GNU: Listen carefully...

Riaan de Villiers says sometimes it pays to pay close attention to what politicians are saying

My phone rang early on Wednesday evening. “Don’t blame me for the politics,” intoned a gravelly voice on the other side.

It belonged to a client, and my only remaining contact in the ANC. A fading one, because he isn’t going back to parliament. He’s had a long stint in politics, and now wants to turn his attention to other things.

In fact, until recently, he had a great deal to do with things that politics – and the ANC in particular -- could be blamed for, especially in parliament. But you know how it goes … up-close and personal, one doesn’t make a meal of it.

It was the day of the ANC’s National Working Committee meeting, prior to the big meeting of its National Executive Committee, and a huge decision was in the making. Mr X was reluctant to talk about it, but I pushed my luck a bit.

After Ramaphosa’s speech at the IEC Results Centre, I couldn’t quite get a grip on the political conversation. Coalitions, governments of national unity, minority governments, talks about talks, options and scenarios … it all began to run together. At least some of this was fuelled by inaccurate reporting (about which more later).

Specifically, I was confused about the perceived differences between a coalition government and a GNU, and why the ANC should choose one option rather than the other. So I poked the bear a bit. While he hadn’t been in the meeting, I knew Mr X would know exactly what was happening.

First, he fired off with a suspicious: ‘Why d’ya ask?” Lamely, I responded with something like, well, the country’s fate does seem to hinge on it, so I was kinda interested. (And no -- I’m not an NIA agent.)

Irritably, and with the air of boredom and distaste he affects when talking about politics, he said: “Jah well, they’re just gonna go for a government of national unity. That way, they don’t have to choose between any political parties.’

We then went on to talk about the other things. But Mr X had cleared my confusion in a single sentence. Specifically, if you form a coalition, you have to choose between opposing sets of political parties in order to form a government, and you are crucified by the others. The political warfare and national paralysis continues.

But if you form a GNU, you invite everybody to join, albeit on the basis of an agreed set of principles. And if they decline the invitation, well, then that’s their problem, isn’t it?

Whatever the outcome, It’s a smart move, clearly aimed at avoiding having to choose between the DA/IFP et al on the one hand, and the EFF/MK on the other.


Part of the confusion has been created by the dear old Fourth Estate. On BizNews, R.W. Johnson writes of an announcement by Fikile Mbabula, the ANC secretary general that the ANC would convene a “Codesa Mark II” of all parties, which would then form a GNU. He then goes on to give the idea the vintage Johnson double-barrel.

I found this odd (the idea of another Codesa, that is), so I dug around a bit on the internet. First, I listened on YouTube to Ramaphosa’s statement at the end of the NEC meeting, and found he only talked about a ‘national dialogue’. Then I dredged up video clips of that master of obfuscation, Mr. Motormouth Mbalula, making impromptu remarks to the media.

Lo and behold, in the course of Thursday, he spoke about conversations with other parties ‘like a Codesa’ – in other words, it was just a figure of speech. Somewhere along the line, some journo or sub-editor had no doubt turned this into a headline: ‘Mbalula says the ANC is going to stage another Codesa’.

I do hope Bill wasn’t just put off by the idea of another Codesa (well, who wouldn’t be? Two years of talks?) because as far as I can figure out, this isn’t going to happen.

By the way, Bra’ Fiks’s reputation for putting his foot in it is undeserved. Wise up, guys, he does this on purpose -- behind that convenient smokescreen, he’s as smart as hell … The same goes for Chairman Gwede Mantashe, who – behind his Benign Uncle act -- has a mind like a steel trap. But that’s a story for another day.


Given all the above, I’ve realised once again that while politicians often fly on autopilot, and can safely be ignored, they sometimes say things one has to listen to very carefully. I believe this to be true of Ramaphosa’s statements in the IEC Results Centre, and especially after the end of the ANC NEC meeting last Thursday.

Again, it seems to me the latter statement has been poorly reported and also poorly analysed. Obligingly, though, the whole thing has been released by the government news agency, and reproduced by Politicsweb. Ostensibly, it offers a big political carrot, but under the hood it also carries a lot of stick.

This starts when it speaks of the need to establish national and provincial governments that are ‘stable, effective, and advance the interests of South African people as a whole’. H’m.

It continues: ‘We must act with speed to safeguard national unity, peace, stability, inclusive economic growth, non-racialism and non-sexism’. It starts to occur to one that these ostensibly benign and self-evident values don’t apply to all of South Africa’s political players.

It then speaks of a National Dialogue aimed at ‘rebuilding social cohesion in a fractured society following a particularly toxic and divisive election campaign’. When Schoolmaster Cyril read the last bit, his voice slowed and deepened in his trademark show of disapproval.

In line with the GNU model, the statement then goes on to spell out a set of principles that would guide the party in collaborating with others, based on ‘advancing the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous nation’.

This seems to preclude the formation of a ‘black political pact’, advocated by our very own political princess, Lindiwe Sisulu, who has taken to dissing the ANC government after serving as a cabinet minister for almost 20 years. In the same “powerful public pronouncement” to IOL, she is quoted as saying: "Black history in South Africa is painful, and many still bear the scars, just like me.”

But back to the President’s statement: All partners would need to commit themselves to shared values, nation-building and social cohesion. Then comes a torpedo: “These values include respect for the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Rule of Law …” Respect for the constitution? Isn’t that the document the MK Party has promised to tear up?

Ramphosa goes on to intone: ‘The ANC notes that we have ideological and politcal differences with several parties in our political landscape. However, we will not preclude the possibility of working with any party so long as it is in the public interest, and in keeping with the principles that I have articulated …” [My italics]

And then the kicker: “We have agreed … that it is both necessary and strategic that we act in a manner that seeks to unite the broadest range of social forces and isolate those that seek to cause chaos, instability and division’.

Isolate? Dang! It seems to me this contains the germ of a strategy to reduce the MK Party and its ilk to a security problem instead of a legitimate political player. It has already emerged in the remarkable (and largely overlooked) NatJoints media briefing about its intention to maintain public order during the election process. (To make it work, though, Fannie Masemola is going to have to send more than 200 extra riot police to KZN.)

Be that as it may – since then (by Sunday morning, to be specific), the DA and IFP has reportedly agreed to enter into GNU talks with the ANC, while the EFF and MK Party have grandiosely and petulantly thrown their political toys.

(While I’m in fine-grained reporting mode, Floyd Shivambu declaimed: “We’re opposed to this GNU in as far as it was concocted in 1994 ... by Nelson Mandela … We don’t want to form any part of a government with representatives of the white colonial and apartheid system … If the ANC wants to choose that route, they can do ahead and do what they did in 1994 …” Which hardly seems to amount to recognising the legitimacy of the South African constitution, never mind the multiparty negotiations that led up to it.

In the course of his declaration, Shivambu managed to stack up an impressive series of vituperative adjectives -- in fact, it must be some kind of record. Shivambu contrived to declare that the DA … “that white minority party” … had been “exclusively funded by the beneficiaries of the white capitalist and apartheid colonial establishment”, with the sole purpose of undermining the EFF. Now and again, one has to stop and admire the rhetoric.)

Anyway, following the ANC’s chosen strategy, as far as who’s in and whos’ out – or rather, who’s counted themselves in and who’s counted themselves out – go figure.


Postscript: An observant reader may well ask: How come Mr X knew what the ANC was going to decide a day before the NEC meeting? And how did The Pres manage to scribble his multilayered, word-perfect statement of 1 600 words on the back of a cigarette box in the half hour after the meeting ended? Ditto, actually, his statement at the IEC results ceremony? Go figure once again … they’ve been a long time coming.