In his seminal work The Conquest of Happiness, philosopher Bertrand Russell explains the notion of persecution mania: “Some people imagine that others wish to kill them, or imprison them or do to them some other grave injury. Often the wish to protect themselves against imaginary persecutors leads them into acts of violence, which make it necessary to restrain their liberty.”
I could not but recall Russell’s book after having my Sunday morning spoiled by reading a piece of fiction written by ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, in which he accuses our paper of all sorts of plots and conspiracies.
Mthembu rounds up his piece by asking, like a helpless victim: “We once again raise the question: Who will protect us from such gutter and sensational journalism? What is our recourse?”
Mthembu has collected, in a deliberately mishmash manner, a number of Mail & Guardian stories published in the past few weeks to build up a case that surmises that we have, in a calculated manner, sought to create an atmosphere that will cause ANC members to distrust their leadership and confront them at the upcoming national general council. He warns ominously that we are about to meet our “Waterloo”.
It is beyond me why Mthembu has chosen this path, unless we follow Russell’s theory that persecution mania is always rooted in a too-exaggerated conception of one’s own merits. It is trite to say the media has no vested interests in the party’s own acrimonious internal battles, which are so well sketched out in its discussion documents.
The obvious interest is to understand and share with our readers the unfolding of the various machinations and shifting allegiances that would explain why Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi would say President Jacob Zuma is an unstoppable tsunami and later identify him as an enemy of workers’ interests; why ANC Youth League president Julius Malema would declare that he would kill for JZ and then, a few months later, launch a sustained attack on his leadership.
When the leader of the working class, Vavi, openly says the alliance is dysfunctional and his communist counterpart, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, disputes that, we wonder what the heck is happening. And we ask questions and try to find the answers.
When the coalition of the wounded that put Zuma into power starts disintegrating and breaks off into disparate new coalitions, those of us who witnessed its original formation and strength take an interest in understanding how we arrived at this point.
If our reportage of these dynamics, which unfold daily, divides the liberation movement, then we have been lied to; then surely the alliance is not as strong as our leaders have been proclaiming.
I will not waste my time responding to the charge that we have not produced a shred of evidence that some in the alliance are no longer supporting President Zuma, because the evidence is in the public domain for anyone who has been monitoring pronouncements from the youth league, Cosatu and, interestingly, even from some in the Young Communist League lately.
As for the plot against Zuma, Mthembu must ask both Vavi and Nzimande what they meant when they warned at the Numsa political school three weeks ago of a plot against the president of the ANC. They must produce the evidence or tell us where the paranoia is coming from.
And these two gentlemen are not the “faceless, nameless ghost sources” that he deeply maligns.
His lecture about Zuma’s provincial visits being part of the Imvuselelo campaign is unnecessary, because the particular story to which Mthembu refers made it clear that this was the official position of the party but that ANC national executive members had, in fact, directly asked Zuma about his paranoia.
The false assertion that we claimed Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was leading a group that wanted Zuma out of office was deliberately inserted in Mthembu’s statement to whip up emotions, drag Motlanthe into this dirty warfare and make the conspiracy theory sound a lot more sinister.
Again I refer to Russell, who pointed out that “the person inclined to persecution mania, when he finds a hard-luck story believed, will embellish it until he reaches the frontier of credibility”.
Mthembu is also appalled that we dared speculate on a Cabinet reshuffle, averring that by publishing the names of ministers who could be the casualties we had caused untold misery to them and their families. Is that so bad? Now we can no longer speculate and make informed guesses of appointments and dismissals?
Because the reshuffle — or, more correctly, the “restructuring”, as a presidency official called it — has not been effected, we are yet to gauge the accuracy of that informed analysis and speculation.
But I’ll be damned if calling Cabinet appointments strengthens the case for a media tribunal. And the story itself was not even the armchair prediction of an M&G pundit. It was a story about concern from the ANC Women’s League that most of the ministers who could be axed were female. What do we do? Do we hold off on the story until the reshuffle has been effected?
Overall, Mthembu makes the point that all these stories are intended to politically poison the ANC membership before the NGC and to create an atmosphere through which the ANC leadership can be vilified at the NGC. To quote Mthembu’s own words: “What a trash!”
Most ANC members are not naive and it is astounding to imagine that those million-plus members would be waiting to take their cue from four political reporters at the M&G.
In fact, how is it that the ruling party, which has such complete control over almost every facet of our lives, can be so paranoid about what these reporters have to say?
To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.”
Rapule Tabane is the M&G‘s political editor