Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A luta continua?


In Business Day today there was an excellent op-ed piece by Raymond Suttner, 'Where are the alternatives to these harmful voices?', in which he discussed the recent verbal attacks on the integrity of the Constitutional Court by Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC. Mantashe's comments reveal the belligerent mentality of those in the ANC who have clustered around the new party president - and who seek to weaken the institutions of democracy in order to see him come to power. "Our revolution is in danger," he said "we must declare to defend it till the end." Below is a portion of Suttner's article in response to these worrying statements:

The ANC leadership has until now appreciated that abiding by Constitutional Court decisions has instilled public confidence in the democratic system. Its respect as the strongest political force is essential for stable democratic order. This does not preclude criticism of decisions or individual judges or judgments, which are not the same as impugning the integrity of the institution. Surely someone as experienced as Mantashe ought to know that? Surely he realises that few outside of the Zuma inner circle will buy his idea that the judges are part of the plot against their leader?

Personally, I sought and gained nothing from the Mbeki presidency — or should I say the MbekiZuma presidency for, until his dismissal, the Mbeki vision was simultaneously a Zuma project. One never heard a word in support of the poor emanating from Zuma, nor attempts to make the ANC government more people-driven, nor similar sentiments that might give credence to claims by South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) leaders that Zuma’s victory was a victory for the left, or a democratic gain.

In truth no programme, linked to any plot, was defeated at Polokwane. It was a battle for loot, between those who sought to benefit from continued Mbeki rule and those who had been ditched by Mbeki or sought to benefit from a Zuma presidency. There was no programmatic difference; or what left inflection the Zuma election platform may have had was deflected by pictures of the Cosatu and SACP leaders dogging his heels to share the applause that greeted Zuma the “deliverer”.

A battle over loot indeed. The idea that somehow Zuma represents a re-emergence of a leftist tendency within the movement is a handy distraction for the petty power aspirations of the Polokwane insurgents; and Suttner is spot-on in seeing through the guff. Clearly JZ has amplified his leftist rhetoric in order to get himself promoted, his most vociferous support coming from the labour and communist wings of the Tripartite Alliance. To my mind, the ANC President is more of a traditional patriarch than the working class prophet he is made out to be.

Although questions over whether Zuma is really a man of the left are compelling, this is not where the fuss lies. The concern is with the respect for procedural democracy and the sustainability of our judicial institutions, which must stand above ideological conviction.

Implicit in the term 'National Democratic Revolution' is the righteous achievement won in 1994; of overcoming the decades of legal racism and bureaucratic authoritarianism of apartheid and the pledge to remove the socio-economic inequalities that are its legacy.

However, this language has also spawned a dangerous group-think among ANC cadres. Any real or perceived obstacle in the way of their stated aims (the 'revolutionary' goal of seeing the most tainted man in the party's history becoming Head of State) must be defeated at all cost - even if it means steamrolling the Human Rights Commission, smearing the highest court in the land or declaring that murder is justifiable. Anybody who objects is a counter-revolutionary and their criticisms are immediately invalidated.

Mantashe is beginning to resemble a pig from George Orwell's Animal Farm, specifically the character of Squealer - the official spokespig and organiser of the revolutionary vanguard. A verbal contortionist, Squealer manipulates the masses into believing that being obedient to the Supreme Leader Napoleon is to better serve the revolution. By renouncing the past achievements of other struggle heroes and searching for remnents of the old order Squealer successfully keeps the animals in check.

"Comrades," he said, "I trust that every animal here appreciates the sacrifice that Comrade Napoleon has made in taking this extra labour upon himself. Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be? Suppose you had decided to follow Snowball, with his moonshine of windmills--Snowball, who, as we now know, was no better than a criminal?"

"He fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed," said somebody.

"Bravery is not enough," said Squealer. "Loyalty and obedience are more important. And as to the Battle of the Cowshed, I believe the time will come when we shall find that Snowball's part in it was much exaggerated. Discipline, comrades, iron discipline! That is the watchword for today. One false step, and our enemies would be upon us. Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?"

Loyalty and deference to the Big Pig is more important than the Seven Commandments written in bold white on the barn wall - the words that bear the true essence of egalitarianism on the farm. At what cost to the country is Zuma's ANC going to continue to talk the talk of revolution but at the same time actively undermine everything that the real revolution sought to achieve? We need not be surprised if we should awake one night to a loud crash. In the moonlight we will see Squealer writhing in the dark, a broken ladder, a spilt can of white paint and a brush by his side. Will the words on the wall remain unchanged?


My favourite letter-writer, Dr. Lucas Ntyintyane, expressed similar sentiments in his letter to the editor in the same edition of the paper. 'Defending whose revolution?'

The same leadership that complained of palace politics a year ago is today practicing its own form of McCarthyism... The new ANC leaders are displaying what Maxim Gorky called “spiritual vampirism” and creating a Stalinistic cult of personality. They are eroding civil liberties and annihilating democratic institutions to worship a God-like figure.


  1. Thanks Mike, much appreciated.

    An edited version of this post also appeared in the Business Day today in the letters section. The word reduction took away a lot of the impact of the original, but its always good to grace the pages.


  2. Dave, I have always enjoyed the way you eloquently lambast. I have followed this issue from a distance (of approximately 100 0000kms) so your blog has been a very interesting addition to my limited knowledge in this field.


  3. Thanks Angie.

    Is this Ms. Patsack or Ms. Childs? Or neither of the above? Whatever, I'm glad you're enjoying the lambasting, even if it is from a million kilos away.

  4. Hey Dave! I was googling my last name (I clearly have too much time on my hands!)... and came across "Ms. Patsack" on your page... and to answer, it must have been the other Angie! :)
    I'm really enjoying reading your stuff though! Glad I found it! Hope all is well!!