The Second Transition: Vrot with peril

Jeremy Gordin says the concept is both dishonest and dangerous

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

- The Second Coming, WB Yeats

Those who have followed my illustrious career might recall a piece I wrote on Moneyweb in September 2011. On the other hand, you might not. So: part of it went like this:

"One person who would have been against continuing with the Disciplinary against Malema and his fellow YL office bearers, who must be enormously annoyed that the ANC has pushed ahead, is a fellow by the name of Ngoako Ramatlhodi.

Remember him? He's the oke who wanted to be head of the National Prosecuting Authority. He's is an ANC NEC member, chairperson of the ANC National Elections Committee and Deputy Minister of correctional services. (They sure can pick ‘em at correctional services, can't they?)

I note Ramatlhodi has a BJuris from the University of the North, a bachelor of law from the National University of Lesotho and is, what's more, an advocate of our supreme court.

Anyway, under cover of the Malema fandango, Ramatlhodi yesterday snuck a column into the Times. Ostensibly a riposte to those sickly liberals and so on who have been complaining about President Jacob Zuma's nomination of Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice, Ramatlhodi goes much further.

To cut a long and rather poker-faced story shorter (wonder if he wrote this himself?), Ramatlhodi has written that our wonderful constitution was actually "a compromise" on the part of the ANC to avoid bloodshed - and that the whiteys manipulated it so as to retain (mainly economic) power.

Let me give you a taste of what he says:

"Apartheid forces sought to and succeeded in retaining white domination under a black government. This they achieved by emptying the legislature and executive of real political power." ... "We thus have a Constitution that reflects the great compromise, a compromise tilted heavily in favour of forces against change." ... "In our case, the black majority enjoys empty political power while forces against change reign supreme in the economy, judiciary, public opinion and civil society....

"The objective of protecting white economic interests, having been achieved with the adoption of the new Constitution, a grand and total strategy to entrench it for all times, was rolled out. In this regard, power was systematically taken out of the legislature and the executive to curtail efforts and initiatives aimed at inducing fundamental changes. ...

"In this way, elections would be regular rituals handing empty victories to the ruling party. Regarding the judiciary, a two-pronged strategy is evident. The first and foremost is to frustrate the transformation agenda by downplaying requirements of gender and colour representation. Many obstacles, such as comments from white-dominated law societies, have to be taken into account when final decisions are made by the Judicial Service Commission." [Italics mine.]

Are you following this? The constitution was just a big con job, put together so that the judiciary would remain the pawn of white economic interests, and it also was structured in such a way as to suck power out of the legislature (parliament) and the executive (the government).

This was so well done by the old apartheid forces that our elections are a farce. Moreover, the judiciary is dominated by white-dominated law societies (instead of clever and equitable legal brains such as himself, Dumisa Ntsebeza and Mogoeng Mogoeng).

So what we need to do - if I understand Ramatlhodi correctly - is get rid of the vershtunkende constitution, which exists only to protect minority white (economic) interests, and so on and so forth. Who needs that crap?

Then we can all get on with doing what we need to do - nominating a silly pisher as chief justice, shutting up the God-awful Press once and for all, letting rank incompetence reign in the public service (including in Ramatlhodi's portfolio) , and so on - without let or hindrance.

Enjoy summer, my darlings, and the World Cup. If Malema doesn't get you, Ramatlhodi will."

(It just took me about 60 seconds to realise, by the way, that the World Cup to which I have just referred was the rugby one in New Zealand, not our soccer one.)

Now, I don't know what role Ramatlhodi's playing at the ANC's grand policy conference, known as the Second Transition, but which I believe should, for a few reasons, be called the Second Coming - a nomenclature issue that we can discuss another day.

I understand that the man overseeing all the documents etc has been, of all people on God's green earth, the shiny-faced Tony Yengeni. But maybe Ramatlhodi lent Yengeni (and President Jacob Zuma) his article.

I made light, or tried to make light, of the article when it appeared (see above). As I recall, but I could be mistaken, not too many people paid it much attention, except maybe Nic Dawes of the M&G - or actually I think it was Philip Roth-look-alike David Dison who pointed it out to me. But I remember thinking, "Uh-oh, here comes big trouble ...".

I remember being annoyed with Ramatlhodi. I thought Codesa and the ensuing constitution were, all in all, pretty elegant and equitable solutions that were the glue that held, or helped hold, this country together - and made it into the "miracle" everyone is so proud of.

And I thought: why does whiny spoilsport Ramatlhodi have to come along and piss on everyone's parade? By the way, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela did the same when she told one of the newest wives of that famous wife beater, VS Naipaul, that her Nelson had ballsed things up by being too nice to the honkies. The story was denied - but it had a gong-like ring of truth to me.

Anyway, I was correct about trouble: Zuma kicked off the Second Coming - sorry, the Second Transition - today (Tuesday) by saying that "compromises" had to be made at Codesa (Convention for a Democratic South Africa), which started in 1991, for reasons of economic stability. (There were also security considerations, which I think weighed far more heavily on the ANC's mind than the economic ones, but let's stay with Zuma for the nonce.).

In short - Zuma seemed to be saying (today) - at Codesa we didn't want to upset the economic apple cart - foreign investors and governments might have looked askance at us darkies fresh from the jungle (well, metaphorically) - so we left well enough alone. But now the time's come to sort out a bunch of economic stuff (economic reform, land ownership, mine nationalisation, etc) so that we can really liberate our folk.  

Listen, maybe Ramatlhodi has it right and I don't. I didn't return to SA until March 1992 and in any case wasn't involved in political journalism until much later. But of the people with whom I've discussed Codesa to some extent - inter alios Mac Maharaj, Moe Shaik, and Zuma - none has ever indicated that it was an exercise in horrible compromise. Au contraire.

Never mind. Let's accept what Ramatlhodi wrote and what Zuma said today during his introductory speech.

"Amongst underlying causes of the slow pace towards economic freedom, is the fact that ahead of the 1994 breakthrough, we went through a negotiations process at CODESA followed by a negotiated settlement. We had to make certain compromises in the national interest and these were necessary.

"For example, we had to be cautious about restructuring the economy, in order to maintain economic stability and confidence at the time. Thus, the economic power relations of the apartheid era have in the main remained intact. The ownership of the economy is still primarily in the hands of white males as it has always been."

So, to carry on with what I was saying, maybe in the smoke-filled ANC back rooms there was indeed a feeling that a massive amount of compromise had been the order of the day. In fact, let's say there was; let's say Ramatlhodi's bang on the money.

So what? Were there not good reasons for those compromises? And why would there be fewer reasons now than there were then? Is the world economic situation as it is at present, and is our situation as it is at present, are these situations such that one wouldn't care what foreign governments and investors think? I'll tell you what: it would have been much easier to have gotten foreign support of various kinds then - when the ANC was the world's darling - than it would be now.   

So the Zuma/Ramatlhodi argument that now is the time to sort out all those compromises doesn't, I must say, cut much mustard with me; in fact I find it distasteful.

Actually I find the whole business - the Second Coming (sorry, I mean Second Transition) - pretty vrot. Of course there is need to invigorate the economy, of course there is a need to do many of the things that Zuma enumerated today.

But to blame the mess we are in on the so-called "compromises" of Codesa, while avoiding the truth about the state we're in and of the hash we've made of things these last 18 years - economically, health-wise, juridically, educationally - is to be dishonest.

In any case, as Eusebius McKaiser points out elsewhere on this site, it is absurd to distinguish so neatly between politics and economics. Has the ANC had nothing to do with economics for the last 18 years, has it been those white males only? Above all, whatever happened at Codesa, it's the state and the ruling alliance that are politically responsible for the failures in the economy.

Let's call it like it is. 

... I see that I have written about 1 500 words and I was just getting started. Oh well. Dorothy says to Toto in The Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." I say to you: "It's 1994 no more ..."

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