By Siphiwe Nyanda• 19 July 2021
Renewal in SA and the ANC will remain elusive as long as the ANC fails to come to terms with the fact that much of the recent violence in the country arises from its own doing. This, in fact, is an optimistic view. A strong possibility is that the ANC is unlikely to be saved from its self-inflicted wounds.
General Siphiwe Nyanda is a former South African military commander and politician. He served as Chief of the South African National Defence Force from 1998 to 2005 and Minister of Communications from 2009 to 2010.
The ANC does not seem to be acknowledging its past mistakes and accepting some culpability for the recent mayhem in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
All previous conferences of the ANC since the Mbeki leadership have been alerted to the growing political weaknesses of its general membership and the prevalence of careerists within its ranks. It has, however, done very little to address the problem. In fact, it exacerbated the problem by significantly growing its membership, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, after the Polokwane conference in 2007. In so doing it attracted undesirable elements, which most probably resulted in the internecine violence and killings within its ranks which have been manifested since the Mangaung conference of December 2012 when Jacob Zuma consolidated his position at the helm; the murder of ANC councillors and other activists in many parts of KZN subsequently became commonplace in the jostle for positions.
These elements are now most likely part of the rebellion against the current KZN ANC leadership, which has been at pains to rein in a wayward membership within its ranks to conform to positions taken at the national level, such as the step-aside rule. We have seen this in the booing of the KZN provincial chairman and the provincial secretary when they appeared at events in which there were large numbers of supporters of the former president Jacob Zuma.
The main reason why there was a flood or influx into the ANC ranks was due to the fact that the ANC was the ruling party and the spoils of incumbency were there for the picking by opportunists and corrupt individuals and groupings. The gates were opened for them because there were both short-term gains for some myopic considerations of bolstering the KZN influence within the ANC structures and long-term diabolical strategies by others that have now come to the fore.
The organisational weakness of the ANC, due in large measure to its politically weak membership, was bound to result in increased corruption and careerism. When the cadre is weak, leaders at all levels tend to manipulate internal processes without much challenge; big-man syndromes and the cult of the personality set in and take hold. The egos of those strong men grow with every success and they end up being unchallengeable. So, such a situation was allowed to remain. It suited the interest of those who wanted to maintain a stranglehold of the organisation to keep it weak. This is still the case.
We have seen this happen in the ANC over time: This did not only happen at the national level of leadership. In some provinces, strongmen emerged and even organised their factional grouping as provincial strongmen. It also suited the strongman at the helm, Zuma, to have these provincial strongmen as allies. In that way, he increased his stranglehold on the movement and held it to ransom while he and the Gupta family plundered the state. All along, those minions on the ground remained in awe; they were mesmerised by his charm and rhetoric while some had the opportunity as well to feed at the trough.
Military veterans under the auspices of the MKMVA were organised as praise singers and as a paramilitary structure in the service of a political faction. They were allowed to recruit in spite of the fact that MK had long disbanded; under the guise of caring for MK military veterans, they became part of the feeding frenzy on the state institutions, allowing only crumbs to fall into the hands of those they purported to lead – who are still in dire straits.
… These RET forces encouraged Zuma to disrespect the rule of law as well as judicial decisions and urged him to use his influence to bring down the citadel while they instigated the phoney uprising which has brought such devastation to KZN and Gauteng.
This was obviously not right from an organisation that had historically prided itself on political morality.
Many ANC members, particularly the Stalwarts and Veterans (S&V) of the ANC in the past and now the ANC Veterans League as well as the erstwhile MK National Council, decried the state of the ANC and the pernicious influence of the Gupta family on Zuma; they even called on him to step down following his attempt to raid the Treasury by appointing the MKMVA treasurer Des van Rooyen as minister of finance. Most of the ANC leadership stood firmly behind Zuma and would not entertain a motion of no confidence in him even though it was clear in the elections of August 2016 that the ANC was on a slippery slope. Voters were deserting the movement.
Concerned veterans met with the ANC leadership on several occasions to try to persuade them to agree to a programme of cleansing and renewal of the organisation. They proposed the holding of a National Consultative Conference to plan for this. This request met with resistance or excuses of lack of time and money.
When the Constitutional Court ruled that the president had violated the Constitution and his oath of office, Isithwalandwe Ahmed Kathrada penned a letter calling on Zuma to resign in the interest of the ANC and the country. Both the S&V and the MKNC joined in the call. We argued that there could be no graver offence than that; we felt that it was a disgrace that he could stand before the nation unabashed to play down the ignominy with a hollow apology, because this did not bode well for the future – wouldn’t a mere apology mean that future presidents must also be forgiven in advance for such serious trespasses?
Many ANC leaders, however, did not support the call although they admitted the gravity of the offence. Then-secretary-general of the ANC Gwede Mantashe even suggested publicly that to ask or push Zuma to resign would cause the movement to disintegrate.
That in itself was indicative of a huge problem: if it was not pandering to a strongman syndrome then it is difficult to know what was; this was showing the man to be bigger than the ANC; this was indicative of the fear of the power and influence of Zuma on the ANC. Why would Zuma’s resignation cause the movement to break up if he left voluntarily? Why was he threatening to go to Nkandla as he did? Is that not his home? But that was the effect of the personality cult on the ANC. Yet, that was an opportune moment to have acted because Zuma was clearly in the wrong and the ANC would have been justified in acting against him then.
If Zuma had resigned then and accepted his mistakes then and left office voluntarily he would have garnered sympathy in some quarters, there were even suggestions that there could be some sort of forgiveness or pardon. The man, however, had made a Faustian pact and his axis of wrongdoers urged him to stay on, perhaps because the looting of the state was not yet done, some were afraid that his exit would weaken their grip on the ANC and perhaps soon swing open the prison gates for them.
When Zuma was finally forced to leave after the Nasrec conference, they continued to use the power they had in the ANC through the strong position of Secretary-General Ace Magashule until he was forced to step aside. The realisation that their reckoning was close only increased the stridency of these forces who falsely appropriated a conference resolution enjoining for the accelerated economic transformation of the country to attack investigations probing the looting of the Zuma incumbency, particularly the Zondo Commission; they have tried to marshal revolutionary rhetoric under the RET banner to lend credence to their reactionary cause.
A key target of this offensive has been the judiciary and the person of the president of the country in order to falsely link the president with judicial decisions. This deliberate and unfounded rhetoric and refusal to accept the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law was the main driver of the recent violence.
These RET forces encouraged Zuma to disrespect the rule of law as well as judicial decisions and urged him to use his influence to bring down the citadel while they instigated the phoney uprising which has brought such devastation to KZN and Gauteng.
Sadly, these forces still remain in the ANC leadership. And they are doing the utmost to sugar-coat the dangerous situation their activities have brought about. The only way for the ANC is to undertake a genuine introspective and embark upon a thoroughgoing renewal process. If it does, it might – just might – save itself from oblivion. Perhaps it has waited too long to deal with its demons to be able to redeem itself. DM