The fight is not about corruption, but the very soul of the ANC
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"Magashule ACED!" screamed the headline in an attempt to get readers' attention. This proved to be the sum total of the outcome of the last weekend meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC. The excitement by mainstream media was both predictable and palpable.
Mainstream media had mischievously touted the ANC NEC meeting as an arena for the test of wills between supporters of the president of the ANC on the one hand, and its secretary-general on the other. The president, according to media, represents the ANC's attempt to get rid of corrupt elements in the party while the secretary-general represents the radical economic transformation proponents. But such a characterisation is simplistic.
The truth is, however, far more complex. Fighting corruption is not antithetical to radical economic transformation. The two are not mutually exclusive. At the heart of this unseemly squabble is the battle for the character and soul of the ANC. The battle expresses itself in the question of whether the ANC, led by the NEC, has the courage and integrity to faithfully implement, in their entirety, the resolutions taken at its Nasrec national elective conference in 2017. There is no doubt that the current leadership has dismally failed in this regard.
Instead of embarking on unifying the party and leading to its renewal, the NEC has morphed into two main factions engaged in an internecine war. The Ramaphosa faction has invoked the putative ‘step aside’ resolution taken at the elective conference to rid the party of the other faction. In doing so, it has been dishonestly selective. The Ramaphosa faction knows full well that faithful implementation of the entirety of the clause will implicate many ANC members, including Ramaphosa himself. Such an eventuality would not serve the purpose of finally getting rid of Magashule and his supporters.
The faction supporting Ramaphosa has sought to use its numerical strength to turn the ANC into a political slaughterhouse. The resort to the use of voting instead of achieving consensus in resolving contentious issues has the potential of irrevocably changing the very character and political complexion of the ANC. Hitherto, the party branded itself as a broad church tolerant of diverse views. The consensus-seeking approach had become too convenient for the triumphalist faction.
From a tactical and strategic point of view, Magashule and his supporters miscalculated badly. The miscalculation is at several levels. For a start, battles are not won on the basis of weakness. To win any battle, one must have control of the terrain of engagement on the one hand or have the power to determine the terms of engagement. Magashule and his supporters had neither.
Battling it out in the NEC was always a non-starter. Magashule and his supporters did not have the numbers. The NEC was the wrong terrain. Secondly, they failed to challenge the selective implementation of the step aside resolution.
In doing so, they allowed the Ramaphosa faction to dictate the terms of engagement. The game was over once Magashule agreed to the 30-day consultation period. In participating in this farce, Magashule had given legitimacy to a mischievously selective process that pretended to implement the conference ‘step aside’ resolution. The outcome is as predictable as it is brutal.
Magashule's decision to suspend Ramaphosa may be consistent with the resolution that requires a summary suspension of those who “reported to be involved in corrupt practices ... (and had failed) to give an acceptable explanation or to voluntarily step down, while they face disciplinary, investigative or prosecutorial procedures.”
As Magashule pointed out, Ramaphosa has been “reported to the Serious Offences Directorate and the matter of sealed documents relating to CR17 campaign prior and during the 54th National Conference is pending before our courts. It is common cause that this matter has been ventilated in our courts and the documents related thereto remain sealed. This particular matter relating to the sealing of the documents is pending before our courts.”
But Magashule’s brinkmanship was doomed for failure. A removal of a president must enjoy the overwhelming support of the NEC. The recall of two former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma should have provided a valuable lesson.
Magashule could have challenged the NEC’s reliance on action taken by the National Prosecution Authority as a way of settling political scores. Doing so weaponises and undermines the NPA’s independence. Besides, the NPA has often got it wrong. The constitutional principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty exists to avoid this very abuse.
Magashule and his supporters could thus have challenged the decision of the NEC on constitutional grounds. Magashule could not be accused of dragging the party to the courts when the party has itself sought to use the very judicial process to rid itself of its members. This option is still open to anyone.
What about the public apology for having suspended Ramaphosa? Magashule has no choice if he is to remain in the ANC. An apology gives him an opportunity to fight another day. He can count on the fact that history tends to repeat itself. Just like other leaders before him, Ramaphosa will also have his Waterloo.
In the final analysis, all these developments are sideshows aimed at covering up the failure of the current ANC leadership and administration to address the dire socio-economic that impact on the poorest of the poor.
* Professor Sipho P. Seepe is Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) – Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.