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Jaundiced Eye by William Saunderson-Meyer has been dissecting SA politics for three decades, making it the longest-running column of its kind. WSM’s insights are applied to good use in this interview, where he picks up on his friend RW Johnson’s warning about Russian influence in SA’s watershed 2024 election and shares thoughts on the Eskom disaster; the SA president’s long-delayed but still pending cabinet reshuffle; and chances of the country avoiding a “disastrous” ANC/EFF coalition after next year’s poll. He spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.
Find timestamps for the interview below:
- WSM on Russia’s influence in South Africa and a post-2024 coalition – 02:00
- On the confusion and the potential for a split in the ANC – 07:40
- On the potential for a basic income grant – 15:10
- On fixing elections and the ANC drawing expertise from outside SA – 16:40
- On the outlook for our nation’s future – 18:40
Some extracts from the interview:
William Sanderson-Meyer on Russia’s influence in South Africa and a post-2024 coalition
Well, I don’t know if it’s hot air. Certainly the DA has, over time, moved its position on a potential coalition with the ANC – whatever the Russians view on that is. I think RW is completely right about that. I’m sure the Russians would prefer a more malleable coalition between the EFF, which is so stridently pro-Russian, and the ANC. There’s a lot of bad blood between the EFF and the ANC as well, especially on the Ramaphosa faction, on the so-called reformist side. I think one of the reasons the DA has moved its position is that there is also pressure within the business community, a kind of “anything but the EFF” solution to a potential coalition. I think many South Africans would have sympathy for that in that, however short such a coalition is likely to be and however troubled it’s likely to be, it is a terrifying option to contemplate a South Africa which is in the coalition between the EFF and the ANC. It really is the worst of all possible worlds – the EFF is essentially a stalking horse for the ANC and has always been. The darkest angels of the ANC are sitting in the EFF. It would be an absolute tragedy and a disaster for South Africa if that happened. I don’t know if we’ll see that coalition. Certainly there are many in the ANC and the EFF who would back such a coalition. The greatest hope of avoiding it is that the defeat handed to the ANC, if such a defeat can be handed to the ANC next year, 2024, when the election is scheduled, is of such a magnitude that an EFF coalition doesn’t suffice. In other words, at 10%, 11% EFF and 35%, 36%, 37% still brings them short of a governing majority. But the problems with the Russian connection extends, of course, beyond that – the ANC have really sullied the South African name in world forums on the Western side with its absolutely unashamed support for Russia and this ridiculous timing of a military maneuver where we send out our rowboats and two sailors to join the the combined fleets of Russia and China. There’s nothing wrong with South Africa wanting to be neutral but to pretend to be neutral and then to make such obviously, such patently biased and side-choosing decisions just comes at the cost of complete loss of credibility. So I hope Bill is wrong. I do think that it’s a very dangerous solution for South Africa to have an EFF coalition with Russia standing at the back. I think also we should remember that the BRICS aren’t entirely in the Russian camp. There are tensions there as well. Brazil and Russia – there’s some tension there. So there is some nuance in that situation.
On the confusion and the potential for a split in the ANC
I think it’s a very good point you make. I think it does. In practical terms, it shouldn’t be. The white community survives perfectly happily with having only one white in the top hundred in the ANC without beating its breasts and then having a tantrum about it. The Zulu nation is very proud. There’s no doubt that they take that as a slight. And I don’t think it’s intended as a slight. I think Ramaphosa is desperate. He is a peacemaker. He is a consensus seeker to the point of absurdity. So it’s not clear that there will be a complete exclusion because we’re still waiting for, and this has happened in the past few hours, a new cabinet, he may well be able to restore the balance to some degree in his cabinet appointment. But it’s interesting that if there were a strong Zulu leader, a credible leader, and I don’t believe Mkhize – I think there’s so much taint hanging around him. On the other hand, Zuma has survived despite all the taint. The ANC must really be worried about not not necessarily a split, but certainly a lack of enthusiasm in the next election for turning out for the ANC.
On the potential for a basic income grant
I wonder if the basic income grant at this stage suffices? Will it get out the voters? The ANC’s difficulty, in fact also the opposition’s, is that it has lost support. But luckily for it, that support hasn’t hasn’t gone to another party. The challenge for the opposition parties is to bring the enormous numbers of non-voting South Africans into a polling booth to register anti-ANC votes, a vote of any kind. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter where, unless it’s EFF and they had a coalition. The situation is so bad that I don’t know whether the basic income grant on its own can do it. So let’s say they do do the basic income grant and they manage to stable loadshedding. Both of those things have enormous financial implications. The only way to just end the loadshedding is to run full out on diesel, which is a huge cost. So a basic income grant is a huge cost. So you raid the bank and hope that you can recover after the election. It’s a huge gamble. But in a sense, you’re right. I mean, what else can the ANC do?
On fixing elections and the ANC drawing expertise from outside SA
There’s one thing it can do that worries me and come back to RW and the Russians and are an influence the Russians have. Put it this way, certainly the ANC can draw on expertise outside of South Africa, including across our borders in Zimbabwe, to help it actually fix an election. I think this is the one thing we were not talking about and we really need to think about. I’m not saying that it’s on the cards, but it’s certainly a possibility. The ANC, when the push comes to shove, wants to retain power with an emergency – a national state of disaster. So we’re going to have SOD off until next year, in April or May. During that period, under the cover of the election, all kinds of shenanigans can take place. And we mustn’t bluff ourselves that it can’t happen yet. And that happened in Zimbabwe. And it’s the only reason that the Zimbabwean government has managed to retain power and the opposition has lost is by cheating, stealing the elections. I don’t think we’re immune to that. And we really must enter into that election period convinced and confident that the Independent Election Commission actually is independent and it’s doing its job. We really need to have our eyes on that thing. I would not put it past the ANC and its and its supporters here and abroad to try to start shuffling those results to get a favorable outcome.
On the outlook for our nation’s future
I wrote in my column last week and it was very heartfelt. I’m out of the country at the moment and sometimes there’s a great value in that because one sees one’s land at a distance and so one’s emotionally removed from it. But at the same time, one pines for it. I just ended the column with what I really felt. And that is: South Africa has this way of giving one hope and then ripping it out again and plunging one into despair. It is this constant roller coaster of emotions. I think we need just to retain a sense of perspective. These are hard times and they are very threatening times. But on the other hand, the cracks that have opened up in the ANC are similar to the cracks that took 48 years to appear in the National Party. But at its 40th anniversary, the National Party looked invincible. At its 40th anniversary party, it was dead. So when a political organization collapses, that collapse could be extremely quick, and the faster that it happens to us, the more difficult it is to shlep through an election, for instance. So in this troubled time that we live in, there are also enormous opportunities. So we need to be realistic. I get very tired of reading in some of the mainstream papers, these endless appeals for “let’s be positive”, “let’s be optimistic”. I think one has to retain one’s sense of perspective. We have a fantastic country. We have extraordinary people. It’s fashionable to decry exceptionalism, but there is an exceptionalism to South Africans, which exists in other countries as well. South Africa has survived such incredible things. I think we have the resilience which can be trialed, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions that it’s great and that we are destined to triumph, because certainly we aren’t. “There are no easy victories” to quote the ANC’s Marxist that playbook.
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