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Has the ANC entered a season of ‘creative destruction’?

After the political turmoil of the last few days, including the seeming inability of the ANC to be decisive with President Jacob Zuma, and the postponement of the country's 2018 'State of the Nation Address', Mphuthumi Ntabeni ponders the thesis of Frantz Fanon (a Martinican psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and influential writer in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism): Has the ANC entered into a season of 'creative destruction'?

There comes a time when all liberation movements reach a point of no-return, what Frantz Fanon called a 'season of creative destruction'. The ANC may very well have arrived at this point. Incidences of ANC supporters marching against each other to Luthuli House, the horrific violence displayed against each other (in  particular kicking a woman on the ground) and the confusion around SONA 2018, especially the lack of grace by which the decision to postpone it was made, all points to Fanon’s thesis. He says that this is usually followed by very little else but the tragedy of decay and decadence, when the revolution feeds on its children. He goes on to say that the leaders then become ciphers in which classes compete for state resources and hence pave a path with skeletons of their fallen clay feet leaders – who are crucified with every successive leadership wave.

The confusion around SONA, in particular, points to the chronic indecisiveness within the newly-elected factionalised leadership of the ANC, especially its president Cyril Ramaphosa. The Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, claimed that the postponement of SONA was an attempt to create a more conducive climate in which it could be conducted. If true, this points to the capitulation by one of our major institutions to those who threaten it by violence. Dates had been issued, preparations nearly completed and visitors (including foreign visitors) had been invited, and yet clarity was delayed. These actions suggest Parliament is a weak institution that is vacillating tither and hither, not sure how to implement and enforce its rules and regulations. It does not engender confidence on citizens.

In reality

The truth of the matter though, is that we all know that SONA would not have been postponed without the directive, or at least a nod, from Luthuli House. This brings us back to the spineless dilly-dallying of the current ANC leadership who has not been able to give clear and decisive direction about the elephant in the room, President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma, as a street fighter, understands well the trump card he carries: the ANC is extremely wary to make the recall of Zuma another Cope-like break-away party. Zuma wants to negotiate a comfortable exit-strategy that will probably include a presidential pardon for him should things come down to the crunch. Zuma also knows that the ANC has received legal advice suggesting that the recall of Thabo Mbeki was unconstitutional. This means that if Zuma were to take them to court, he would probably win and throw the country into even deeper disarray.

This might be hard on the ANC, but the truth of the matter is that they are against their self-created rock and a hard place. How to extricate themselves from it, when riddled with a factionalised executive, will present a major challenge for any leader. It will probably result with an exposé of Ramaphosa’s lack of leadership qualities. Obviously, Ramaphosa still thinks the best path is to reasonably engage with Zuma. Unfortunately, nothing in the past has demonstrated Zuma to be a reasonable man. Hence my suspicion that this is a fool’s errand that will probably end up badly for Ramaphosa if he has no plan B.

What would the best course be to follow at this point?

Firstly, Zuma’s recall is non-negotiable. Not only that, an immunity deal for Zuma would do irreparable damage to the reputation of Ramaphosa and the ANC. So the knives for Zuma have to come out. Secondly, the recall of Zuma will probably cause some bloodshed among the ANC executive. But Zuma’s staying will negate Ramaphosa’s honeymoon period and the so-called ‘Davos positive wave’ he has been surfing. The risk he must now consider is whether the internal blood on the floor would get worse towards the 2019 election or better, after Zuma is gone.

My bet is that things will get worse. So his best chance now is to allow the necessary blood to be spilt within the internal machinations of the ANC. He could then call for a national/provincial election in June 2018 if the IEC is ready. This would improve the party’s chances among the non-ANC membership of the country’s voting citizens. He can give a cock-and-bull story about wanting to restore the confidence of citizens, Theresa May style. By doing this he might also catch opposition parties off-guard, whose only agenda it seems, is to bay for Zuma’s blood.

But knowing the calibre of the man Ramaphosa is, he will probably go for the option of placating the party tensions, towing the so called 'unity' line, and thus cause permanent damage not only to his own reputation but to that of his party. Thus, to the tragedy of beyond creative destruction we move.

In S.K.E. Mqhayi’s words, when he was lamenting the death of those who sunk with the ship Mendi in his poem entitled Ukutshona kuka Mendi – The Sinking of Mendi:

Thina nto zaziyo asothukanga nto,
Sibona kamhlophe
Sithi bekumele;
Sitheth’ engqondweni
Sithi kufanele…

[We, familiar with these things
Are not surprised;
We see clearly
That is the way things turn up;
We debate in our heads
The course and nature of things…]

* 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.