I suspect it is easier to find someone to claim, brazenly, that colonialism was not all that bad than it is to find someone willing to disagree that President Jacob Zuma is nothing short of an outright disaster. Unless, obviously, you’re sparring with patrons at the Saxonwold shebeen.
The question facing us now is what to do about it. This requires various groups to self-examine their — our — role in propping up Zuma. What are we to do as “active citizens”? What more should civil society organisations do beyond some very admirable examples of lawfare and mobilising that do not yet seem to result in decisive political change?
What can opposition parties do better? What, too, of tripartite alliance members who acknowledge that the rot has set in deep and yet remain part of this Zuma-led government that is so darn ruinous?
The question, however, I want to focus on first in this column has to do with the ANC itself. There is a fascinating debate going on about whether the ANC leadership, minus Zuma himself, is doing all it reasonably can to put an end to this political mess.
Some argue that there is fierce contestation in the ANC’s structure of top six officials, as well as fierce contestation going on inside the party’s national executive committee (NEC) itself, as well as in the ANC’s parliamentary caucus. Zuma remains the party’s leader, so some argue, and removing him requires some fancy political footwork. That is in play as we speak.
Ultimately, so this perspective goes, Zuma will lose this war but frustrations from the outside should not lead to the hasty conclusion that the ANC, as an organisation, is doing nothing. It is a question of when, and not if, Zuma falls, politically speaking.
The ANC, and the tripartite alliance, are complicated beasts and any serious political animal should make an effort to understand how these complex dynamics play out. I am somewhat sympathetic to the view that demands of us to see the complexities of the organisation’s history and culture informing, for better or worse, how the leadership is wrestling among itself with the Zuma question.
Yet this analytic approach to the Zuma question is also, I am afraid, ultimately and needlessly beholden to an archaic approach to politics rooted in pre-democratic praxis that the ANC has dragged into contemporary times. We should be harsher on the ANC leadership for choosing obscurity, for dragging its feet, and for endless game theoretic-calculations where contemporary injustices demand open disagreement with a wholly useless leader, and swift, decisive responses in a time of multiple crises.
Why, for example, has Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa not yet openly disagreed with Zuma? What does he, as an individual aspiring to be president or the ANC as an organisation wishing to remain in government, have to lose if Ramaphosa shows some leadership and stops choosing silence when clarity of vision and political leadership is demanded?
The same goes for the rest of the top six officials in the ANC and members of the NEC. There is no strategic or tactical gain in being so slow to react to the implosion of a once-glorious movement. Where is the utilitarian benefit for the ANC to see its political brand fading away with 2019 really not all that far off?
Disagreeing clearly and openly with the ruinous leadership of the president is a good start to drive a wedge between Zuma and the party. Already the party itself is rightly implicated in the making of Zuma. He serves, ultimately, at the behest of the party.
We are now talking about a containment game. To contain the damage, the party has got to be seen, unambiguously and publicly, to share the deep sense of frustration of South Africans who have had enough. Those leaders with backbones intact should show these off so that the ones choosing silence can be shamed in their conspicuous absence from the public debate about Zuma.
This is also true of the South African Communist Party (SACP). There is no way this Zuma-led government could feasibly continue for much longer without the support of the communists inside national and provincial executive structures. The SACP, through the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility, is providing political legitimacy to a president it knows to be useless and damaging. Of course, many SACP leaders are also ANC members.
Still, if the SACP wants to be taken seriously as an intellectual and moral compass keeping its alliance partner in check, then it must stop leaving it all up to poor Solly Mapaila, the second deputy general secretary, to critique the ANC sharply.
The likes of Jeremy Cronin, Blade Nzimande, Rob Davies, Thulas Nxesi, Buti Manamela, Jeff Radebe and many others must choose between the joys of executive power and holding the ANC and Zuma accountable.
For too long the SACP has allowed the ANC to neutralise it by bringing their leaders into government, gagging them as they enjoy their time in government.
The ANC and the SACP would do well to quit rehearsing torturously slow, pre-democratic praxis, and act with haste.