/ 20 February 2008

Dexter’s attack simply a defence of his own interests

Stripped of its polemical verbosity, Philip Dexter’s article (January 25) simply argues that the electoral contest against Thabo Mbeki’s leadership was just about personal power to pursue egoistic interests. The newly elected leadership will use its power to pursue these interests, including purging those who differed with them towards the national congress. He also denies the policy shifts ushered in by the congress.

Dexter’s simplistic analysis obscures the complexity of the ANC leadership contest. No doubt, individuals who supported Jacob Zuma’s leadership slate were by no means homogenous. On the contrary, they were (and still are) marked by an unusual diversity in terms of class and ideological orientation. To miss this heterogeneity is to fail to grasp the nature of the ANC-led alliance itself. A multi-class alliance entails multiple class logics. It is for this reason that not everyone organised around JZ’s slate was critical of all pillars of Mbekism: narrow BEE, Gear and African renaissance (read South African imperialism). Therefore it is erroneous to suggest that JZ’s support was predominantly driven by egoistic interests.

Behind the complex and contradictory alliance of the people behind Zuma lies a fundamental unity against Mbeki’s abuse of state institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the SABC to settle scores against his political opponents. This includes cherry-picking on corruption à la Jackie Selebi and the arms deal, thus creating selective rule of law.

Powers conferred on the ANC president by the 1997 Mafikeng conference laid the conditions that enabled Mbeki’s leadership to displace the alliance and the ANC, and to dispense patronage. It is in this context that the new ANC leadership has to democratise the ANC and restore confidence in state institutions, which have been eroded by Mbeki’s selective rule of law. By the way, we are still awaiting the state president’s explanation for NPA head Vusi Pikoli’s suspension.

The abuse and centralisation of power and marginalisation of the ANC and the alliance has been challenged in different forms during Mbeki’s ANC presidential tenure. Not for egoistic interests, but to democratise the ANC and society as a value in itself. The ANC’s responses in the 2005 national general council was one of the intra-organisational instances in which “presidentialisation” of the ANC was expressed. It was more overt in the 52nd congress. When Mbeki asked questions about what divides the ANC, delegates said “it is you”, pointing at him.

Dexter suggests that the ANC’s 52nd electoral outcome has created “fear” among some South Africans. This proposition does not expand the reader’s horizons to see what the defeated leadership fears. One of the sources of fear among those who lost the leadership elections, including Dexter, lies in the fact that Mbeki shielded them against prose-cution in many corrupt activities, including in the arms deal.

By the way, Dexter was part of the SACP leadership that has been critical of Mbekism. We might as well use his newfound theory of egoistic individual interest to explain his U-turn.

Dexter’s recent political behaviour is a function of two related factors linked to Mbeki’s mode of rule and the shares-acquisition BEE model, one factor being his abuse of his position as SACP treasurer to acquire shares for himself from a company. He knew that he would not be re-elected to the SACP leadership because of this. The other is that his business activities could be subject to state investigation. To avoid possible investigation into his questionable business activities, he chose to castigate the SACP to please Mbeki.

Now that the Mbeki slate lost the election, he fears that the new leadership will reveal his business activities. He is not alone. The subtext of Dexter’s message is to appeal against any form of discipline and investigation into people who were shielded by Mbeki’s selective rule of law. In doing so, Dexter arms Mbeki to the teeth to continue using state power to subvert the ANC conference’s democratic outcomes.

While the newly elected leadership must not be vengeful, it must act decisively against anyone within and outside the state misusing their position for gain. Nebulous concepts of unity and “cohesion” must not be used as ideological paraphernalia to mask wrongdoing. If it means recalling Mbeki as the state president, so be it. Anyway, the principle of revocability is one the ANC’s democratic principles.

David Masondo is the national chairperson of the Young Communist League