Jacob’s ANC Ladder: the power of the state, the power of the party

Jacob Zuma has announced his candidacy for the South African presidency.

Zuma is the ex-deputy president, fired for connections to corruption in a multi-million Rand arms deal. It gets worse: his financial advisor is already in jail for profiting on the deal and it is only a matter of time before Zuma is also to stand trial.

Zuma’s incompetence for public office goes even further. During a rape trial (which charge he ducked since the judge decided that the HIV positive, vulnerable and clearly disturbed victim had coerced him … Zuma’s comment: “She was wearing a dress, what did you expect me to do?”) Zuma proclaimed that he had avoided contracting AIDS by having a quick shower after coitus.

But you see, Zuma doesn’t have to sell himself to the voters. Zuma only has to sell himself to the party.

African politics is – like most developing country politics – completely different from that experienced in the developed world. Liberation politics prevail. The political victor is a fait accompli; in this case – no matter what – the African National Congress (ANC) will be the government of South Africa (and they won’t brook any contention on that).

The question of what policies the ANC is to pursue is not decided at the ballot box; it’s decided behind closed doors by the power-elite inside the party. And that power-elite is fragmented between the Mbeki fraternity of economic rationalists and non-interventionists, and the populist fraternity of unions, communists and fellow travellers. The Unions are now in the ascendancy after Mbeki squandered his moral authority on the twin perils of Zimbabwe and AIDS (in both cases the president supports inaction). That’s just the excuse, in reality Mbeki follows his own mind and not that of the party.

The power-elites are concerned about the president taking representation away from the party and unto himself. So what the power-elites want instead is a uniquely popular and pliable representative. Enter the Zuma.

Speaking at a packed gathering of union shop stewards in Durban on Sunday, Zuma declared, “The organisation (ANC) should not lose power and give too much power to the state house.”

The sadness of South African politics is that virtually none of the power of the state is directly responsive to the people. The president is chosen by the winning party – not by the people, and the winning party is always the ANC. So leadership of the ANC conveys control of the country. The president appoints cabinet ministers, provincial leaders, mayors and the heads of important portfolio committees and departments. Parliament is placid and toothless.

The choice for South Africa is of a powerful president answerable to no-one; or a powerful ANC answerable to no-one.

Zuma believes that the ANC should set the agenda for the state: “That has been the main course of problems in Africa. When coups occur, there are no masses to defend the organisation (ANC) and democracy … even if people know that you have been a member of the ANC for 30 years, if your membership is not in proper order they will say that they do not know you.”

In other words Zuma believes that the only way you should have the right to be represented is by buying membership in a political party. The idea that the state should be answerable to its people and not its political leaders is beyond him.

x-posted to whythawk

Categories: Politics/Law/Government

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6 replies »

  1. Like most Americans, I know very little about the workings of politics outside the US. (Of course, most Americans know very little about the workings of politics INSIDE the US.) So thanks for the analysis here. I think over here most people assumed it was all sunshine and puppy dogs once Mandela was freed.

    So, is there any plausible hope for reform in SA?

  2. If the ANC explodes (i.e. breaks apart) into its constituent factions (a reasonable possibility) or a charismatic and pragmatic black leader emerges who does not bear allegiance to the ANC (extremely unlikely, but still possible), or Zimbabwe completely melts down (a real likelihood – which would send reflective shocks into SA) …. probably not.

    But remember, it isn’t the cold war anymore – we have no strategic relevance other than as a trade partner – so we have to make ourselves pretty. However, our recent performance at the UN doesn’t bode well.

  3. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is now a microscopic regional party confined to their heartland in KwaZulu; where they can’t manage a majority. The ANC has done an extremely good job of co-opting many of the more charismatic alternative politicians into cabinet posts and other self-enrichment positions. Our president may go off about internal corruption draining the state but he’s still quite happy to buy off opponents when he needs to.
    The Democratic Alliance – the official opposition – has about 15% support to the ANC’s 80%. And the DA suffers from being seen as too “white” – welcome to REAL race-based politics.