Mandela is 90. But the sweet celebration of a life of leadership, service and generosity is mixed with the sour taste of a legacy being polluted in front of the old man’s tired eyes.
Make no mistake, Nelson Mandela’s legacy is under threat.
We are in trouble when someone as sober and steeped in the traditions of the ANC as Raymond Suttner can say of the party’s Polokwane election battle: “It was a battle for loot, between those who sought to benefit from continued Mbeki rule and those who had been ditched by Mbeki or sought to benefit from a Zuma presidency.” However, we have more worries than the development of a class of vampire politicians, characterised by bee-ems, bling and blue lights.
The problem with the ANC under Thabo Mbeki was that it granted him too much power. Mbeki became the embodiment of the ANC, and the ANC the self-anointed landlord of the state. So, when Mandela criticised policy on HIV/Aids, Peter Mokaba, the Julius Malema of his day, was wheeled out to denigrate him — and the party faithful were silent. And when Jeremy Cronin bemoaned the Zanufication of the ANC, he was forced to apologise — and the party faithful were silent.
But, in truth, the Zanufication of the ANC has accelerated, rather than slowed, since Mbeki’s defeat at Polokwane. The insistence by Luthuli House that all organs of state must bow to party discipline is a continuation of Mbeki’s own programme of hegemony, under a new leadership.
The conflation of party, state and leader — the genesis of totalitarianism — continues ever more harshly in the mantra that an attempt to put Jacob Zuma on trial is an attack on the ANC, and that an attack on the ANC must be resisted at all costs, with force if necessary, including by tearing down the carefully built state institutions that are intended to limit the exercise of power. At the apex of those institutions is the Constitutional Court.
To claim that comments by its secretary general were not an attack on the independence of the judiciary is simply disingenuous. Gwede Mantashe accused the court of being part of a “siege” being laid to the movement. This because the court had dared to respond publicly to what it perceived as an unprecedented attack on the integrity of its own decision-making process in the Zuma matter. As one commentator has pointed out, the legitimacy of the courts has long been fragile and a substantial constituency within the ANC has never accommodated itself to constitutional democracy. The difference now is that that constituency is in the ascendant.
How else are we to understand the threat to “kill for Zuma” to “eliminate” the counter-revolutionaries; how else are we to understand the sustained and coordinated attack on the Constitutional Court? It speaks of a leadership straining to escape the institutional restraints of democracy. Again, that process began under Mbeki, who specialised in producing the veneer of institutional independence, but getting what he wanted through back-room manoeuvres and bullying.
The ANC under Zuma does not have the time or the clout (yet) for such methods. Zuma has a few more legal stratagems left before he has to face his corruption charges, but they are growing more desperate and less convincing. It is worth recalling that Mandela willingly subjected himself to the judgement of the courts when he was taken on by Louis Luyt, surely one of the most odious symbols of those who profited both from apartheid and from post-apartheid opportunism.
It is easy to see why Zuma cannot take the same route. Unlike Mandela, he risks being crushed by the process. What the ANC has failed to explain is why Zuma is so important that he must be protected at all costs? We are seeing a concerted attempt to bully the courts into producing the desired outcome. Perhaps the answer is that those who seek to break through the limitations on the ANC’s power are using Zuma to batter them down in the same way they used him to oust Mbeki.
So, is Mandela also “yesterday’s hero” for those, like Zwelinzima Vavi, for whom the Constitution and its institutions seem just a stepping stone to some mythical revolution?
As commentators have pointed out, where Mandela united, Mbeki has divided. His willingness to forgive and be reconciled with his former persecutors in the interests of South Africa is in sharp contrast with the “politics of total take-over” that has gripped the ruling party. The skills, commitment and track record of officials and politicians no longer seems to count for anything. The new ANC appears to have adopted the same approach of power politics rather than moral authority.
Both factions have misunderstood Mandela’s inclusiveness.
It was not based on sentiment. It was based on a sober assessment of the reality of South Africa’s monumental divisions and inequalities, but which factored in and fostered the human capacity for solidarity and the virtuous effects of building a common sense of nationhood.
Mandela’s birthday should not only serve as a celebration of Madiba, it should become a rallying point to bring together South Africans to defend what he achieved, what he stands for.
Mandela can’t come to our rescue any more. But his example can.