George Orwell famously remarked that “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is the revolutionary act”.
The ANC policy conference has proved to be another instalment of deceit. While deceit might be too strong a word, the conference was all about pretence. To have expected anything else from a largely prepaid leadership is delusional. White monopoly capital does not take chances.
As expected, delegates were seized with the same issues that have confronted the ANC since 1994. Whereas the previous leadership collective might have failed to fully implement the party’s policy outcomes, due to incompetence and a lack of capacity, the current crop has no political will to implement them.
In worst-case scenarios, the resolutions are ridiculed. When Johann Rupert, who doubles as the puppet master, described the resolution calling for radical socioeconomic transformation as a mere cover for stealing state resources, his minions took their cue from him.
The party’s leadership has prevaricated on the land question. Despite constituting about 80% of the population, Africans own a measly 4% of the land.
Sol Plaatjie’s June 1913 observation that “the South African native found himself, not actually a slave but a pariah in the land of his birth” still rings true. The party has allowed its president to avoid having to account for his misdeeds.
No amount of ducking and diving will make the Phala Phala farmgate scandal disappear. Internationally, President Cyril Ramaphosa is damaged goods. His misdeeds have earned front-page coverage in influential papers across the world. In a functioning democracy, a president accused of defeating the ends of justice and of various forms of criminality would have resigned.
The policy conference of the ANC could not have come at a more inopportune moment for the party. It is gripped by an existential crisis. The crisis is wide-ranging. It is political, social, economic and moral.
For his part, Ramaphosa has mastered the art of obfuscation, waffling and saying an infinite deal of sweet nothing. A more apt description of Ramaphosa’s leadership comes from a tweet that describes him as someone “who finds you hungry and explains your hunger to you and how it is bad. Then leaves you like that”.
Fixing leadership is the most urgent matter. Policies and plans amount to nothing in the absence of credible leadership. In the build-up to the policy conference, policy discussions were largely put on the back burner as members jostled for positions.
And uppermost to branches was the step-aside rule. As Wits University Professor Chris Malikane correctly puts it, with the rule, “prosecutors are now in the most powerful position to decide who becomes ANC leader and not the branches”.
Calls for the step-aside rule to be scrapped are overwhelming. It is yet another demonstration that the ANC’s national executive committee is out of kilter with ordinary members of the ANC. Delegates felt that the step-aside rule, in its current form, has become a useful instrument for settling political and personal scores.
The role played by the judiciary also came under scrutiny. This was unavoidable. The conference did not turn a blind eye to the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector, including Organs of State (Commission on State Capture).
After all, ANC members, including those occupying senior positions in the party and in the government, are implicated in acts of corruption. The chairperson of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, who is also implicated in the report, correctly warned that the ANC “must not use the Zondo commission report to settle scores where we chase what we see as internal enemies.
That commission report must help us rebuild the ANC”. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, as chair of the Commission on State Capture, who has arguably not covered himself in glory in how he handled the testimony involving former president Jacob Zuma, came under attack.
Discerning judges would have recused themselves. Unfortunately, Justice Zondo allowed his brittle ego to get the better of him. As I and others have argued elsewhere, the same can be said of the Constitutional Court. Wenzeni uZuma? (What has Zuma done?), which is fast becoming a signature song for ANC gatherings, is an expression of outrage against the ANC leadership and the judiciary.
Justice Zondo has since been accused of being guilty of judicial overreach. The provincial chairperson of the ANC in KwaZulu- Natal went as far as saying, “we think Zondo is no longer a judge. He is an analyst”. Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, rebuked Justice Zondo.
Malema has unwaveringly argued that “the chief justice is too forward and has got no limits, and he thinks that judges are untouchable. That’s why he has given himself a responsibility to enter even political terrain. What do judges have to do or say regarding the outcomes of political conferences? Zondo is a factionalist that supports Ramaphosa’s second term.”
The ANC’s biggest failure is on the economic front. The economic realities facing black people have deteriorated dramatically in the past four years. The country has the dubious honour of being the most unequal society in the world.
As Malikane worryingly notes: “A handful of 3 500 largely white people own more wealth than 32 million people of working age, combined. More than 17.7 million people who are overwhelmingly African are chronically bankrupt – they owe more than they own. These inequalities have endured for more than 350 years, and they are rooted in the property dispossession of the African people, super-exploitation and oppression.”
Without radically changing the grotesque economic and racial inequalities, the policy conference is just another deceitful exercise.
* Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.