Monday, October 12, 2009

The problem with Zuma

James Myburgh says the president is replicating the mistakes of his predecessor

While he knew perfectly well what the real goals of this policy were, he was nonetheless willing to stand up and bullshit parliament and the opposition about them. The 'skills and merit' of the cadres was irrelevant, loyalty to the ANC and the racial goals of the movement was everything.

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The rule of law vs. ANC high command -
Helen Zille says the ruling party is subverting the constitution and judiciary

One of my earliest memories of Jacob Zuma - and for a long time, the defining one - was his 1999 defence in parliament of the ANC's policy of cadre deployment. At its national conference in December 1997 the ruling party had adopted a resolution on cadre policy. And in 1998 the ANC set about implementing a programme of bringing all ‘levers of power' under its control through of placing loyalists in all key positions across the state.

On November 30 1998 the ANC's National Working Committee met to discuss its progress in implementing the resolution. Zuma, as Thabo Mbeki's then loyal No. 2, was appointed head of the national deployment committee, the body tasked with overseeing the distribution and allocation of cadres. According to a press statement issued after the meeting, "The NWC discussed and adopted a document on the ANC deployment strategy. The deployment strategy will provide broad guidelines for deployment of ANC cadres to all areas which the movement regards as crucial for the transformation project."

That document itself spelt out the ANC's totalitarian aspirations. It called for the ruling party to "strengthen the political and administrative control and supervisory structures of the ANC" in the party itself, parliament, the provincial legislatures, local government and the civil service. It further stated that "We must strengthen our leadership of all parastatals and statutory bodies" as well as "in all other sectors of social activity", including the economy, education, sport and the media.

It was published in the ANC journal Umrabulo the following year, but only picked up by the opposition after the 1999 elections (though its significance was not initially properly understood). By then Zuma was deputy president of South Africa. On Wednesday August 25 1999 Democratic Party leader Tony Leon asked him in parliament whether, in reference to this document, there was a deliberate ANC strategy to strengthen control over (inter alia) the civil service.

In his response Zuma was somewhat economical with the truth. He avoided answering the question directly. He pretended instead that this strategy document was simply one for "discussion" intended only to "contribute to debate within the ANC and society at large." He denied that the constitution was being undermined and defended the policy saying there was nothing to preclude "ANC people, if they have the skills and merit from being employed. I think that is the standpoint which we take. The ANC, in this discussion document, is saying that, knowing its members and other people outside its membership, it will encourage them to apply for such positions."

In my mind this defined Zuma. Here was someone playing an integral role in the implementation of policy derived directly from the Soviet textbook. While he knew perfectly well what the real goals of this policy were, he was nonetheless willing to stand up and bullshit parliament and the opposition about them. The 'skills and merit' of the cadres was irrelevant, loyalty to the ANC and the racial goals of the movement was everything.

A lot has obviously happened since then. Zuma was, rather unexpectedly, the one person in the ruling party willing and able to stand up against Thabo Mbeki and his third term ambitions. We have also had a decade in which to witness the unfolding consequences of cadre deployment, and the way in which corruption has metastasised across the party state. The idea that ANC cadres represented an ‘elect' in our society - embodying a special kind of virtue and uniquely able to guide us - is simply no longer tenable.

The failures of the Mbeki government are now recognised and acknowledged, and its claim to infallibility thoroughly debunked. COSATU's recent political report to its tenth national congress spoke bluntly of the vindictiveness, paranoia and abuse of power that had set in under the previous administration. As Richard Calland commented: "As every day passes, so the Mbeki government appears ever more insidious, as well as rancid." Zuma his lieutenants have been refreshingly frank about the challenges facing the government (many of the ANC's own making).

Yet, for all the determination, realism and sense of purpose that seems to characterise the current government, it is difficult to see how the Zuma government's ambitions will not end up running into the sand. For, like the Bourbons, they have ‘remembered everything, but learnt nothing.'

Instead of putting some distance between himself and the ‘levers of power' Zuma has gone ahead and stuffed the justice and security organs with some rather spooky loyalists. His allies in the dirty war with the Mbeki-ites, and then against the National Prosecuting Authority post-Polokwane, have been protected and/or elevated to high office.

Sooner or later many of these appointments are going to turn bad. It is not just that some of these individuals are so crooked that - as Hunter S. Thompson said of Nixon - they need servants just to help them screw on their pants in the morning. But, equally disturbingly, Zuma is replicating the very same structure that bred the corruption and abuse of state power that characterised the previous administration.

A government does not simply rule through laws and policies it adopts. It also shapes society by the example it sets. If Zuma appoints his cronies to key positions, such as commissioner of police, those lower down the hierarchy will feel entitled to follow his example. Such patronage appointments are also profoundly demoralising to society. The message they convey is that the way to get ahead is not through integrity, hard work and gaining expertise but by doing whatever is necessary to curry favour with those in power.

There is a growing recognition within COSATU, the SACP and the better parts of the ANC leadership that corruption is destroying the liberation movement from within. As Gwede Mantashe has noted, "The biggest threat to our movement is the intersection between the business interests and holding of public office.... If we do not deal decisively with this tendency the ANC will only move one way, that is, downward. Fighting corruption must be our preoccupation."

But here too Zuma has set his government up for failure. If state organs do not act against high level corruption the ANC elite will be seen as having placed itself above the law, and the rot will only deepen. If they do, a political motive will inevitably be suspected no matter how well founded the charges are - and accusations of selective prosecution will follow.

Zuma may also find, as Mbeki did before him, that his loyalists will end up neglecting his interests. It is easy enough to acknowledge problems now, as all blame can be dumped on the previous regime. But in four years time, what will the ANC say then? If you appoint loyalists everywhere, you end up getting blamed for everything.

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