The old guard that built the ANC into an old intact political organisation will be sidelined, writes William Saunderson-Meyer.
A widely touted election scenario is that the ANC sees its majority slashed. Waking from its walk on the dark side, the party attributes the erosion of voter trust to President Jacob Zuma’s failings and ousts him as leader.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa takes the reins and South Africa sighs with relief.
It’s a heart-warming idea but ignores the reality that because of the innate determination to cling to power, deteriorating situations have to hit rock bottom before rebounding.
It ignores also that JayZee has spent an entire term on little other than making his position impregnable.
Party membership drives in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal ensure he could thwart the recall he engineered for predecessor Thabo Mbeki.
The Youth League, too, has been tamed.
In Parliament, he is similarly unchallengeable.
The critical posts in cabinet and government are all occupied by Zulu speakers, pledging fealty to Number One.
The party election list has been similarly engineered.
The ANC is now an almost moral-free zone.
After the election, the principled old guard that built the ANC into the world’s oldest intact political organisation will virtually all have been sidelined.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is going, as are Trevor Manuel and Ben Turok.
They join Ronnie Kasrils, Pallo Jordan and Mbeki among the spectators. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan is dithering, “consulting his family” about his future.
Did they jump or were they pushed? There’s perhaps a clue in Turok’s memoir, With My Head Above the Parapet, due out next week.
The book is a forthright but characteristically even-handed insider account by Turok – who one suspects takes modest pride in his ability to get under the skin of any ANC faction, and who chairs the parliamentary ethics committee – of the decline of the ANC.
There is not the slightest intimation of retirement.
It is clear that when it went to press, Turok still fully expected to continue in Parliament.
He writes of the ANC’s woes: “Can all this be fixed? I am not sure. I soldier on … I can see no viable alternative.”
Possibly Turok changed his mind, following the threats against his life after the ethics committee sank Communications Minister Dina Pule.
Yet it says a lot that Turok, who knowingly rode into a firestorm by defying the party whip on the media gagging Bill, will no longer be in Parliament, while Pule – guilty of nepotism and unethical conduct – was number 70 on the ANC election list before withdrawing.
Whatever the reason, many of Turok’s comrades will be pleased that after May 7 he will be in limbo.
His lifelong commitment to the ANC and his disillusionment and revulsion at post-1994 developments shine through the memoir in equal measure.
He writes that he is in “no mood to put a rosy gloss” on the ANC’s loss of direction. There is a “tangible layer of uneasiness … a pervasive sense of disappointment”. One of these is racialism.
During the Struggle, the ANC was vigilant in distinguishing between African nationalism and African chauvinism, and in insisting it was not anti-white but anti-apartheid.
But “after 1994, these distinctions seemed to become difficult to uphold… Race discrimination now became the focus”.
Turok in 2011 “tried to alert the leadership to the dangers of this divisiveness”, but “apart from some private murmurs of appreciation from comrades who had been sidelined… it brought no response”.
Turok, an iconoclast to the last breath, makes clear that the malaise took hold during the Mbeki era and has “not diminished” under a Zuma presidency “notable for a degree of incoherence in government”.
What is to be done?
Those hoping for a rebellion by the ANC’s good angels are likely to be disappointed.
“Having spent most of my life as a cadre, I remain loyal despite reservations.” Theoretically, there are limits: “Should I conclude that the ANC has strayed fundamentally… I shall leave. I say “fundamentally” because, even as I write this, I try to balance the achievements… against the awful distortions.”
Tough love is difficult to do.
* William Saunderson-Meyer is a journalist and author.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.