By John Reynolds · 30 Oct 2008
Is it not ironic that we may soon have to call on Thabo Mbeki to be the 'mediator' in the political fall-out between the ANC and the break-away faction led by Lekota and Shilowa?
Of course, we should be concerned by the nastiness of the fall-out, but we shouldn't be surprised. Like in all families – which very often political parties become – arguments and break-ups tend to take a more vicious form precisely because they are more personal. It's not strangers fighting, where there can be distance, maybe even a degree of objectivity. It's people who know each other intimately. Know each other's strengths and weaknesses. Have a long association, deep connection and strong historical bonds.
So we have every reason to be very worried by this family feud that is unfolding before our eyes, which is not helped at all by the intemperate language, threats, bullying and intimidation.
Both sides to the conflict know that the stakes are very high. This is the post-Polokwane blood-letting that many predicated in the immediate aftermath of Zuma's victory, but which has taken some time to gather momentum. But now that it is in full swing, there does appear to be very little that will be able to stop it. 'Victory or death', seems to be the rallying cry.
For the ruling Zuma group, failure in not an option. They probably knew that recalling Mbeki was a high stakes gamble. But it was a gamble in their estimation that needed to be taken. Even if a 'dead snake', Mbeki's administration still represented a threat to the political ambitions of Zuma and those around him.
Ever since Polokwane they had seen how active Mbeki was in undermining the victory they believed they had legitimately achieved. From almost immediately re-charging Zuma to unilaterally re-constituting the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, it was clear that Mbeki and his supporters were not going to lay down and play dead.
And how do you deal with a snake, dead or otherwise? You cut off its head. The Nicholson judgement provided the perfect opportunity for such a beheading. Justifying their actions on the grounds that Mbeki’s administration was using state institutions to fight political battles, Zuma and his supporters 'used' their majority in the National Executive Committee to impose its political will on the executive. In one fell swoop, it calculated not only that it would cut-off the proverbial head of the snake, but that it would end the state of affairs of 'two centres of power' that had characterized the political situation in the country since Polokwane.
But there were problems with this calculation. Polokwane was a decisive victory, but it was not an absolute one. The 'dead snake' did not only have a head. It had a body as well. And lo and behold, it grew back not one head, but multiple heads. No longer a snake, but a hydra, which may yet prove to be a more formidable foe.
For the break-away faction led by Lekota and Shilowa, creating fear and sowing confusion among the ruling group within the ANC is more important – at this stage – than victory, captured so cleverly in Zapiro’s cartoon, pANCic. Showing that the Zuma group was wrong is more of an imperative in these early days than proving that they are necessarily right. That will come eventually. It will have to come if they are to present themselves as a viable alternative and credible political formation in their own right.
But for now the family feud will still rage with all the invective that has built up over the years. Accusations and counter-accusations will be hurled at each other. The elders will be called in at various stages to help settle disputes. History will be invoked to justify actions, to pillory the other side and to claim the moral high ground.
This is not to belittle the fact that there are certainly issues of differences in policy, program and orientation involved, which will become more evident in the fullness of time. It is more an attempt to characterize some of the internal features of the political struggle for 'custody' of the ANC that is presently taking place.
As an ordinary South African, I am absolutely delighted that the closet infighting between different factions within the ANC is now right out in the open where, in a healthy democracy, it rightfully belongs.