by Yvonne Taylor
[Yvonne Taylor, who lives in Capetown, South Africa, was a long-time friend of Maya's and has authored many "Letters from South Africa" for Daykeeper. This journal, written during September, October, and November 2008, while American eyes were focused on our own markets and politics, is a fascinating look at the recent upheavals in South Africa.—Ed.]
The last two weeks of September 2008 will go down in South African history as a watershed time: without any warning we lost our President and acquired a new one.
It's almost as though we were so busy watching events on the international economic stage that we didn't see what was happening in our own backyard.
For a long time there have been rumours of deep rifts in the ANC (our ruling party), but these were always categorically denied. However the cracks came to the surface in December 2007, when Jacob Zuma was elected president of the party instead of Thabo Mbeki; it has always been tradition that the country's president of the country is also president of the ruling party.
Mbeki was publicly humiliated and became a "lame duck" president; he'd lost stature and respect in many quarters. It was clear that the ANC was split into two main groups—the Mbeki camp and the Zuma camp; and the Zuma camp have been desperately trying to get rid of Mbeki for three years at least.
Mbeki has done some good things here and many unwise things. He unfortunately cannot take dissent, and anyone who didn't agree with him was immediately fired. He surrounded himself with those who were 100% loyal to him and his ideals, no matter how unworkable they might be. Throughout his tenure Mbeki has spent more time out of the country than in it, much to the disgust of the general public. His constant attempts to sort out other countries" problems instead of our own has met with much criticism; as has his "quiet diplomacy" efforts regarding the Zimbabwe electoral debacle. The day the shared government agreement was signed in Harare, Mbeki went from "hero to zero" within an hour because of the sudden and unexpected events in SA.
A few years ago, when businessman Shabir Shaik was jailed for corruption and fraud, Mbeki was virtually forced to fire Zuma as Deputy President due to the judges" findings that Zuma had "a corrupt relationship" with Shaik. Mbeki could not afford to have Zuma as his deputy, and so he selected a woman to take the job. This slap in the face to Zuma enraged his many supporters and widened the rift within the ANC; since then the internal strife has escalated to the point where Zuma accused Mbeki and his Cabinet of conducting a political conspiracy to get rid of him. Zuma has tried every trick in the book to avoid being charged with 783 cases of bribery and corruption, and his delaying tactics have cost the taxpayer millions of rands. As so many people say "if Zuma is innocent, as he claims, why not prove it in court?" Until such proof comes to light, there will always be a dark cloud of doubt hanging over him.
Two weeks ago Judge Nicholson upheld Zuma's allegation of the political conspiracy by Mbeki and the Cabinet. This was the final nail in the coffin for Mbeki (although in his resignation speech he denied any such wrongdoing). A meeting of the National Executive Council (consisting of about 100 people) voted unanimously that Mbeki be forced to resign, or else a vote of no confidence would be taken against him. If Mbeki resigned he would receive a lifelong pension and other perks; if he was forced out, he'd lose everything. Mbeki accordingly resigned on condition that all legal requirements of our Constitution were met. Watching him speak to the nation one couldn't help but feel at least a little sympathy for him, in spite of all his mistakes; he was dignified and controlled to the end and the public humiliation must have been very painful for him.
Our many opposition parties said it was not a political move but a revenge attack on Mbeki because he'd fired Zuma. Archbishop Tutu was "deeply disturbed" by the turn of events, stating that it was completely unnecessary as we have a general election coming up in April 2009. Robert Mugabe is "devastated" by Mbeki's resignation—not surprising, considering the cosy relationship between those two!
I can remember the day we waited to hear whether Mbeki would resign or not—it was a cliffhanger moment, because nothing like this had ever happened in South Africa before. Would we have a govt. in the next hour or so, or would we not? And if not—where do we go from here? It was unsettling and very worrying. When the announcement was made it created a feeling of numb shock in the public at large, although strangely, the stock market hardly noticed the event.
Now we were left wondering whether the entire Cabinet would resign in sympathy with Mbeki. As things turned out, almost half of them did resign, including our Finance Minister Trevor Manuel. His is the only government department that runs smoothly and efficiently and most South Africans hold him in high regard. He has done an exemplary job and steered this country for 10 years or more through some extremely difficult times and we"ve always come out winning. In fact it is said that our economy is performing better than any other emerging market at the moment in spite of the volatile global scene.
There's a general feeling that if Trevor is at the helm, we"ll be OK. But his resignation on Tuesday 23 September shocked the nation rigid, especially as he had said that he would not resign. Our stock market went into free-fall and the nation was horrified. Trevor was in New York at that time for the UN General Assembly, and expressed surprise that his resignation should have such a devastating effect on the country. He said that when the President goes, the whole Cabinet goes with him, although they could be available for re-election if they wished. But it was feared by many that Manuel had succumbed to pressure from Cosatu (the communist trade union) and the rantings of the ANC Youth League, led by its president Julius Malema. The latter is a young militant who has said that they will make the country ungovernable if Zuma doesn't become president (he/they have no idea of what democracy means), and has vowed to "kill for Zuma." The worrying thing about these ravings is that Zuma kept quiet all the time, instead of telling the young upstart to calm down, and Malema has refused to withdraw his threats.
As things turned out, a new President was sworn in yesterday (September 25), Kgalema Motlanthe. He was hastily appointed to Parliament in July this year, as a stop-gap in case Zuma went to court. It was likely at that time that Zuma would be prosecuted, since then he has been "let off the hook" by Judge Nicholson. This judge says he is very surprised at developments since his ruling in Zuma's favour; in the minds of many he has opened a can of worms.
Although Motlanthe has been active in the ANC for decades he is relatively unknown, and doesn't have much experience in governance. Little is known about his personal life either except that he has one wife and 3 children—a vast improvement on Zuma, who admits to 9 wives and 18 children (that we know of). To friends and family Motlanthe is known as "Mkhuluwa", the elder one. Unfortunately for astrology, his exact birth date is unknown, except that he was born in 1949 in a village near Bela Bela in the far north of the country, the youngest of 13 children. But after he joined the ANC in his early 20's, details of his political career are available, including a 10-year stint on Robben Island from 1977.
Motlanthe is considered a silent but strong force who is calm in moments of crisis, and somehow he has managed to emerge unscathed from the recent infighting within the ANC. He is known as an intellectual, a man of great wit and a dry sense of humour—that will be a refreshing change on our political stage! He is also known as a man of principles, "a paragon of political correctness". Immediately after becoming President he formed his new Cabinet and much to everyone's relief Trevor Manuel is back as Finance Minister. Another welcome dismissal/appointment was the Health Minister. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has been shunted sideways in favour of Barbara Hogan. For many years there have been loud calls for Msimang to be fired because of her outrageous remarks, total incompetence and not-so clean track record (a convicted thief and alcohol problem), but Mbeki always protected her. Now at last we may have someone who has other ideas for combating AIDS instead of garlic, beetroot and African potato!
There are other new or reshuffled Cabinet Ministers, but mostly they"re unknown. Motlanthe seems to have tried to placate both factions of the ANC by appointing people from both sides; his deputy is an ardent Zuma supporter. He has taken on a mammoth job for the next seven months, and will have to heal the rifts and create an image of stability for South Africa.
I personally prefer Motlanthe to Zuma for many reasons. The former is well-educated, eloquent, dresses well, has dignity and integrity and can hold his own with other foreign leaders; Zuma on the other hand had no formal education, was "home-schooled" to the level of a 10-year old, and when in public performs his "struggle" dance and sings "Bring me My Machine Gun"—hardly what one expects of the Head of State. And seeing him dressed in animal skins, dancing around with the Zulu warriors somehow doesn't create a very dignified picture. Watching him read a long speech a few days ago was acutely embarrassing, he was obviously struggling to read each word. It's widely felt he's an acute embarrassment to the country, especially in view of the rape case against him (which he managed to win somehow), and the many fraud cases lined up. Only in the eyes of his supporters can Zuma do no wrong.
Time will tell who will be our President after the general election in April 2009. The ruling party is imploding to a large extent, and may not even win the majority of votes next April. The ANCYL have already lost 40% of their members who do not agree with Malema's outbursts; there are more and more letters in the newspapers by young black men who express great disillusionment with the ANC's leadership, lack of service delivery, failure to tackle crime and corruption within the party. Generally the black population is no better off than before 1994, in fact they"re probably worse off due to the "fatcat" syndrome in the higher echelons of society and government.
A big problem here is that there are too many small opposition parties, all wanting their place in the sun; if only they could drop their petty differences, band together with the official opposition (DA) there would be enough support to unseat the ANC who have made a mess of everything they"ve touched. At this stage of the game, we"re all relieved that we have a govt. again and only time will tell how this difficult situation will unfold and resolve itself.
Since our ground-breaking political event in September when Thabo Mbeki was fired, things have become very volatile. The ANC, under Jacob Zuma's leadership, is frantically scrambling for survival. I feel if Pluto has anything to do with it, the "old" will be going out, and the "new" coming in.
The ANC is virtually a spent force, and it has all happened very suddenly and quite unexpectedly. Members are leaving the party in droves, from the top echelons down. Zuma and Co. are outraged by these "dissidents", and many have been thrown out of the ANC, which is laughable actually as these same "members" have already resigned.
It seems that not only are the "dissidents" disgusted by Mbeki's forced removal, but there is widespread discontent with the direction in which the ANC is going—personal power, sloganed T-shirts and singing war songs seem to be more important to the party than the welfare of the country and the millions of starving public who voted for them in the first place. The ANC appears to have "lost the plot" since 1994, lost their values and integrity. The fundamental principles that the ANC stood for in the beginning are nowhere in sight.
It seems that Zuma is fast realising that his presumption of being our next President is disappearing, he doesn't have much of a party left. Meanwhile, our former Defence Minister, Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota is whipping up a storm, almost as if on a campaign trail, it's now a matter of "when", not "if", a new political party is formed by all these breakaway politicians.
With our general election only a few months away (April 2009) there's not much time for a new party to establish itself, either financially or as to what its manifesto will be—but we can be sure that the political stage in South Africa has changed dramatically in the last few weeks, and things will never be the same again. Former ANC supporters are thoroughly disillusioned by the lack of service delivery, crime (and no attempt to stop it), corruption and general mismanagement of the country.
On another note, we Capetonians are extremely proud of our Mayor, Helen Zille. She has just been voted the best Mayor in the world, out of 820 possible candidates. The award is given for outstanding service to one's people, integrity, hard work and generally "doing an excellent job". Helen is also leader of our main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, so she's multi-tasking (like all women can do!) and managing to cope well. We are very proud and happy to have Helen Zille as our Mayor.
Meanwhile our new President, Motlanthe, has just returned from a trip to India, his first official foreign assignment. He joined the leaders of Brazil and India at a summit to discuss the world's financial crisis. All three leaders blamed the rich countries for the crisis, saying that it was unfair that poorer nations had to pay for the irresponsibility of speculators who have transformed the world into a "gigantic casino."
Motlanthe said "The ill-conceived decisions of the few have brought the international financial system to the brink of collapse. There is a need for improving governance of financial markets and institutions." He added "both developed and developing nations need to address what really went wrong and caused an unmitigated disaster."
These 3 leaders have called for "a new international initiative to bring about structural reforms in the global financial system". At last—the voice of reason in the midst of chaos.
Now that some of the euphoria of America's recent election is calming down, our attention is drawn to the complex situation here. The political scene is changing almost daily. The ANC is still losing members and most of its "top brass" have moved over to Lekota's new party, which has named itself the Congress of the People (COPE). This name has still to be confirmed by our Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The ANC are contesting this new name, saying the use of the word Congress is wrong, it belongs to the ANC. COPE's reply is that "Congress" is a universal word and can be used by anyone. How these politicians argue about unimportant matters....
Zuma is now pursuing "damage control." He has pledged that there will be no violence in the run-up to next April's election. But already, a public meeting with Lekota as leader had to be cancelled because of violent disruptions by ANC members. I personally will be most surprised if there are no further demonstrations of violence and intimidation between now and April.
A few weeks ago Zuma went to New York, presumably to assure George Bush that it was "business as usual" here—but I doubt he conveyed much assurance. Apparently Bush and Condoleeza Rice refused to be photographed with Zuma. Quite understandable.
In the past week Zuma has been trying to exercise "damage control" as the violent outbursts of hot-heads like Julius Malema ("We"ll kill for Zuma", "We"ll make the country ungovernable") and threats from Trade Union leader Vavi, have seriously dented the ANC's image. Zuma seems to have quieted these two people somewhat, as we haven't heard from them in the past week or two.
The main political parties are now trying to re-invent themselves in preparation for the April election. Strangely, the ANC has invited the public to suggest ideas for its campaign manifesto! What would the public like them to address? Have the ANC not
been listening to the people in recent years? There's a constant call for crime and violence to be combated; for service delivery, homes provided, better living conditions, higher wages. Personally, I feel if a political party doesn't know what direction it intends taking regarding running the country, it shouldn't be in the running at all!
Meanwhile the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, have given themselves a makeover, changed their logo and colours and are promising to be in a position to rule the country by 2014. Time will tell. They are the only stable party at the moment, but unfortunately have the reputation of being a party for the whites, which is not true—there are many blacks in the DA, just as there are whites in the ANC.
There is no way of telling what the outcome of our election will be. The situation changes almost daily and everything is so "up in the air." Blacks generally are disillusioned with the ANC, but might still support them because it's a party they know. On the other hand, COPE might draw a large chunk of votes and destroy the ANC's two-thirds majority; will the DA catch more votes because they seem stable and so far have managed the Western Cape better than any other party? COPE has an uphill battle, because there's not much time for them to accumulate the necessary funds, they haven't proved themselves yet, and actually they"re just a bunch of dissatisfied Mbeki supporters. Again, only time will tell us how this muddle is going to sort itself out. The April election promises to be the most hotly contested one ever.
Read some contextual backround on sub-Saharan Africa by Yvonne Taylor here.