The Genie is Out of the Bottle

By Saliem Fakir · 22 Oct 2008

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Picture credit: esthr
Picture credit: esthr

It must have started somewhere of course. Someone let the genie out of the bottle. Thabo Mbeki denies he let it out. He believes he had good grounds to fire Jacob Zuma and disagrees with Judge Nicholson's interpretation that he used the National Prosecuting Authority to pursue a political vendetta.

He has also challenged Zuma to debate him live on TV, Obama and McCain style, in an attempt to once and for all set the record straight. Zuma refuses the duel.

In the meanwhile, Mbeki has filed papers at the Constitutional Court challenging Judge Nicholson’s findings, to protect his good name and legacy.

Mbeki has in effect opened up another front, by attacking from the flank, as the frontline war of words continues between the ANC and the alliance of Lekota, Shilowa, Madisha and their rebels. None of this is without calculation.  Everything has a measure of timing to cause maximum disturbance and disorientation.

The legal duel going on between Mbeki and Zuma is part of the same campaign. It is all aimed at exercising pressure on the ANC and will no doubt be nothing but an ugly mess. It will sap the good energy of the ANC possibly for years to come without the ANC being able to focus on the country’s affairs. The new party too, will be caught up in it.

But, the genie wasn’t only let out by Mbeki. There are also the crazed voices from within the ANC, the allies of Zuma, calling for the death of those who will not see Zuma to power.

Just as this has been worrying to the public, so is the silence with which it has been allowed to go on without reprimand when it is needed most. The ANC and respected leaders within it have allowed its great and lofty traditions to be infantilised by infantile politics.

This infantilisation seems to be all over the place. Take, for example, the oddball antics of Bhutana Khompela.  Who after being flown and dined first class to watch the Springboks play the final at the World Cup in France, is now on a mindless campaign and rampage to destroy the emblem at all costs.

Khompela seems to be on his own bat in total contradiction with the rest of what the ANC is saying.

It is this reduction to the absurd and our witness to incongruent forms of leadership from within one party -- from the sublime to second rate -- that is turning loyal ANC supporters away from the party.

It would be easy to blame Lekota and Shilowa for the ANC’s crisis, but they didn't start it and neither will they end it. ANC voters, it would seem, will also refuse to be treated as shallow onlookers; they will simply decamp or go elsewhere.

When the genie is out, it is unstoppable and this is what we see sadly unfolding, as two warring camps in the ANC begin to threaten and call each other dirty names.

The most recent being Angie Motshekga, the President of the ANC’s Women’s League, who at the suggestion that the ANC is gone to the dogs, retaliated that in fact ‘it is the dogs that have left’, referring to Shilowa and Lekota, her once erstwhile comrades. Motshekga’s is one of the many name-calling attacks.

As a way to taint their credentials, dirty names have also been lobbed in the direction of the rebels by COSATU, the SACP, the Young Communist League and the ANC Youth League. A whole concerto of verbal abuses are flying both-ways, as each camp tries to stake a claim to be the true darlings of the Freedom Charter.

It's an unsavoury public spectacle that could easily degenerate into violence.

The ANC is more worried now that Shilowa has joined Lekota on a campaign to woo the 40 percent or more disgruntled and disillusioned ANC members that voted for Mbeki at the Polokwane conference.

The ANC is being tested like no other time in its history. It is no longer a liberation movement, but a party that controls the machinations of the state. Access to which requires loyal voters, not just their emotional attachments because of the ANC’s historical role in the struggle.

Voters want something tangible, not just promises and rhetoric. Neither do they enjoy seeing the internal bloodletting.

The ANC has to be worried about the Shikota train as they continue to harass the ANC like the insurgents of an occupying army. Hard-line responses seem to do nothing but fuel the conflict.

It looks like more big names are likely to be let out of the hat soon. More defections look eminent. In the Western Cape, a co-ordinated set of resignations is taking place. This makes the management of the rebellion unwieldy as the ANC tries to prepare for the elections and govern with a sense of normality.

Delegations are being sent in a big hurry to all the seven provinces where rebellions are on the go. The biggest concern for the ANC is its traditional stronghold -- the eastern Cape. It looks like members there are willing to switch allegiances in large numbers. A loss there would be significant, a great symbolic moment and a triumph for the new claimants of power.

There is no doubt the new party will hurt the ANC come elections. The thrill of a new party can be quite enticing, especially if career paths are suddenly being shut down by the opposing camp -- in addition to the fact that some are simply tired of the ANC’s seemingly endless haemorrhaging.

But the new champions of democracy may not be saints, even though they will be creating new spaces and opportunities for party-political realignments. Their long-term future is open to question, as is their promise of something wonderfully new for us all.

John Maynard Keynes once likened picking stocks on the stock market to a competition where participants have to try and choose the prettiest girls. The same analogy can be applied to current political battles.

Keynes remarked: “It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligence to anticipating what the average opinion expects average opinion to be.”

Keynes is a warning that none of this is about the intelligence of the voter -- on the contrary, it is at the expense of our belittling. There are often no saints where there is the smell of power and a fight for it -- especially, from the warring mouths and feet of the old and the new.

If our politicians do speak to and touch at the roots of what is affecting people, then they are truly saints whose feet must be kissed and washed. But we will have to wait for that promised day, as they speak their words and wave in front of our faces, the Freedom Charter. Hoping, as they will that they will be the pretty girls we choose.

Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town.

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