Saturday, August 23, 2008

What the South African Media Says: Factions and Other Stories

What the media says

Factions and other stories

Courtesy of ANC Today,
August 22, 2008

The machinery of the apartheid state used a range of dirty tricks to sow division in the ANC. It spoke of communists and nationalists, of moderates and radicals; it spoke of tribalism, militants and 'good' leaders.

Those opposed to the ANC and to genuine progress will never abandon efforts aimed at dividing the organisation. However, today they just use different nametags. The contemporary approach is to categorise ANC structures and members into one of two factions, supposedly owing allegiance to either Jacob Zuma or Thabo Mbeki.

In an article in the Sunday Times of 17 August 2008 entitled 'ANC makes the state its enemy', Njabulo Ndebele, former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, takes up this theme. He writes that "the ascendant Zuma faction has been heedlessly chipping away at the institutions and offices of democracy".

Just two months earlier, Presidents Zuma and Mbeki published a joint article entitled 'There are no ANC camps'. In spite of what Zuma and Mbeki say in the statement about the non-existence of camps in the ANC, Ndebele still sees his 'ascendant Zuma faction'.

The ANC suffers the wrath of Ndebele simply because the programme of the ANC rally to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday designated Zuma as president (of the ANC), and both Mbeki and Mandela as former presidents (of the ANC).

Ndebele says, "although this may be the way the ANC ordinarily handles its protocols, it is nevertheless intriguing that the organisation does not proclaim a sitting head of state as its own and accord him the normal courtesies of protocol."

What in fact is 'intriguing' is not how the ANC handles its protocols, but how on the basis of such handling, it can be accused of "chipping away" at the state institutions by someone who readily admits that such handling may well "be the way the ANC ordinarily handles its protocols".

Ndebele is a learned South African. He knows very well that if he needed to establish whether the ANC departed from organisational practices with respect to the composition of programmes, all he would have to do is compare the programme in question with all our previous programmes. He did not do this, because he knows he is not going to find any inconsistency. Which is why his grumblings are not as innocent as they are made to appear, but are part of a sinister attempt to sustain a perception of division in the ANC.

He says, "while the designers of the programme may not have intended to convey such a signal, it is possible to read it in the light of current internal party leadership disputes." What current leadership disputes is Ndebele talking about?

In December last year the ANC held its national conference, debated and resolved many issues ranging from its Constitution to resolutions on the various aspects of our country's political, economic and social life, including the issue of the cadreship that will lead the movement to its centenary celebrations in 2012. Such vigorous debate and political differences as demonstrated during Conference represent a natural democratic expression of views typical of any democratic and large organisation.

Contrary to what some may believe, it is a lack of honest debate that constitutes a threat to the ANC and our country. It is the culture of vigorous and open debate that helps us to tap into the varied social experience, and strengthen the quality of the decisions we take about the future of our country and its people.

In their statement of 8 June, Zuma and Mbeki write, "both of us have nevertheless been alarmed by the persistent campaign to communicate a false message that we are at war with each other, as alleged leaders of two opposed factions."

"This shameless speculation and negative campaign have provided a very convenient basis publicly to project the false view that the ANC is a movement at war with itself."

Despite all this, in August 2008, Ndebele is still dreaming about his "party leadership disputes."

We have never asserted that the ANC is made up of people who agree on everything. In any case, we do not even need such a monolithic ANC. It is incorrect and mischievous to portray and elevate honest and open debate in the organisation as if such were an end in themselves, and not a process towards reaching consensus. The ANC is united by its commitment to the realisation of a truly non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. Debating every issue before reaching agreement is what will get us there.

Contrary to what Ndebele thinks, the President of the Republic, Thabo Mbeki, attended Mandela's 90th celebrations not as the country's president but as a leader and member of the ANC. Perhaps Ndebele would not understand this; we members of the ANC are part of a heroic tradition of struggle. We are very proud of our membership of the ANC. Mbeki, like Dube, Tambo, Mandela and others, occupies a very honoured place in the history of our organisation. That they are former Presidents of our heroic movement is for us, of deep significance, as a reflection of their commitment to the cause of freedom and justice.

Ndebele says, "The high suggestibility of the programme's intention in this regard is not entirely unreasonable given that Zuma indeed wants to be the president of South Africa. In this way we are subtly prepared for such an eventuality."

If Ndebele had taken the time to read the resolutions of the Polokwane Conference, he would have seen that part of the resolution on organisational renewal reads: "That the ANC President shall be the candidate of the movement for President of the Republic."

It is difficult to see any subtlety in a decision pronounced publicly by the ANC Conference in 2007. The ANC does implement policies and decisions that had been hidden from the people. The policies it implements are published decisions adopted by Conference.

Thus Ndebele reduces the decision of Conference to a personal ambition. Why? Indeed, to tell the truth in this case would not have served his misguided portrayal of the ANC as an organisation in crisis, ravaged by 'factions' and an organisation whose leaders are driven by personal ambitions.

Contrary to what Ndebele thinks, apart from the hard election campaign the ANC must still undertake, it is not necessary to prepare anyone for Zuma to become President of the Republic.

We must assure Ndebele that his fears about the possibility for the ANC to betray "an illustrious history" will never become real. Like him, we are immensely proud of this history. It inspires us and strengthens our belief that working together as South Africans, we shall build a caring, humane and just society. We shall realise the goal of a better life for all. This is not to say we do not, or will not from time to time experience difficulties. Despite the difficulties, we shall continue - as our track record indicates - to make steady progress.

In his book of short stories, 'Fools and Other Stories', Njabulo Ndebele writes, "There are young men whose assertiveness is so transparently the effort of an immature cock trying to crow with a deep voice."

Ndebele is a great writer of short stories. Like all humans, he possesses a great capacity to master any skill should he desire to pursue another one. Which is why we invite him to become an active member of the ANC. This will help him develop a keener understanding about the culture, the inherent dynamics, and the workings of a democratic organisation of the calibre of the ANC.

In the meanwhile, we need to make the point that ANC meetings, private or public, are not meetings of dignitaries, they are meetings of people committed to the fundamental transformation of our country, to realise a united South Africa based on the will of the people, an improving quality of life for all, and the restoration of the birthright of all South Africans. These meetings are meetings of people who are committed to the eradication of the apartheid legacy to ensure lasting peace and development for our country.

All ANC leaders, including Thabo Mbeki, are revolutionaries who do not expect bouquets to be thrown at them in recognition of their status. They derive their satisfaction from their lifelong service to the people.

This is not to suggest that the ANC is not mindful of the fact that it has produced individuals who command great respect in our society and internationally. We are. The point is that those individuals know that they are first and foremost members of the ANC, and if we are to secure a better future for our children, things must remain just like that.

Ndebele, this great author of short stories, would be well advised not to allow himself to be absorbed into the gang that defines the ANC in such terms as "the ascendant Zuma faction." He should heed the words of Zuma and Mbeki when they say, "Thus an attempt has been made to entrench the perspective that our country is condemned to experience a terminal war between the ANC and our government, despite the fact that the latter, in all three spheres, is nonetheless made up of loyal ANC cadres who unequivocally accept and respect all the outcomes of the 52nd ANC National Conference. This includes the unreserved acceptance of the fact by Thabo Mbeki, a member of the ANC, that Jacob Zuma is President of the ANC."

"There is no Zuma camp in the ANC. There is no Mbeki camp in the ANC. Nobody, including members of the ANC and the media, should use our names to pursue divisive goals that have nothing to do with the truth, and stand in direct opposition to the noble history, the real nature, and the historic objectives of the ANC, and our commitment to serve the people of South Africa."

We are certain that Njabulo Ndebele will have the courtesy to take Zuma and Mbeki at their word. It would be sad to conclude that Ndebele's interpretation of political events resembles "the effort of an immature cock trying to crow with a deep voice."

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