It’s one of the anomalies of many of the modern Western democracies: political parties are actually not at all tolerant of internal differences of opinion. Not being “on message” of unfolding policy positions is a quick route to being booted from party power structures.
The reason is that these countries have electorates that are intolerant of governments and parties that do not deliver a clear, consistent message. So, too, are economic markets.
The ANC government, rather endearingly, has been completely different from these developed-world examples of the imperative for unity and coherence. But nevertheless electorally successful.
Despite its self-congratulatory moniker of “Africa’s oldest liberation movement”, with all the military connotations of discipline and order, the reality is quite different. It was historically compelled to be intellectually flexible – to allow debate; to tolerate differences.
It was President Thabo Mbeki’s intolerance of opinions other than his own which led to his recall. At which point we became saddled with the intellectually incoherent, but tactically accomplished, Jacob Zuma, who somehow managed to camouflage his real presidential objectives – staying out of jail and in the money – as a welcome laissez-faire leadership ethos. Laissez-faire quickly became licence.
On occasion a minister would publicly announce legislation, only to have a colleague just as publicly repudiate the need for it.
Zuma remains disengaged and often abroad
Laws were drafted without sufficient thought, passed in haste and either remained unsigned or were sent back for rewriting. The economy became becalmed, while the tenderpreneurs and Zuma’s cronies seemingly got an “Open Sesame” to massive state resources and even, it is claimed, the power to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers.
Matters have now reached a tipping point. The ANC’s drubbing in local elections has caused consternation. The economy is tanking. Dissent within the party is at an all-time high. From the way that ministers publicly slag one another off, it is difficult to believe they are from the same government. In a sense, they aren’t.
While the ANC hasn’t split, it is divided into fiercely warring camps. There’s a Zuma-protected alliance of political pirates, set on seizing the commanding heights of the economy – not to transform them, but to drain them.
Arrayed against them is a beleaguered “old-ANC” – with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as lightning rod – that claims to be committed to a modern, developmental economy based on social justice.
Through the increasing chaos, Zuma retains a cherubic smile and an inscrutable countenance. It’s left to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to warn of a party at war with itself and for ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to lambaste the factions for their “ill-discipline”.”
Zuma remains disengaged and often abroad. This week he was at the SA Development Community Summit in Swaziland of which he is, after all, to be the next chair.
Although, judging from his faintly risqué banter with fellow heads of state about the bare-breasted maidens dancing for them – “I kept telling them to just look … they were hoping to get closer…” – his mind was on other matters. Wife No 9 perhaps?