President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and then-ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe at the party's Siyanqoba rally at Ellis Park Stadium in 2016. Picture: Rumana Akoob/IOL
President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and then-ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe at the party's Siyanqoba rally at Ellis Park Stadium in 2016. Picture: Rumana Akoob/IOL

SA's political schizophrenia

By Chuck Stephens Time of article published Feb 8, 2018

Share this article:

South Africa has a split personality. Two political personas run one and the same country – the ruling party and the government.

At times this condition is well-disguised, mostly by making sure that the party president is also the state president. Otherwise, you get these breakthroughs of reality called “two centres of power”.

This week it became especially clear with the chief whip – who campaigned hard for the new party president – postulating that his caucus itself could mount a motion of No-confidence. Counting of course on the support of the opposition parties, which unanimously want to see the end of this particular state president.

But then the country will slip back into the coma of political schizophrenia, perhaps.  That is if the new party president assumes the dual roles again. 

This week the pundits said that if the state president won’t resign, he could be recalled by the NEC of his own party. Or that he could face a no-confidence motion in Parliament. This is the crux of the problem. We don’t know who runs this country. Does Luthuli House run South Africa? Or does it run the ANC?

Isn’t the country run from the Union Buildings? Or is that just “fronting”? 

Schizophrenics have split personalities. From what I have read, there is a toggle switch that they can turn on and off internally. They know deep down inside which personality is “on” at any given time. They even have two names for these two distinct personalities, known only to themselves.  This is a serious condition.

Only when you know which one of these is the REAL you, can you seek help to switch off the imposter and settle down to one identity. 

A split personality is nowhere anticipated in the Constitution. It never mentions parties at all, anywhere. It is about the Nation, the President, the National Assembly, the Caucus, the Judiciary, the Section 9 institutions, etc. In other words, the State.

Where does it say that the NEC is the top decision-making organ? It does not even mention the NEC, or the NWC – those are party structures from the ANC’s constitution!

This confusion is getting unbearable as we watch the Zuma and Ramaphosa tug-of-war. We hear one tune from the secretary general (party) and another from the chief whip (parliamentary caucus). 

The treatment for this condition runs very deep. It is a function of PR (proportional representation). This system put the party into the Body where it does not belong. Luthuli House should run the ANC and stop trying to run South Africa as well. Deploy MPs to Parliament and then let the caucus do what caucuses do in all democracies – without constantly checking if that internal toggle switch is on or off. 

This PR system short-circuits the notion of geographical constituencies. No MP is elected by the voters in their riding.  So they end up accountable to Luthuli House, not to a community that they rise from and represent. Local municipalities can elect their local councillors and the party with the most councillors elects a mayor, in municipal elections. 

But we don’t have provincial elections, so we get a double-dose of this schizophrenia with a second house in Parliament that represents the provinces. There is no upper and lower house, with a built-in ratification system to enforce checks and balances (the balance of powers). Instead, there is actually a magnification of the split personality problem, because the Premiers sit in the Cabinet along with the Ministers. 

Zuma should not continue on, he needs to go for many reasons. But replacing him with Ramaphosa does not solve this schizophrenia, it reinforces it.  Parliament should dispatch Zuma, not the NEC or the Top Six. Then Parliament should elect a new State President. 

The fact that Cyril Ramaphosa has replaced Zuma as the Party President should not line him up to be the next State President – it should disqualify him. He should let Parliament select a suitable State President from among the MPs that the parties have deployed there. 

Ramaphosa should adopt the role of a “board chair” and let the State President be the "CEO". Does that make Gwede Mantashe redundant? No, because he is like the chair of the AGM, who is often distinct from the board chair in constitutions. He has a role to play, a bit more remote, but highly esteemed.

Another treatment might be to abandon the PR system and to adopt a constituency-based system. Then the MPs who are sent up to Parliament from each and every riding, if they are in the majority, sit as the caucus and elect the state president. 

We have begun to see how foolish MPs looks when all they do is to vote the way they are told by Luthuli House, without reference to either their conscience or their constituency. That feeds the triumphalism that has led this country astray. 

The ruling party needs to humble itself and respect the Constitution. Appointing Dlamini-Zuma as the CEO to replace Zuma is a bad idea. As is letting the new party president replace him. 

We have to choose between two centres of power and a split personality. We can live with two centres of power, it was not so bad when Kgalema Motlanthe was the state president, was it? That was a dignified period.

But living with a split personality like this is killing democracy.

* Chuck Stephens is Executive Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Share this article: