aids and the allegations of irregularities in the arms deal. The national general conference in Port Elizabeth that year, however, pioneered a novel concept of the "new person", roughly described as a highly skilled, disciplined intellectual -- the prototype of the new-age ANC cadre. The old-guard "comrade" was put out to pasture.

At an NEC meeting in October that year, Mbeki roasted Nzimande for saying at the Cosatu congress that the scientific view that HIV causes Aids should be accepted. This opened the floodgates for other members of the NEC to tear into Nzimande -- as they did earlier this month.

But it was in 2001 that all hell broke loose, beginning with a bang when an explosive letter Madikizela-Mandela wrote to Zuma complaining about Mbeki was leaked to the media. Media houses were awash with rumours from ANC sources that there were two "camps" in the organisation - one around the president and the other loosely associated with Zuma. The sources claimed Mbeki and Zuma were barely on speaking terms.

Then came the plot allegations. Former safety and security minister Steve Tshwete was under extreme pressure to expose a police intelligence investigation based on information from the eccentric Mpumalanga youth league leader James Nkambule. On April 22 2001, I wrote the following as the Sunday Times lead: "An official police investigation is under way into claims that President Thabo Mbeki is in 'physical danger' from high-profile leaders within the ANC who are plotting to oust him."

I wrote further: "Tshwete, a close ally of Mbeki and one of the ANC's main trouble-shooters, is heading up a [ANC] tribunal investigating, among other things, allegations by Nkambule that the [former Mpumalanga premier Matthews] Phosa faction has teamed up with Deputy President Jacob Zuma and with senior business leaders against Mbeki."

Two days later, Tshwete went on national television and named Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Phosa as the alleged plotters.

Although Zuma was not implicated, he later issued an intriguing statement declaring he was not interested in the presidency.

The Mail & Guardian's editorial on April 26 2001 read as follows: "This is low, low stuff. It is the stuff of the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin ... It was proceeded by weeks during which we on this newspaper heard repeated stories of leaks to the SABC intended to embarrass Deputy President Jacob Zuma, emanating from individuals associated with the presidency."

How easily we forget.

Under a hail of condemnation from, among others, Cosatu and the SACP, and after the investigation concluded that the allegations were hogwash, Tshwete recanted.

Meanwhile, the Aids controversy was escalating, with government trying to fight off pressure to provide antiretroviral treatment to pregnant women. A bizarre, rambling 114-page document entitled Castro Hlongwane, Caravans, Cats, Geese, Foot & Mouth and Statistics: HIV/Aids and the Struggle for the Humanisation of the African did the rounds. The document, which staunch Mbeki defender the late Peter Mokaba claimed to have authored, declared that antiretrovirals were poisonous and had killed, among others, former presidential spokesperson Parks Mankahlana.

In August 2001, frustration had built up in the trade union movement over privatisation to the point that Cosatu called a two-day national strike of more than four million workers - more than twice the federation's formal membership.

Another ANC document, Through the Eye of the Needle, warned of "individuals who operate in the dead of the night, convening secret meetings and speaking poorly of other members, should be exposed and isolated".

Around that time, another oddball character, Bheki Jacobs, who claimed to be Mbeki's personal intelligence adviser, went around media houses liberally dispensing false information about the arms deal as well as various ANC leaders.

In March 2002, Mandela's attempt to raise his concern in the NEC about the government's dithering on antiretroviral treatment was seen as an affront to the ANC's leader. He was heckled as he spoke and was later ruthlessly attacked in a treatise by the late NEC member Dumisani Makhaye -- best described as an Mbeki fanatic.

Makhaye's pen was equally poisoned when he responded to the SACP's Jeremy Cronin's views about the over-centralisation or "Zanufication" of power in the ANC, calling him a "white messiah" and a "factory fault".

Addressing the ANC's policy conference in September 2002, Mbeki said: "Our movement and its policies are also under sustained attack from domestic and foreign left sectarian factions that claim to be the best representatives of the workers and the poor of our country. … The issue of the offensive of the ultra-left against our movement is also important because this ultra-left works to implant itself within our ranks.

"It strives to abuse our internal democratic processes to advance its agenda … We are permanently interested in increasing the size and strength of our movement. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we must also pay particular attention to the principle -- better fewer, but better!"

Two months later, a few weeks before Zuma was to be re-elected deputy president at the ANC's 51st national conference in Stellenbosch, this newspaper revealed that he was under investigation in connection with the arms deal.

Up to this point, there was no "Jacob Zuma crisis". The crossfire, tensions, obfuscation and calamities had nothing to do with him. The events that followed have been hammered into our consciousness - former National Prosecuting Agency (NPA) boss Bulelani Ngcuka's "off-the-record" briefing with editors, his "prima facie" statement, the spy allegations, the Hefer commission, the Schabir Shaik trial, the "hoax e-mails", the firing and charging of Zuma, and the two trials against him.

All these resulted in the democratic forces lining up to condemn the use and abuse of state institutions in power battles. But the ANC, as it careened from one disturbing episode to another, remained silent, witnessing its character and cultures being redefined.

Now, debates and power struggles rage in the ANC and the alliance structures in an atmosphere of suspicion, fear and treachery. Journalists, editors and analysts have chalked this up to a "camp-war" between Mbeki and Zuma and those loyal to them. These commentators have either a puerile understanding of issues or short memories. They should seek to expand their knowledge beyond the events of the past three years.

Of course, recent incidents and the succession battle have inflamed tensions, but the genesis clearly lies elsewhere.

In fact, the course of events was accurately prophesied 12 years ago. If we are falling, it is because we began slipping a long time ago. The question is: Who pushed us?

· Ranjeni Munusamy is a communications consultant who runs the Friends of Jacob Zuma website


(M&G site not working at time of download)

1999 words