The ANC: Are there any real leaders left?

Jeremy Gordin says the party spends its time spinning around in indolent circles, like a drugged snake

"I got them ol' shithouse blues, mama ..."


One of the horrors of growing old, especially if you're swallowing a bunch of pills every day (for diabetes 2, in my case), is that you become a caricature straight off the pages of a Philip Roth novel.

I am not talking about becoming Portnoy himself, that hero of daring solo sexual exploits, or Monkey, his chick. I am talking about Portnoy's dad, the constipated travelling salesman whose life was one long struggle to move his bowels.

Reading 40 years ago about Portnoy's snr's hilarious (depending on your point of view) non-exploits, giggling at the old man's terrible straining in the little room, in those days (40 years ago ...) when I had a full head of hair and a serious black beard, and was combing hair not my own out of that beard, and the Stones were getting no satisfaction on the beautifully-balanced Yamaha turntable, and the Jack Daniels was in a chipped (who cared?) glass, and the mary jane was green and pungent, and the nookie on the ol' black sofa, o was she hot ....

... Well, who would have thought, given my life 40 years ago, that I would end up playing the role of Portnoy's pop in life - inmy own vershtunkende life?   

Not me, certainly.

Now, some of you out there might be wondering: What's come over Gordin? Thought he didn't drink ... but what? Did he get pissed at Fred Withers' farewell to Exclusive Books? Did he have a mini-stroke, a little ischemic action in the old cerebellum, on the way back from the Hyde Park hotel? Did Tourette's syndrome suddenly grab him by the boo-boos?

What happened, actually, was that I thought about where I had thought about what I am going to write about now (politicians). It had been in the loo, as well-brought-up folk say, or the crapper, as the Australians allegedly say.

And I thought to myself: What's wrong with that? Who gives, so to speak, a shit? What, after all, are politicians like? And what are they worth? They belong in the crapper. What's all this respect for politicians?

I mean: have a look at the way in which politicians are treated on Politicsweb. Notwithstanding the vulgarity, racism, obtuseness and illiteracy of most of Politicsweb's readers - and of most politicians - the readers talk about politicians, even when they're criticising them, even when they're swearing at them, with reverent awe.

It's a hang-over from the days of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, those heady days when we thought all politicians were saints - and that maybe Joe Slovo's shit or Cyril Ramaphosa's smelled better than yours or mine.

Guess what? It doesn't.


So there I was a couple of days ago; and I was thinking about the Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe. I was thinking about him because it seems that Motlanthe has come out - or been forced to come out, by Little Julie Malema no less - as a major contender for the number one job in the ANC, a matter to be settled in Mangaung in nine month's time.

This move on Motlanthe's part - if this is what is indeed going on - is somewhat premature, but, well, better early than never.

Now, some people are going to be very happy about this. In fact elements of the ANC youth league have been talking for more than a year about replacing Jacob Zuma with Motlanthe.

I too ought to be happy. I mean: as my grandmother might have put it, what's not to like about Motlanthe? I don't know him personally. But I do know some people who know him well and my understanding is that he's one of the elder statesman of the ANC; affable; balanced; humorous; a former trade unionist; a gentle soul; not too given to airs and graces; and said to be pretty straight  (I'm talking about money here not sex).

Yet, besides that strange business about the helicopters for Iran (which has been smartly swept under the carpet by being handed over to the Public Protector), I find Motlanthe remarkably under-whelming. (And I don't like the helicopter business.) He might not be bad. But will he be especially good? Would he do what the next president of this country needs to do? Would he be the kind of person that the next president of Seffrica needs to be? I don't think so.

And so I started thinking about who else might possibly stand as ANC president. Tokyo Sexwale? He seems to be keeping his powder dry this time around, but he's not in with Cosatu and the SACP - and, besides, be honest, would you buy a second-hand shanty in Diepsloot from Sexwale?

Cyril Ramaphosa? Too busy counting his money. Trevor Manuel? Effectively shifted sideways to work on his voluminous report which is doubtless worthy and admirable, but ... In any case, the ANC as presently constituted is nowhere near as brave as the Democratic Party in the US. No way, right now, that it would have a non-African as its president.

Lindiwe Sisulu? She's being gingerly edged forward by various factions as a candidate for something - but, besides being a woman, she seems in recent years to have become niggardly of spirit; almost reactionary. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma? No way that the ANC and trade union worthies, whatever they might say, are going to have a softly-spoken, little lady at the helm.

And look at the guys at Luthuli House, by the way. There's the secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, every day more and more of a caricature of a blustering trade union bully-boy, replete with a pliable moron at his elbow, one Jackson Mthembu.

Then there's of course the president of the Youth League - but, oh dear, he made the ultimate career-limiting move a couple of days ago by referring to the boss as "big head." I'm not holding out too much hope for Little Julie's appeal.

But what about Zuma?

I am one of those who thought in 2009 that if Zuma appointed the right people around him, he could put together an effective and constructive presidency. I really didn't give a damn about whether he had 16 or 48 children or 24 wives, whether he'd passed grade three, and there were some days I didn't even much care whether Schabir Shaik had given him money (so long as it wasn't money belonging to local widows and orphans; if a French arms manufacturer wanted to lavish money on Shaik or Zuma, so be it).

But it didn't work, did it? Now we look at a country in which some of the most important sectors (the justice system, health, education, and transport) are dysfunctional and many municipalities are on the edge of dissolution. We see attacks being launched against the judiciary; a general cynicism and indolence; a clown being appointed chief justice of the land; dirty moves against the media; and a ruling party that spends most of its time spinning around in indolent circles, like a drugged snake.

I find myself fantasizing about some sort of Superman-type character who will burst up out of a pothole in his red cloak, saying: I do care about the poor; I do want to fix the inequities in this land and I don't give a damn about money for myself; I am a genuine democrat so let's get on with the most important stuff and let the media do what they have to do; I do want the courts to work and so let me get on with fixing the system; I do want to create employment, genuinely, and not just for my own family ...

But heavens, if I - a supposed student of realpolitik - am hiding in fantasies, I must surely, surely have them ol' shithouse blues, mama.

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