by Niren Tolsi
A year after the African National Congress held its national conference in Mangaung, which returned president Jacob Zuma to its top position, The Con republishes a two-piece special that examines the Fear and Loathing in South African politics which first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine.
Shit. Why Not? If Marry-Wanna presents herself, you can’t refuse the dance.
Especially if, at that moment, the cops are gathered upwind around a police Nyala ten metres away in one of the most securitised parts of the country.
Insouciance demanded it. Even if it was kak Limpopo majat.
December 2007. Everyone who matters in the African National Congress (ANC) is in Polokwane for the elective conference that will see Jacob Zuma rise to the party’s presidency.
There are branch members and ministers. And there is Thabo Mbeki, the president of the Republic. All the political kingmakers and leg-breakers are in attendance, including provincial secretaries, factional strategists and organisers – many dusty from a two-year campaign of lobbying, caucusing and mobilising.
The powerful KwaZulu-Natal brigade including eThekwini regional secretary, John Mchunu and the unrelated provincial secretary Senzo Mchunu – who have been tirelessly running KZN’s 100% JZ campaign that has echoed out from Zuma’s backyard to party structures around the country – are also in effect.
Nathi Mthetwa, later to become police minister in Zuma’s government, gives me a bear hug during the chaos and confusion of registration. He has been running many of the KZN branch discussions on ANC documents like Through the Eye of the Needle, which was dismissed out of hand as being the myopic bastard child of Joel Netshitenze and his political superior Mbeki, rather than a stringent test of character for potential ANC leaders that has evolved over time.
Mthetwa is also partially responsible for KwaZulu-Natal coming to Limpopo as a homogenous voting bloc. Hence, he is beaming, as if to say the smell of victory is cloying at his nostrils like coital emissions on a damp bed-sheet.
There are moneybag businessmen like African Rainbow Minerals’ Patrice Motsepe and Mondi Shanduka’s Cyril Ramaphosa. Provincial premiers, mayors, sycophants, weirdoes, groupies and every other hanger-on to politics’ dirty kanga.
The Pigs had to lockdown the University of the North, Turfloop: Take this lot out and you’ve erased government, big business, the political elite and every other Nguni-bull-dick swinger in a patriarchal country.
So, when the teenager running the chicken braai outside his shack situated on Turfloop’s doorstep offered up a spliff skinned with spit and newspaper, the Irishman and I had no hesitation.
“Fuck the Po-Lease” as NWA exhorted.
After a day of being pushed around by ANC security (in the main malevolent former Umkhonto weSizwe veterans whose only sadistic pleasure is derived at ANC policy and elective conferences every five years), toiling clandestinely for inside information about caucuses’ moods and policy resolutions and being pushed around some more, it was time to blow smoke into the Babylon’s face.
The Irishman would have preferred to blow mind-grinding methamphetamines up the coppers’ bottoms with a ballpoint pen, but, you’ve gotta work with what you have.
Much like the youngster flogging the half-chickens for R20. Business was slow apparently. His positioning wasn’t the best with the majority of the rank and file delegates using another entrance to the conference. The mouth-watering whiff of charred peri-peri chicken was incapable of penetrating the air-conditioned exclusivity of sports utility vehicles and German sedans that silently whirred past daily with ghosts in the machine.
“I can’t move house, can I,” he stated matter-of-factly, “so I’ve started selling a bit of ganja on the side because I’ve put all my savings into this.”
“I was expecting more from Polokwane.”
“Polokwane”, as Mark Gevisser, Mbeki’s biographer and the author of A Dream Deferred noted, “has come to stand in the South African lexicon, as a turning point almost as significant as Nelson Mandela’s 1994 victory and the transition to democracy”.
The mainstream Left within the tri-partite alliance of the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), initially lauded it as the beginning of a firm rebuttal to the “1996 class project” that saw government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) being replaced with the neo-liberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) macro-economic policy attributed to Mbeki.
ANC insiders maintained that Polokwane allowed more voices to be heard after ten years of an Mbeki presidency of the party during which the University of Sussex-educated pipe-smoker clamped down on dissident political views, characterized anything veering from neo-liberalism as “ultra-left” and enforced the hegemony of his own intellect and views within the party.
Zuma’s defenders and praise-singers have suggested that Polokwane elicited the bigotry and paranoia for communists and the unwashed lumpen inherent among the chattering classes and the liberal media: That Polokwane announced, not just the barbarians at the gate, but the smashing of those gates to be followed by an orgiastic frenzy of free-market sodomy and debaucherous anti-intellectualism.
The truth, as the past five years bear testimony to, is very different. Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, a staunch Zuma supporter leading up to Polokwane, has grown colder towards JZ after no discernable economic shift to the left by government, or a radicalization of policy. Vavi and Cosatu have been opposed to inflation targeting and have called for greater exchange rate management, the nationalization of the Reserve Bank and monetary policies designed to address “the crisis of unemployment”.
Vavi was on the attack as early as a year after Zuma took office. With images of the president’s gargantuan, fast-food-guzzling nephew Khulubuse juxtaposed against that of miners at his Aurora mine who hadn’t been paid in months, and news of other dodgy deals involving the associates like the Gupta family, Vavi warned against the emergent trend that ensured the “chief of state’s family eats first” like the “hyenas and her daughters”.
“We’re headed for a predator state where a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas are increasingly using the state to get rich,” Vavi told the media at a press conference in 2010.
“We have to intervene now to prevent South Africa from becoming a state where corruption is the norm and no business can be done with government without first paying a corrupt gatekeeper,” he added.
An emergent nouveau riche class, corrupting the state to get rich-quick, and with a gluttonous appetite for conspicuous consumption was not spawned during Zuma’s tenure as president. But as impoverished township kids burn their Gucci-labels bought on the domestic worker wages of their grandmothers and trample bucket-loads of deep fried chicken at iziskothane parties to demonstrate their crassly aspirant materialism, it is clear when it sharpened its avaricious teeth to become an innate part of the new-South African psyche.
Especially as Z-grade celebrity and F-grade politics rub off each other like pavement specials in heat. As Chomee and Arthur Mofokate gyrate with Zuma on election platforms and Khanyi Mbau announces sugar-daddy-ism as a legitimate form of entrepeneurship. As expelled ANC youth league president Julius Malema’s alleged network of tenders and business connection kick-backs become the template for poverty alleviation for a generation of youth and Khulubuse Zuma – who is so large one is likely to miss two entire football matches if he is to pass by a television set – hauls his overflowing rear from another luxury German Sedan. And government continues to defend the alleged use of R248-million from the national fiscus to fund improvements to his personal home as part of the president’s African “culture”.
South Africa is also increasingly corrupt. Last year, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index showed that South Africa had slipped to 64th position, with an overall ranking of 4.1 out of 10. In its 2011 report, Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in South Africa, it reported that 56% of South Africa had paid a bribe in the last 12 months.
Willie Hofmeyr, the former head of the Special Investigating Unit, told the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice last year that 20% of South Africa’s procurement budget, between R25-billion and R30-billion, may be lost to corruption annually.
The most devastating effects of Polokwane’s delivery of Zuma as president of the ANC and subsequently, the country, have been on South Africa’s social compact. Whether the insidious effects of increasing corruption, under a president whom several ANC members told Rolling Stone appeared to be politically selective in who government chose to prosecute in these incidents, or the steady erosion of the progressive impulses inherent in the republic’s founding document, the Constitution.
Under the “100% Zulu-boy”, there has been a renewed embracing of social conservatism and a deepening of the ethnicisation of both the ANC and broader society. There has also been an increasingly authoritarian posturing by the state – whether in response to service delivery protests, miners’ revolts like Marikana that left 34 dead or in violent public policing.
A polygamist whose views on traditionalism and rigid notions of culture has drawn the ire of feminists and progressives, Zuma, when speaking off-the-cuff has not managed to steer clear of utterances that have been construed as homophobic, patriarchal, oblivious to the rule-of-law and suggestive that he has the sort of “Big-Man” tendencies for pervasive in other parts of Africa.
State institutions have also been heavily compromised – mainly to maintain Zuma’s hold on power. In October, the Constitutional Court ruled Zuma’s decision to appoint Menzi Simelane as national director of public prosecutions was “irrational”.
Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Zak Yacoob found that then-justice director-general Simelane’s evidence at Frene Ginwala’s inquiry into the dismissal of his predecessor, Vusi Pikolo, was “contradictory and, on its face, indicative of Mr Simelane’s dishonesty”.
“It raised serious questions about Mr Simelane’s conscientiousness, integrity and credibility,” wrote Yacoob, who was critical of Zuma’s decision, and the advice from justice minister Jeff Radebe.
Simelane’s appointment was construed as an attempt by Zuma to shore up any personal legal threat from the prosecuting authority relating to the corruption and fraud charges that were controversially dropped before the 2009 general elections. It was also apparently intended to ensure a director as pliable as a Thai-lady boy – vital in curating any investigation into the over R60-billion arms deal that has hung over democratic South Africa and the Byzantine world of the ANC and the selective prosecution of enemies or, friends who would be enemies.
In recent weeks the national prosecuting authority has adopted the president’s “Stalingrad” approach to law-fare – fighting street by legal street the technicalities of a case to effect a series of stalls and “cases-within-cases” – in the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) attempts to have then national director of prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe’s 2009 decision to drop charges against Zuma reviewed in court.
Despite a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that the prosecuting authority make available to the DA the “reduced record” (minus Zuma’s submissions to the NPA before Mpshe’s decision was taken) before Mpshe when he made the decision to drop charges, the president has stalled the process.
Mpshe had publically stated that evidence brought by Zuma and his lawyer Mike Hulley before the NPA – which included taped conversations between Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and then NPA-head Bulelani Ngcuka on the timing of the reinstitution of corruption charges against Zuma after he had won at Polokwane – had been verified by recordings made by the National Intelligence Authority, Hulley is now contesting what would constitute a “reduced record”.
The head of Mbokodo (Xhosa for “the grinding stone”) the internal intelligence wing of the ANC, Zuma, is no stranger to the dark, murky world of spooks and secrete intelligence. It is this attitude to information and secrecy that has followed him to Mahlaba Ndlovu, the president’s official residence. During Zuma’s presidency, the opaqueness around government has darkened, but perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Zuma’s tenure has been the increased use of state institutions like the police’s Crime Intelligence, to fight personal, political, battles.
THE ANC’S HALF-JACK DEMOCRACY
Kader Asmal was apoplectic: “He’s a fucking woman. Cyril [Ramaphosa] has got no balls,” he exclaimed bitterly.
The former minister in both Mandela and Mbeki cabinets, who sadly died last year from a heart attack, slugged another mouthful of whisky. Asmal, The Irishman and I were huddled around a table in one of the VIP networking rooms that allow big capital and politics to feel each other up at ANC gatherings before deciding how they were going to spit-roast the electorate over the next five years.
It was the wee hours of the morning after the night before – when ANC delegates had discussed electing new leadership and opened the floor for nominations.
As then ANC chairperson Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota had struggled to control an increasingly unruly conference that had taken on the demeanour of a rally – football hand signals calling for substitutions of the top six and loud heckling included – Asmal had sat with the rest of the national executive committee, seething, increasingly puce-faced. It had been left to secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe to restore order and calm so that the conference could get down to work.
When it finally did, and nominations opened, Asmal had, Don Quixote-like, tilted at the windmill of factionalism by proposing a third way. He nominated Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa had declined. Asmal was not holding back – with the whisky, or the expletives. We drank into the night. The erudite Asmal descending further and further into a stream of consciousness increasingly peppered with “fucks” fucking” and “fuckers”.
Choice words were reserved for the impotent Lekota (“a bumbling fucking oaf”) and the concerns Asmal had about the sort of self-aggrandising cadre the party was attracting. Yet, generously, the politician who was the physical equivalent of a half-jack, but maintained the intellectual stature and wit of a litre of rare single-malt, would not denounce the dynamic, ever-changing nature of the ANC itself. Politics was a living, breathing beast, willful and contradictory, according to Asmal.
While we drank, votes were being cast and counted. Eventually, Zuma received 2329 votes to Mbeki’s 1505. Zuma would be president of the ANC and, less than a year later, the party recalled Mbeki before he’d completed his second term as president of the country. Motlanthe was deployed to hold the office for eight months until Zuma took over following the 2009 general elections. The ANC won it with a slimmer majority, 65.9% of the vote than in 2004 (69.69% of the vote).
THE PANTY-DROPPING ZUMANIA
Following the conviction of businessman Schabir Schaik on corruption and fraud charges that were alleged to have involved the man he advised financially, Jacob Zuma, the latter was fired as deputy president of the country by Mbeki in 2005.
A year later, Zuma was cleared of rape charges involving the daughter of a struggle comrade. He then embarked on his infamous “Stalingrad” legal tactics, spending four years stalling the corruption case being heard in court – and protesting a political conspiracy behind the charges every dance-step of the way.
The future was simple for Zuma: to avoid a potential prison term he had to become president of the country.
What followed between 2005 and Polokwane in 2007, was a conflation of popular culture and politics, of singing and dance-moves with more hip thrusts than that Mapona Volume I skin flick.
Interventions by Motlanthe as then ANC secretary-general and Mthethwa at a national executive committee meeting following Zuma’s sacking ensured he was not also cast out of the ANC. This proved vital for JZ as he used every ANC platform available to him to, not criticize Mbeki directly, but to set himself up as the true guardian of the party’s history and traditions.
This was combined with populist rhetoric aimed at an increasingly disenchanted population, the majority of whom – their lives till impoverished – had found the teat of liberation shriveled and dried up by government corruption, maladministration and unresponsive local councilors. Another vital ingredient was a calculated campaign machinery that worked the numbers and the ANC regions required for victory in Polokwane, would create an irresistible Zunami for the man from rural Nkandla. These were run especially by the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces, the SACP, Cosatu and a youth league run by pit-bulls like Fikile Mbalula.
There was also the enchantment of a under-educated “Zulu Boy” come good that appealed to the notion of the South African dream: even a former goat-herd, in stark contrast to the imperious Mbeki – could become president.
Liz Gunner, research associate at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, has argued that the delirious Zumania that accompanied Zuma as his campaign grew out of court appearances, prayer meetings and public ANC gatherings flowed from an amalgamation of Zuma’s public use of oral traditions embedded in traditional African politics and technological advances.
In her paper, Jacob Zuma, the Social Body and the Unruly Power of Song, published in December 2008, Gunner noted the mobility of the song Umshini Wami –Zuma’s trademark – which “floated” across culture, region, language and class.
It was downloaded as a ring tone, chanted briefly by a character in the soapieGenerations and its phrases “tossed off” by radio announcers on Ukhozi FM, which has about six million listeners.
The Zuma phenomenon then enjoyed an “intervention” by maskanda songs such as Izingane zoMa’s Msholozi. Maskanda artists like Phuzekhemisi had long articulated the marginalisation and struggles of the rural poor in songs about corrupt councilors and amakhosi breaking the backs of poverty-stricken peasants.
Zuma’s travails and victim status constructed around Mbeki’s alleged plot against him, and Izingane zoMa’s comparisons between him and Mandela, appeared to add impetus to his growing pop cultural value.
Gunner asserts that Zuma’s debuting of Umshini Wami during Shaik’s trial and its use provided a response to Mbeki’s grey, distant technocracy.
It also resurrected memories of the massed funerals, trade union poets and Zulu praise songs of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s.
Gunner found that Umshini Wami was born in MK camps in Angola and centred the “guerrilla/outsider” wanting to return to South Africa to fight for the right to be a “civilian/insider”.
It then came to resonate with the disaffected poor, who had yet to taste the honey of a South African democracy under Mbeki.
And the song cast Zuma in the role of “the icon of the heroic guerrilla figure [that] was melded with that of the beleaguered senior politician of impeccable freedom credentials”. South Africans love a victim.
Zuma as ANC president, with Umshini Wami, has “brought the dancing body and song back within the realms of discourse and debate within the public sphere”, Gunner said.
MANGAUNG AND THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS
Five years later and homogenous delirium that accompanied Zuma to Polokwane is missing from the build-up to the ANC’s national elective conference to be held from December 16 to 20 in Mangaung.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos recently suggested that the nation is suffering “outrage fatigue” after a series of scandals involving the president. These have rune the full gamut, from included ill-chosen statements that suggest he has no understanding of the functioning of the judiciary or the rule-of-law principle to exposes involving R248-million of national budget being spent on his personal rural mansion on Nkandla – replete with underground bunkers and two astro-turf football pitches for his security detail.
Another Zuma scandal is sure to elicit the sort of excitement otherwise for reserved for watching shit drying on a string, as one football pundit noted after a dreary draw in the English Premier League.
Inside his party there are strong signals that there is considerable disenchantment with the Zuma presidency. The “Anyone But Zuma” and “Forces of Change” movements within the party have been clamoring for Motlanthe to take over the presidency, but much of the lobbying and caucusing has been subterranean.
In KwaZulu-Natal, JZ’s backyard and the province that will take the largest provincial voting delegation (974 of a total of 4500 delegates that will also include office bearers at various levels of the party and the ANC’s women, veteran and youth leagues) to Mangaung, his support is not hegemonic.
The province’s largest region, eThekwini, with 103 branches appears split almost down the middle – which could have consequences for Zuma’s return. As could the apparent fissures in the Okahlamba and Lower South Coast regions of the province.
In eThekwini, there have been accusations of gerrymandering of branch numbers in region by its secretary, Bheki Ntshangase.
Said one “Forces of Change” lobbyist in eThekwini: “The region is trying to control the branches by adding new names to lists, omitting those that may favour Kgalema or prove independent-minded when it comes to voting and also intimidating branch members – either physically, or with the threat of government jobs and tenders being taken away if they don’t follow the Zuma line”.
In mid-November, Rolling Stone visited the branch-general meeting of Ward 74, in eThekwini. In the heart of Lamontville, an area with a strong struggle history, it is the political home of cadres like former police commissioner, Bheki Cele, who appears to have fallen out with Zuma following his sacking earlier this year.
There were around 15 police vehicles in the attendance. The branch members had objected to an extra 200 names being added to the voters’ roll of that branch and that Cele and 84 other members had been excluded from the roll.
The BGM was eventually adjourned to another date and had not taken place at the time of Rolling Stone going to press. The branch, itself, appeared especially supportive of Motlanthe over Zuma.
Pundits are still calling a Zuma victory at Mangaung – albeit, a much tighter one that would have been expected a year ago. If the KZN voting edifice cracks, anything is possible. Likewise, if a thorough investigation into allegations that branches in the pro-Zuma province of Mpumalanga have been “Roid-ed up”is completed.
But much depends on Motlanthe himself.
The current ANC deputy-president has consistently criticized factional slates and called on branches to maintain independence and nominate leaders with their conscience. This is increasingly difficult as councilor positions, government jobs, tenders and, in some cases, the very safety of ANC members, sometimes depends where X-s at elective conferences are scrawled.
Whether Motlanthe himself will avail himself to run for the presidency is another question yet to be answered. But, one “Forces of Change” lobbyist confided to Rolling Stone that final nomination figures form the branch process – yet to be confirmed at the time of going to press – would be crucial.
Said the source: “We are expecting the figures to go Zuma’s way, because of the clampdown on anyone seen to be supporting Kgalema. But, if there is a ten percent difference, then we are in the game. We can work with a 45-55% split in favour of Zuma, and convince branch members in the remaining time and win this thing, and we feel Motlanthe will out himself and stand for the presidency if the nominations figures are close.”
This piece first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in December 2012 in the build-up to Polokwane.