IT HAS always been said, and most of us have come to accept, that the ruling African National Congress is like a broad church which, while apparently held together by a strong historical glue, is also characterised by occasional philosophical skirmishes that are often on the verge of tearing it apart.
Breakaway groups have been formed over the decades and individual leaders and activists have left the party – or been kicked out following irreconcilable philosophical differences.
Some of them have had to walk the political wilderness for a while before disappearing into oblivion; others ended up forming their own political parties outside the ANC, thus managing to remain salaried MPs with too little power to impact the direction of project South Africa, inside and outside Parliament.
One can think of Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, the Pan Africanist Congress, General Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement, Mosiuoa Lekota’s Congress of the People and, more recently, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
While most of the older breakaway parties have remained small and still pose no existential threat to the ANC, the EFF is to be watched. The ANC will not admit this too publicly, but one only needs to watch Baleka Mbete and Mathole Motshekga almost wetting themselves in parliamentary outrage to know that deep inside, even they know that the EFF has the potential to give the ANC a run for its money.
But in times like these, the ANC cannot afford to function in several silos and expect to go on as if what happens to it, or inside its belly, doesn’t affect the country’s increasingly fragile economic fortunes. Because of its size and the role it plays in our politics, when the ANC sneezes South Africa will catch a cold in one way or another.
It happened in December 2015 when a respected finance minister was inexplicably thrown under the bus; it happened again recently, when a proxy war appeared to be waged against his fiscally conservative successor, seen by some shadowy figures as too bent on shutting the taps on them.
The Gupta effect
It is generally accepted that the name Gupta has become toxic in much of South Africa and, increasingly, parts of the ruling party. Encouragingly, more independent ANC voices – or perhaps ones so gatvol (fed up) that they no longer care whether they end up under the bus or not – have made themselves heard in recent weeks, expressing their displeasure with the capture of key state entities by the Guptas using high-level political connections.
President Jacob Zuma and his children are said to be the key conduits of such a capture. So far, apart from a very indirect lament at being accused of being controlled or influenced by “some people”, the president has not expressed himself directly on the concerns raised about the Guptas.
This makes one think there could be something in Mmusi Maimane’s Planet Zuma analogy. What we have seen are people known to be close to the president coming out to defend his relationship with this family, as if brandishing their smelly middle fingers in defiance of the growing clamour against the Guptas’ toxic influence.
The political middle finger
A few weeks ago, just before a post-State of the Nation address breakfast in Cape Town, one Hlaudi Motsoeneng was bizarrely invited to speak first and introduce the president to people attending the event.
In his inimitable style, Motsoeneng went on for what seemed like half an hour waxing lyrical about the SABC and the Guptas, going on to say that the public broadcaster would not be dictated to about stopping its dealings with the politically influential family.
Looking on, the president seemed amused. Other people wore confused expressions on their faces. When he finally took to the podium, Zuma made no effort to temper Motsoeneng’s strange remarks, or to disagree with them. It therefore seems safe to conclude that he did not.
Not long after Motsoeneng’s incomprehensible rant, Free State premier Ace Magashule – whose son is known to be in business with the Guptas – also went on air defending the relationship between this family and key political players in the country.
Fast-forward to this past week, when another provincial premier, Supra Mahumapelo, also decided to defy all anti-Gupta voices – even within the broad church which is the ANC – and defend doing business with the family. He indirectly thanked them for making South Africa realise that it could use key national points like the Waterkloof Air Force base – where they had earlier been mysteriously allowed to land their plane full of wedding guests – to raise much-needed revenue for the state. He argued that this could be done by selling exclusive landing rights to the super rich, like the Guptas.
While it seems increasingly clear that a part of the ANC, ostensibly led by its secretary general Gwede Mantashe, wants to send out positive messages to buttress efforts by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his team in their laudable drive to restore confidence in South Africa, there are others, such as the individuals named above, who are determined to defy these efforts.
It is not clear whether they’re doing this on cue from Number One or whether, like the real sycophants they seem to be, they’re second-guessing their political master. Either way, they should be stopped because their actions are working in direct contrast to growing efforts at restoring faith in brand South Africa.
Somebody needs to start cracking that whip, to bring these renegades into line!
What happened to the ANC chant: “Ma i hlale pantsi i babmb’um theto”? (Let all fall in line.)