Maimane: ANC first, SA second. NEC outcome another nail in the party’s coffin.

The legend about Nero fiddling while around him Rome was burning rings some truth in South Africa, but it’s the politicians that are quarrelling. And the sheer depth of this internal strife reared its head at the latest ruling party’s National Executive Council. It’s no secret that the knives were out, ministers were split between those wanting President Jacob Zuma to step down, and those wanting him to stay. The ANC has since closed ranks, throwing its support behind a president that spends more time fighting charges than running the country. And it’s these distractions that have taken away from the real quagmire South Africa finds itself in. On the edge of ‘junk status’, unemployment at record highs and lacklustre growth, all things swept to the side, while protectionism takes centre stage. Opposition party leader Mmusi Maimane says these recent developments are just another nail in the ANC’s coffin. A good read. – Stuart Lowman

By Mmusi Maimane

If anyone still doubted the extent of the decline of the ANC under Jacob Zuma’s leadership, the outcome of their National Executive Council meeting this week surely provided final confirmation. The ANC leadership is now completely exposed as being irretrievably divided, paralysed by patronage and wholly unable to act in the nation’s – nor even the party’s – best interest.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane

On Monday, the ANC’s NEC emerged from extended deliberations on whether or not to remove Jacob Zuma as President of South Africa. This discussion was instigated by Cabinet Minister Derek Hanekom, and supported by many other NEC members, in a motion that took Zuma’s faction by surprise. There followed two days of heated debate ending in a consensus to retain Zuma as SA President. In the words of the ANC’s press statement afterwards:

During the course of these discussions, a call was made for ANC President, Comrade Jacob Zuma, to consider stepping down as the President of the Republic of South Africa… After extensive deliberations, the NEC came to the conclusion that the National Democratic Revolution remains on course, however the revolution is facing serious threats being racism, ethnic nationalism and monopoly capital.

On the call for the President to consider stepping down as President of the Republic, the NEC took time to elaborate on what we have previously identified as a negative narrative directed towards the President… Following robust, honest, candid and at times difficult discussions, the NEC did not support the call for the President to step down. The NEC resolved it was more urgent to direct the energies of the ANC in its entirety to working towards the unity of the movement.

This outcome smashes once and for all the naïve idea that the ANC can self-correct. Despite its pitiful attempt to suggest that the President’s unpopularity is due to the subjective propaganda of his detractors who drive a “negative narrative” about him, the 104 NEC members know full well that President Zuma is damaging the ANC and the country. The ConCourt’s Nkandla judgement, the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, the ANC’s loss of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros and the SaveSA movement are all hard fact that no amount of spin can alter one way or the other.

And yet they are incapable of taking action against him, because that would mean taking action against themselves too. The fact is, Jacob Zuma is only the most high profile ANC leader to be caught in a web of patronage. At least half of all NEC members are too complicit in corrupt dealings to be able to withdraw their support from him. Their protection of him is an act of self-defense.

Last year, South Africans were shocked when Jacob Zuma openly stated that the ANC comes first, implying that the ANC’s wellbeing was more important than South Africa’s wellbeing. The great irony is that the NEC meeting shows that the ANC leadership cannot even act in the party’s best interest, let alone the country’s best interest. The ANC is haemorrhaging voters and its leadership knows it will continue to do so while Zuma remains South Africa’s President, and yet it is paralysed by patronage.

South Africa's President and ANC president Jacob Zuma attends the party's three-day National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Pretoria, in this March 18, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Jacob Zuma

The NEC meeting exposes the extent of division in the party. That the deliberations went on for so long and that the patronage faction steadfastly refused to vote on the matter suggests that the ANC is cleaved down the middle into two roughly equal groups bound by one ANC brand but having little else in common. Hence the ANC’s ideological schizophrenia: Zuma’s patronage faction speaks of the National Democratic Revolution, which is wholly incompatible with the National Development Plan that the reformist faction is trying to implement.

The ANC is captured and South Africa is suffering the consequences. But the ANC’s decline does not have to spell South Africa’s decline. The reformists within the ANC leadership have been emboldened to speak out because they know South Africa has less and less to lose, and more and more to gain, by them doing so. This event could herald the realignment of South Africa’s politics. Because it is clearer than ever that the ANC’s reformist faction has more in common with the broad coalition that now governs Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay: a commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law. And together, we are in the majority. It is only a matter of time until we unite to save South Africa.

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