Can the ANC survive?

Mervyn Bennun says the view has taken hold that the party serves the president, not the people

Every African National Congress member should be concerned about the prospects for the survival of the ANC. At the centre of matters is the view, as expressed by President Zuma and Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, that the ANC comes before and is more important than South Africa.

President Zuma said, ‘I argued one time with someone who said the country comes first and I said as much as I understand that I think my organisation, the ANC, comes first’ (News24, 8 November, 2015).

Gwede Mantashe said, ‘There is a concept that is thrown at us all the time: “put the country first, not the ANC”. Very problematic concept’ (Eyewitness News, 19 May 2017).

These statements of what purports to be ANC policy will come as a disappointing surprise to members of the African National Congress who until now have believed that the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter because we believe that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people’. We thought that our loyalty was to the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist and peaceful South Africa. We thought that it was for this vision that brave men and women – like Ahmed Timol, who is currently very much on our minds – gave all they had, including their lives.

Sarcasm aside, what Mantashe and Zuma have said gives some insight into why the current leadership of the ANC is taking disciplinary action against ANC MPs who supported the motion of no confidence against Jacob Zuma.

In an excellent essay on his blog “Constitutionally Speaking”, Professor Pierre de Vos considers the implications of the proportional representation system for electing MPs. He draws attention to the view of the current ANC leaders that ‘it matters not a jot what names are on a political party’s electoral list’ – all that matters are the identity of the leader, and who controls the party outside parliament:

‘MPs are just automatons, so the argument goes, who must follow the instructions of the extra-parliamentary leaders of the party, no matter what. If they do not like their leader they must shut up or resign and if they do not, they must be booted out of the party and out of the National Assembly’.

Such a view of a pure proportional electoral system, Professor de Vos writes, leaves political power in the hands of the leadership of the party. The result is that MPs are not accountable to voters but only to the leader of the party – ‘as long as the leader retains the support of his or her colleagues in the leadership structures of the party’. Professor de Vos points out –

‘If you agree with this view, the argument that one can vote for a political party despite having misgivings about its leader becomes laughable. In this view the leader, in many respects, is the party’.

The ANC’s success would then be measured by the extent to which the interests of the ANC’s leaders are advanced, together with those whom they protect and who protect them. The yardstick would not be how South Africa and its people benefit.

In a recent discussion paper circulated within the Stalwarts and Veterans, the following comment is made:

‘Personal interest has assumed pre-eminence over the ethic of service to the people. The public protector’s State Capture Report and the recent leaked emails reveal that we have in our midst, a malevolent cabal of fixer politicians and “civil servants” who are transforming our system of government into one in which bribes and kick-backs are trump cards for self-enrichment’.

And so the motion of no confidence in the President had to be opposed ferociously. ANC MPs known to have supported it – Pravin Gordhan, Mondli Gungubele, Derek Hanekom, and Makhosi Khoza – are deemed to be a danger to the ANC, and are to be arraigned before ANC disciplinary committees.

The motion was before the National Assembly in terms of section 102(2). Without addressing the reasons advanced by the opposition in support of it, the ANC MPs shrieked, howled, and yelled abuse and insults at the Opposition. Those who delivered actual speeches claimed that the motion was an attempt to make a coup d’état – defined in dictionaries as a sudden, violent and illegal overthrow of a legitimate government. In South African law, this is treason. The cliché ‘regime change’ was freely used as a synonym.

So it is the view of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus, which took the lead from Luthuli House, that it is treason to move that the president has lost the confidence of the National Assembly by invoking a section of the Constitution. The screamers and speakers alike seem blind to all logic and irony, for the ANC itself had ensured that the section would be in the constitution, just as democratic constitutions the world over allow for a motion of no confidence in the elected head of State.

Luthuli House is thus adding a new and remarkable doctrine to constitutional law, having resolved that in South Africa a National Assembly motion of no confidence in the President occupies some transcendental jurisprudential space where it is simultaneously both constitutional and a crime.

Lord Byron, mocking the intellectual preoccupations of his contemporary and fellow-poet, described Samuel Taylor Coleridge as –

‘Explaining Metaphysics to the nation—
I wish he would explain his Explanation’.

Coleridge sought his answers in opium. Perhaps they’re offering something in the Saxonwold Shebeen which will help us to understand why, if it is not treason, what is wrong about invoking sec. 102(2)?

But this balderdash became inevitable. How else could the ANC caucus, directed by Luthuli House, defend a president who has been shown to be a liar and who has been damned by the Constitutional Court for being in breach of his oath to defend the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa?

Apparently, Luthuli House and the ANC caucus themselves have little confidence in President Zuma for nothing was actually said to defend him as President. In fact, when resisting a Constitutional Court application to order the Speaker to establish a fact-finding ad hoc committee that would force Zuma to answer questions about his conduct during the Nkandla debacle, Counsel for the Speaker herself conceded that Zuma had violated the constitution. What more is needed before a motion of no confidence would be supported by the ANC?

If one wonders also why the ANC’s leadership and caucus got itself into this, the answer stares one in the face.

Having told South Africans that the ANC comes before the country and, as Professor de Vos has observed, ‘the leader is the party’, Jacob Zuma had to be protected at all costs. This has nothing to do with good governance and the benefit of South Africa, but it is because all ANC Ministers and MPs have an interest in protecting him. In terms of the Constitution, with the President’s departure the Cabinet must resign and lose their salaries. Further, there is a real danger that they and all MPs will lose their parliamentary salaries and other benefits also, for a general election may have to be held if the National Assembly does not elect a new president within thirty days. For those who are protected by President Jacob Zuma, and who must therefore protect him, the prospect must be truly terrifying.

It is against this background that Luthuli House has decided that those ANC MPs known to have supported the motion of no confidence are to be disciplined. How can this be reconciled with the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the secret ballot? The Constitutional Court said:

“Members are required to swear or affirm faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution and laws. Nowhere does the supreme law provide for them to swear allegiance to their political parties, important players though they are in our constitutional scheme. Meaning, in the event of conflict between upholding constitutional values and party loyalty, their irrevocable undertaking to in effect serve the people and do only what is in their best interests must prevail.”

Professor De Vos sets out the reasons why disciplinary procedures by the ANC against its MPs who defied the caucus and Luthuli House to support the motion would be unconstitutional.

One might expect any President to be defended by whatever party constitutes the government if the issue of confidence related to policies set out in its election manifesto, and which are being lawfully and constitutionally challenged by the Opposition in the normal way of democracies. One might expect that the majority governing party would feel aggrieved if its MPs then turned against their own side to support a no confidence motion introduced by the Opposition. This would be so even if, as Professor De Vos notes, there are limits to the action that could be taken against them.

But that is not the situation the ANC now faces. Now, the challenge is based on conduct by the President which the ANC itself does not deny is unconstitutional and shameful and who has been found by the Constitutional Court to have broken his oath of office. His reputation is such that he does not dare to sue in defamation those who comment on its stench. Does the leadership of the ANC really want to go down in history as having punished MPs for having refused to be accomplices?

The doctrine of greed which has brought South Africa to this point stands in direct contradiction to the solemn undertakings of the State President and every Minister and Member of Parliament when taking office – that they would ‘obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all other law of the Republic’.

Just how the ANC’s disciplinary procedures will negotiate a route past the Constitutional Court’s decision in the ‘secret ballot’ case’ is not clear. The projected action against the MPs who stood their ground has no other purpose than intimidation, and Zuma himself is reported to have threatened his detractors on the ANC’s National Executive Committee ‘not to push (him) too far’ when a motion that he should step down was defeated. He was reported to have told the NEC, ‘I have been quiet because I don't want to harm the ANC, so continue attacking me in the media and you will see’.

He has been supported by Bathabile Dlamini, the Minister of Social Development and the President of the ANC Women’s League. On 19 March 2916, she said that ‘all of us in the NEC have our smallyana skeletons and we don’t want to take out all skeletons out because hell will break loose’.

What Zuma told the NEC is a renewal of what he said on 5 August 2008. During an application before the court in Pietermaritzburg to have charges of corruption arising out of the arms deal dropped, he vowed that he would take down other officials if the state continued to pursue him. He told his supporters that the ‘whole truth’ about the arms deal might be revealed if he were put on trial.

To make any sense of such a threat, it must be directed at those responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes and who also have reasons to fear the power and influence of the person making the threat. The histories of the South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, and the Special Investigative Unit are not more honourable than one would expect. Moreover, Zuma’s threat itself appears to be testimony pointing to guilty knowledge on the part of himself and those whom he was addressing.

On 8 September 2017, at a meeting in Lwandle in the Western Cape, Zuma said that despite being asked to step down his opponents could not come up with reasons for him to do so. He has said on more than one occasion that he had done nothing wrong, and that no reason had been shown for him to resign.

This is not inconsistent with his threats. If he is held to mean what he says, then they and his claim that no reason exists why he should step down makes sense in the context of organised crime: he is warning that he must be protected by those responsible for law enforcement and who are in some way dependent on, and protected by, him. There is nothing novel about such a symbiotic relationship between those (for Zuma is not alone) who hold political power, and corrupt state personnel. In the USA in 1951, the Final Report of the Special Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (the Kefauver Report) included two sentences which succinctly stated the issues:

“Organized crime has been able to flourish and grow largely because of the economic power wielded by gangsters. The ordinary, honest citizen cannot expect to be able to compete in either business or government with persons who obtain wealth and power through illegal means.”

The Kefauver Report is a good place to start reading about the Mafia.

The ANC Stalwarts and Veterans have risen to the challenge and are preparing a National Consultative Conference to take place in October. In a statement they say:

“We believe that the overwhelming majority of our citizens embrace the values of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of our country and share this view. We would like to believe that we speak on behalf of all members of the ANC who reject corruption, want to see the realization of our potential as a nation, and the elimination of poverty and the unacceptable levels of inequality.”

Though I am one of those who have signed the founding statement, I have no mandate to speak for the informal group of the Stalwarts and Veterans. I have been a rank and file ANC member for over nearly fifty years. When we published the manifesto in 1992, ‘Ready to Govern’, we offered South Africa a triumph over the nightmare of the past and the hope that we could make a new future. We spoke with blazing confidence – truly, we were ‘Ready to Govern’!

It was our objective –

‘To encourage the flourishing of the feeling that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, to promote a common loyalty to and pride in the country and to create a universal sense of freedom and security within its borders’.

Do Zuma and those tied to him really feel pride in what they achieved?

In January 2014, a six year old pupil in Limpopo died when the rotten structure of the school’s pit toilet he had to use collapsed and he was drowned in the excrement. I do not remember Jacob Zuma saying a word about this. He serenely reassured South Africa, a few months later, that:

‘I’m not worried about Nkandla because it’s not my problem. Nor is it a problem of the people that I’ve been campaigning... I think the people who have been talking about it is you guys, the media, and the opposition. The people are not worried about it. As a result, people don’t think the Nkandla issue is a problem to affect ANC voters. Not at all…..It’s an issue with the bright people, (with) very clever people it’s a big issue, and people who have thought using Nkandla would be an important thing for elections’.

In August this year (2017) the same thing happened to another child, a nine-year-old pupil at her school in Mpumalanga. Again, our president did not turn a hair, but he did reveal the depth of his understanding about South Africa politics when he was campaigning in the Western Cape. Explaining why the ANC did not win the in the last local elections, he said that ghosts might have voted the Democratic Alliance into power:

‘I don’t know where they get the luck to win here because people in the majority are not living comfortable. I don’t know‚ [maybe] it’s because of witchcraft‚ witches practice their craft in different ways....nowadays witches even used electricity’.

If we are content that this is what it means to be ready to govern, we deserve the politicians we elect.

There is an alternative, and it is within our power to use it.