WHEN ANC leader Jacob Zuma said you don’t hit a dead snake on the head in reference to President Thabo Mbeki, I assumed he knew what he was talking about, for that is what Mbeki has been since Polokwane.
Yet there are sadistic elements in his party who not only derive pleasure in beating a dead snake on the head but in also grinding it to the ground.
Mbeki was forced to resign on Sunday, which he did with disarming dignity. Zuma had not expected it. The pronouncement by Judge Chris Nicholson on his corruption charges acted as a spur to the Zuma camp which has been on the rampage, threatening judges and every institution likely to stand in the way of their hero’s path to the presidency.
The mob led by Julius Malema has become a Frankenstein monster; neither Zuma nor the ANC should feel at ease. We are witnessing here not a people’s democracy, but mobocracy at its worst. The world is watching in alarm the ANC’s headlong rush given that Mbeki had only six months to complete his term. There was no need to cause such turbulence by a person who should soon be leader of the most powerful economy in the region.
But then South Africa presents paradoxes and dilemmas. There are sections of business who hate Mbeki for his foreign policy, especially his supposed cosy relationship with President Robert Mugabe and would love to see him go. He “allowed” Mugabe to set a bad example with his land expropriations, and now his plans for the mining sector. But they liked Mbeki’s liberal approach to business back home.
They liked Zuma’s posturing about Mugabe, not simply to spite Mbeki, but also because it gave the illusion of a changed ANC towards Zimbabwe once Zuma assumes office. But the same people are anxious about Zuma’s probable domestic policies given the ANC’s alliance with the leftist Cosatu and the South African Communist Party. What will stop Zuma from using his demagoguery to go the Robert Mugabe way?
Zuma himself has been trying since before Polokwane to allay these fears, going all the way to Europe and the United States to assure investors that their money would be safe. Unfortunately he can’t overplay this card without upsetting his partners who gloat over what Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe, if only SA can avoid the wholesale destruction of commercial agriculture and hunger.
But for the ANC’s petty vindictiveness against Mbeki, Zuma might shirk a task which it is his appointed hour to execute. South Africa has been blessed to have each leader in the right temperament. It needed the stabilising charisma of Nelson Mandela at its most volatile hour of majority rule in 1994. It thus managed a relatively peaceful transition.
Then followed the calculating pragmatism of Thabo Mbeki to entrench black majority rule while the different races were held under Mandela’s charm. He made lots of blunders and many enemies in his 15 years in the presidency, but there is consensus that the economy flourished and a black middle class grew exponentially under his reign.
He is accused of being an aloof intellectual, while Zuma is more affable; closer to the people like Nelson Mandela but without the latter’s intellect and personal integrity.
Never in the history of nations has a leader been so vicariously penalised at home and abroad for another’s sins as Mbeki has been for Mugabe. For all his alleged faults about crime, unemployment, cronyism and Zuma, none looms larger than his “failure to deal” with Mugabe. From then on, every little fault of Mbeki was all the more uglier for his association with Mugabe in inverse proportion as Zuma’s victimhood grew. (Witness even the risible casuistry by everyone, including a gullible media, of trying to blame the Aids scourge among blacks on Mbeki and absolve the apartheid system for their squalor and backwardness which provide the most fertile breeding ground.)
Then came Polokwane, the mediation between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, then Nicholson’s coup de grace and Mbeki was fair game. It is here that Zuma could have forfeited his historic mandate. Ousting Mbeki would be an ephemeral victory if it so divides the ANC that Zuma wins with a significantly reduced majority in next year’s election that he is unable to complete his historic mission to give land to the poor.
While a weaker ANC should be good for “democracy”, it means Zuma would not be able to pass the necessary legal reforms to give land to the poor. There are many land owners in South Africa who still insist on the market-based willing-seller, willing-buyer principle fully aware that government can’t raise the money, and meanwhile the poor are getting as impatient as they were in Zimbabwe by 1999. The bogey of Mugabe’s failed enterprise cannot be used to freeze history forever. Will populist Zuma resist the temptation to summon his mshini wami? Remember John F Kennedy’s dictum: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
In short, Zuma’s was not a coup on Mbeki; it was a coup for business, it was a coup for the anti-land reform lobby, for the country squire; most importantly, Zuma might have staged a coup against the nation’s poor who look to him to go further than Mandela and Mbeki did in the struggle for black economic empowerment. What a better way to subvert one’s authority than to lead a fractured and emasculated ANC at this critical hour! Mbeki took care of the middle class and business; how will Zuma address mass poverty?
By Joram Nyathi