Editorial: ANC self-corrects. Again.

This time, the Zuma faction in the ANC found it impossible to continue protecting Motsoeneng because members, and so many voters, were in revolt. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

This time, the Zuma faction in the ANC found it impossible to continue protecting Motsoeneng because members, and so many voters, were in revolt. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

It is easy to lose sight of one of the ANC’s greatest virtues: its ability to self-correct when faced with enough pressure.

The party’s internal democracy is raucous, to be sure, and the lack of central control leads to situations such as the recent violence in Tshwane. But it also led to Thabo Mbeki being unseated despite having his hands on the levers of both state and party – and this week it led to a flip-flop on the SABC.

At a stroke the ANC went from fiercely defending SABC tzar Hlaudi Motsoeneng (and, by extension, his ludicrous attempt to reinstate political censorship) to asking some of the questions much of the rest of the country has been asking for some time.

How is it possible that a public broadcaster could have a formal policy to protect the same public it supposedly serves from those nasty images of destructive community protests? We don’t know. Neither, it turns out, does ANC heavyweight Jackson Mthembu.

In response the SABC went from accusing critics of being part of some shadowy anti-ANC conspiracy to accusing the ANC of being in league with shadowy white monopoly capital.

It is the absurd piled on top of the farcical that makes it easy to shrug off the entire thing as internal politics – or to laugh at the ANC’s pitiable attempt to keep in step with public sentiment as elections loom.

But the turnaround also speaks to the advantage of having a ruling party structured, on the face of it at least, to be bottom-up.

This time, the Zuma faction in the ANC found it impossible to continue protecting Motsoeneng because members, and so many voters, were in revolt.

The ANC knew the sudden reversal would make it look silly. It realised the new position would be seen as knuckling under the SACP and civil society, which would make it appear weak. There was no choice.

This was not a case of miscommunication, or miscalculation. This was Jacob Zuma forced to abandon one of his more important chess pieces in the middle of the board, undefended, because his power base would not stand for it.

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