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Zuma’s last trump card

What is the motive behind Zuma’s latest cabinet reshuffle and how did we get here? Mphuthumi Ntabeni attempts to answer these questions.

There’s no longer any level of insight required to convince us that, in Zuma, we’ve got a political crisis and national moral cancer. It also no longer profits anyone to play the blame game about whose lack of political insight brought him into power for what motives. The only good thing about crises is that they are usually a step away from break through, but  the worst thing is that they can also be a step away from complete disaster. What it shall be depends largely on the choices that would be made by our ruling party in the next few months. Still, it is not in vain to yelp, like puppies biting their heels, on the fringes, egging them on as the reminder of the country’s prevailing mood.

If the utterances of the ANC  Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, after the recent Cabinet reshuffle, are anything to judge the internal mood of their party by, then I would say things are heading for the fry. For once, he took the nation into confidence by admitting that their president has gone rogue. And since their president is also the president of our republic this is extremely worrying news for us also. The precarious position of the ANC is bound to have bad national ramifications. But our concerns is more with the motives of the reshuffle and the frequency. President Zuma has reshuffled the cabinet eleven times since he became  president. He remains only with 17% of his original cabinet, which he has changed at least every eight months. This translates to an unstable government, crucially lacking continuity and implementable vision. Such a government is unable to  properly deliver services to the people, which in turn foments the country’s socio-economic and political unrest.

The cabinet reshuffles are always dogged by speculations on the motives of the president, especially when it is clear that they’re not rational. Taking into account their recent scandals, a president who requires a clean and effective cabinet would have long gotten rid of ministers like Nomvula Mokhanyane, Bathabile Dlamini, Faith Muthambi and Lynne Brown. So it is clear that the president is driven by motives other than those of effecting clean governance on his reshuffles. Mantashe, making an analogy of a soccer match, claims the changes Zuma made has no ‘impact factor’.

The danger with things gone rogue is that you can no longer predict their motives. Their actions are no longer based on reasoning but desperate survival instinct. Now is, perhaps, an opportune moment to look back at how and why we are where we are in our recent history. To employ analytic coolness, the gained wisdom of retrospection. Of course, we may only speak in outrage of impotent horror.

How could we have allowed things to go this far?

Out of apartheid’s defeat was born a country with reckless optimism and boundless hope for its future. But we committed grave errors by not applying corrective measures to our internal contradictions. Towards the conclusions of the Kempton Park Talks there was a fierce argument within the Liberation Movement about who must deputise Nelson Mandela. In actual sense the battle was between those who had been in exile, represented by the person of Mvunyelwa Mbeki; and the so called inxiles, which included members of the UDF, COSATU etc, then known then as the Mass Democratic Movement. These were represented by the person of Cyril Ramaphosa, now a presidential candidate, but at the time he would be politically outsmarted by Mbeki. The compromise, to build unity of the movement, was decided on Walter Sisulu. In fact this was more of a capitulation by the inxiles, since it soon became clear that Mbeki was the thinking head of the Mandela government. Many within the inxiles fraternity deferred to the exile lot, who, even then, were snidely considered the royalty of the struggle.

The term of royalty had a double edged sword meaning. For one, the sacrifices they underwent were acknowledged. But it was also felt that the exile struggle was more of a glorification of impotence and empty chauvinism of uMkhonto we Sizwe. Many felt the real battles were fought inside the country, in our streets, and paid for by blood spilled by the apartheid forces. These tensions were brushed under the carpet for the sake of the then nascent Rainbow Nation and Mandela’s reconciliation without real justice. Wall papers were plastered over cracks and internal contradictions where Mao would have cautioned otherwise. And at just about the start of Mbeki’s second term presidency the wall paper started peeling off the wall to expose glaring cracks that had since expanded from seismic movements of our political foundations. This recently emerged with the spat between the presidential hopeful, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who questioned the struggle credentials of the current ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, who was an inxile. In turn he labelled her a ‘royal-sooted kettle. To some of us it felt like déjà vu, as if we had come full circle to where we had buried the bodies in Kempton Park.

The running commentary of Dr Alan Boesak, when I worked under him at the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, was that we made a terrible mistake in dissolving the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the mid nineties. I’ve come to fully appreciate his meaning. Not only would the UDF been able to keep the government of the Liberty Movement in check, it would also have provided a good civic activism alive. Also our trade unions would have been able to maintain a healthy critical distance from the politics of the ruling party. Trade unions and civic organisations may work in unison for common values with political parties, but never to the extent of being in alliance with them – a fatal error of COSATU and our civic organisations post 1994.

The implosion of the movement was an expected thing to the Fanonian scholars. Be that as it may, the real ‘impact effect’ of the Zuma presidency is the destruction of the Tripartite Alliance. He has effectively weakened COSATU into a shadow of its former self and, with the recent cabinet reshuffle, is severing the ties with the SACP that has always played the role of an intellectual wing of the alliance. In all of this, there are no forseable gains for the ANC going to its congress in December. Zuma has brought it to its all time low (again!)

This is not necessarily a bad thing for the country. For one it means we have now successfully avoided the fate of a one party state Zuma hunkered after to imitate his big brothers of the BRIC nations. It also demonstrates that he is aware that there’s no way he can deliver a nuclear deal to his foreign backers within his tenure. And so is now going for plan B of strengthening his dynasty to be led by his ex-wife if their faction is successful in the next ANC congress. The bad news is he wouldn’t be this daring and recklessly audacious unless he was certain the numbers were on NDZ17 for the ANC presidency. SA.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.