THE Marikana massacre is indeed a defining moment for the new SA. It has marked the moment when the pervasive faction fighting over the leadership of the political alliance that is supposed to be governing this country ran out of control.
When all the shouting and weeping and finger-pointing is done, the bottom line is that what happened at the Lonmin mine on August 16 began as a battle between rival politicised factions. And that battle was itself part of a larger war over which faction will gain control of SA at the next election.
It was about Mangaung.
These events did not occur out of the blue. Reports have been coming out of the Rustenburg area in North West province for some time of a power struggle over control of the African National Congress (ANC) region there between the party’s regional chairman, Supra Mahumapelo, a Jacob Zuma supporter, and its provincial secretary, Kabelo Mataboge, who wants the president replaced at Mangaung.
Power struggles like this have been going on all year throughout the country, because that is how far the ANC’s internal electoral system has degenerated. Under the pretence of suppressing political ambition, contenders for high office are supposed not to declare themselves publicly until shortly before the national conference is due. Even then they are not supposed to campaign for election; they should wait to be called, or "deployed", by the conference delegates.
This is ridiculous. It is also dangerous and thoroughly undemocratic. Because what happens is that there is surreptitious lobbying and bargaining that goes on behind the scenes — and constantly leaked through the media — by agents of the key contenders to secure control of party branches ahead of the conference itself.
Those branches then provide the vast majority of conference delegates.
The currency in this backroom bargaining is the promise of good positions or other perks in the administrative structure.
This stacking of branches goes on constantly but increases as the conference date approaches. It means the outcome of the conference voting is effectively decided well ahead of the meeting. Everything is wrapped up by the time the delegates arrive — a factor former president Thabo Mbeki and his team failed to recognise at Polokwane.
What the events at Marikana tell us is that the process has become contagious: the political factionalism within the ANC’s North West province has now percolated into the trade unions.
At the Lonmin mine, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) supports Zuma, while the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is against him — and has established a relationship with the expelled ANC Youth League rebel, Julius Malema, who is stirring the pot all he can to wreak his revenge on Zuma.
It is a toxic mix, and it can only spread and envenom the politics of the ANC and the country more and more as long as this crazy electoral system is retained.
If the ANC wants to avoid such a fate, it should change the system.
Its own state of health aside, it is quite wrong that the next president of the ANC, and thus of the country, should be chosen by a mere 4,000 or so committed delegates, while the rest of the country, including the vast majority of the ANC’s 1-million plus members, are bystanders.
That is Tammany Hall politics, and it means we may well get a president of SA for the next seven years who does not enjoy majority support even within his own party.
It so happens that this week a different and far more democratic process is taking place in the US. There, the Republican Party is holding its national convention in Tampa, Florida, where it is anointing Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate. On Friday, the Democratic Party will meet in Charlotte, North Carolina, to name its candidate, the incumbent, President Barack Obama.
The critical difference is that those candidates have emerged after months of rigorous campaigning across all 50 states of the union to win the support of the majority of their own party members nationwide — before their conventions assemble formally to endorse the results of the members’ votes.
Obama was unopposed as his party’s choice, but he campaigned just as rigorously to counter his prospective Republican opponents. Romney had four challengers at the start of the party’s primary, who dropped away one by one as the race progressed.
The result is that every Republican and every Democrat throughout the US knows what his candidate stands for. Every conceivable issue, personal as well as political, has been expounded upon, questioned and challenged. Now a three-month campaign will take place between the two rival party candidates leading up to the election on November 6. By then the American voters should know exactly what their choices are.
We don’t know that. We don’t know what Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe stands for on just about any issue; nor do we have the faintest idea what Tokyo Sexwale’s political ideas are.
We don’t even know whether either of them are going to be candidates.
As for Zuma, we at least have his track record by which to judge him. But after nearly four years we still don’t know how he is going to fix the dysfunctional education system; whether he is going to implement the youth wage subsidy or not; whether he is going to implement the National Development Plan or let it gather dust. We don’t know how he is going to narrow the wage gap, tackle corruption, or fix the police force with which he has fiddled so catastrophically.
We don’t know whether he is a socialist, a free marketeer or a communist; or whether he is all of these or none of them.
The man is a blank when it comes to vision and leadership.
That is SA’s greatest problem. It is not that the Zuma administration is passing bad laws or doing evil things; it is that it is doing nothing at all while serious problems compound themselves. It is paralysed by the fact that the president presides over a coalition of factions and shrinks from moving decisively in any direction for fear of alienating those opposed to it. And he doesn’t have the vision or the power of persuasion to take the lead.
This is untenable.
I don’t believe SA can afford to have Zuma as president for the next seven years. Nor do I believe we can go through the trauma of "recalling" him in December, 18 months before the next election, as happened with Mbeki. The best would be for the ANC to decide at its December conference to defer the choice of its presidential candidate for a year; allow Zuma to complete his term, then let 2013 be a year during which it allows a US-style primary election to be held.
This would enable ANC members throughout the country to hear their prospective candidates explain their positions on all of the critical issues facing our country, debate one another on television, then let the party’s registered members decide, province by province, who the ANC candidate should be in the 2014 election.
That would strengthen the next president’s legitimacy and leadership power over that awkward coalition.
• Sparks is a veteran journalist and political analyst.
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