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The ANC is under the control of “securocrats and fat cats” who have coalesced around President Jacob Zuma to consolidate his power base.
This was the view put forward yesterday by Paul Holden, co-author of the book Who Rules South Africa?
Addressing the Cape Town Press Club, Holden said that one of the biggest threats to democracy was SA’s security services, which had become “deeply partisan” despite their constitutional mandate to act without fear or favour.
“The securocrats are very obviously Jacob Zuma’s power base,” said Holden. “He has relied on them extensively to get himself into power, and there are a number of instances where they came to his aid.
“It is unsurprising that a dominant feature of the current political discourse is around constant spy leaks and intelligence issues.”
Holden co-wrote the book with Martin Plaut, the Africa Editor of BBC World Service News. It analyses the political elites that are battling for power and argues that power does not reside in traditional institutions such as Parliament or the cabinet, but rather in the ANC-led tripartite alliance.
This alliance, the authors say, has no founding document and no written constitution, making it an “unstructured and mutable political hydra with business and criminal elements in close attendance”.
Holden and Plaut argue that this is the real story behind post-apartheid SA.
Holden told the Press Club that while it was obvious that Zuma had used the patronage of “fat cats” for funding to get to a position of power – and that he still had a number of “big players” behind him – it was becoming increasingly clear that a factionalised intelligence service had been “using and abusing its powers for factional ends”.
Examples were the Browse Mole report, the hoax e-mail scandal, the Richard Mdluli dossier and the spy-tape saga that eventually got Zuma off his corruption charges.
“There are obviously major problems for our democracy when a factionalised intelligence service abuses its power.
“One of the things that people do not seem to acknowledge is that we have an intelligence service that makes us, as South Africans, less intelligent.
“We have an intelligence service, which, via a campaign of disinformation, has eventually decreased the number of certainties we can point to in the political sphere.
“After the Browse Mole report, after the e-mail scandal and after the Mdluli dossier, none of us was left any the wiser as to what was going on.”
The security services had also been central in pushing for a revised “and worrying” Protection of State Information Bill, which had been very successfully contested by the social movements that had emerged, Holden continued.
A “good indication” of where the intelligence services had gone was the stand-off between the committee in the National Council of Provinces that is processing the bill and the security forces in general, “where they are suggesting that the revised secrecy bill no longer meets their needs”.
Of Zuma’s presidency, Holden said: “We do not know what he believes… or what his economic and political philosophy is.
He said the only message that came through strongly “and the only policy pushes that have been done with any degree of rigour have been the attempts to limit the democratic spaces we take for granted”.
On a positive note, Holden said that SA had seen “the rebirth of a civil society that is non-partisan and incredibly effective”. This suggested that although the ANC and Jacob Zuma held power, that power was not infinite.