Cyril Ramaphosa

The public: enemy number one

we see you

Imagine a small group of South Africans sitting around a fire-pit at a swanky game lodge.

They’re all vastly wealthy but gloomy as hell. Earlier in the evening there was laughter and silliness but now the expensive whisky has invited grim ruminations on the state of things and on the dissatisfaction and anxiety they all share.

“This country, man,” sighs the richest of them. “It’s not like it was in the good old days.”

“It’s the masses,” murmurs another millionaire, poking at a melting ice cube. “They just don’t know how to vote properly.”

There are approving hums and sighs from the others. Silence falls. The fire gleams in puffy, watery eyes.

So whom did you picture? White captains of industry? Fair enough. They’re easy to see.

These days, though, the scene would work equally well with the senior leadership of the ANC.

Seriously. Run it again with some Zuptas in the starring roles and nothing would be out of place.

It’s not explicit yet: the ANC’s deep and growing distrust of voters, bizarrely similar to the contemptuous despair of white racists over the years. But it’s there. And it’s becoming more visible.

Last week Andile Lungisa, the Deputy Grand Panjandrum in the Eastern Cape Chapter of the ANC Youth League of Eternal Helplessness, delivered a fiery lecture at Zwide.

His speech was remarkable for a few reasons, not least because it provided the most perfect illustration of the ANC’s approach to governing that I have ever encountered.

According to The Herald, Lungisa revealed that state-owned enterprises were not, in fact, badly run piggy banks for connected gangsters but were instead models of good governance.

His example: Transnet and SAA both preside over many ships and aircraft, but, he said, “we have never heard of any ship that sank at our ports” or “any SAA aircraft missing”.

It’s genius, right? South Africa isn’t a smouldering ruin, therefore it is being well run. Jacob Zuma hasn’t released anthrax into the water supply, therefore he is a splendid leader.

It was an illuminating moment, but no less revealing was what he said next. The likes of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas needed to be guarded against, he warned, because “when the ANC decides to redeploy . or remove them, they go around mobilising the society against our movement”.

“Society against our movement.” Hold that thought for a moment.

Two weeks ago the ANC made a few fretful noises about investigating state capture. Relieved, I tweeted that a corrupt party had called on a corrupt government to investigate allegations of corruption against itself, so everything was now hunky dory.

WE SEE YOU

Moments later, a cross reply from one Sindy Mabe, a sock-puppet at Gupta TV, ANN7: “Your comments fit well with the incessant desire & public lexicon to dislodge @MYANC we see you.”

The “we see you” was a faintly nostalgic touch, the adult version of a beefy snot-nose passing a note to a child in Grade 3 that reads “WE KNOW WERE YUR LOKKER IS AND AFTER SKOOL WE R GOING 2 MESS YOU UP”. (Although it did make me wonder who the “we” was. A gaggle of ANN7 interns who always show up on the wrong day for gang meetings because they’re illiterate and can’t read their WhatsApp reminders? A senior editorial séance, where they hold hands and murmur: “Can you hear us, Atul? Show us the people we need to be watching.”?)

But again, that wasn’t the telling part. No, the really revealing part was that dog’s breakfast of a phrase, “incessant desire & public lexicon”.

I don’t watch ANN7 (because I’m a multicellular life form) so I don’t know if Ms Mabe’s grasp of words is very different to mine; but to this writer, “the incessant desire & public lexicon to dislodge” the ANC means that the public has an incessant desire to remove the ANC, and talks about it, publicly, often.

Of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer any more than two sound-bytes signify a growing distrust of and antagonism towards voters. But it did strike me as peculiar that, within a fortnight, I’d heard a senior ANCYL person create a juxtaposition between the party and society as two separate – and opposing – things, and an ANC propagandist tell me that what a large number of people were talking about and feeling was just plain wrong.

It’s understandable. In January last year, while campaigning in Tlokwe, Cyril Ramaphosa told young voters that “the enemy wants to collapse the power of the ANC”. When the deputy president of a constitutional democracy publicly announces that opposition voters are “the enemy” is it any wonder that apparatchiks further down the food chain think in these crude binaries?

But still, I can’t help feeling that something has shifted. The chest-thumping, warlike rhetoric has become infected with real fear and littered with unconscious admissions that there are two separate camps within this country: the fracturing, shrinking ANC, and everybody else.

So what happens when the fear takes hold and ever larger sections of the public are cast as the enemy? We’re about to find out.

*

Published in The Times

Baby, I can change! I promise!

Say anything

“Say Anything”: ANC policy for 23 years.

Jacob Zuma, the nation’s media announced, had “survived” the meeting with the National Executive Committee, which was rather like announcing that a medieval king had survived his morning blowjob.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Zuma isn’t taking a lot of flak right now. According to insiders at the NEC meeting, anxiously warming the massage oil between their hands, 45 of the 106 attendees asked Zuma to step down. Hell, that means that only 57% of the ruling party publicly endorses the gutting of the republic for personal gain.

Then there’s the extraordinary claim in the so-called Gupta e-mails (presumably leaked to the Sunday papers by one of those malcontents to coincide with the NEC meeting) that the Zuma clan is trying to relocate to Dubai.

At first glance this looks like some sort of escape plan, a bit like the end of ‘The Sound of Music’ where the Von Trapps skedaddle over the Alps. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine the Zuma Family Singers all lined up on the national stage, warbling a medley of our favourite hits from that film – The Lonely Gupta-turd; How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Free Press?; My Favourite Indians; Sell Every Mountain – before rolling the car silently down the highway to Waterkloof Air Base.

I’m not so sure, however, that a move to Dubai would necessarily be about fleeing. One of the people named in the weekend’s tranche of e-mails was Mzwanele Manyi, who once declared that there was an “oversupply” of coloured people in the Western Cape. If Mr Manyi is in any way connected to the Zumas or the Guptas, it’s possible he noticed a severe shortage of Zulus in Dubai and the whole thing is just another of his social engineering schemes.

So yes, there have been lots of hard words – Daddy even had to get a bit shouty with the NEC, telling them that if they said naughty phrases like “step down” again he would send them to their rooms without any kickbacks – but I don’t think anybody actually believes that Zuma is about to disappear. He may not be Nominal President for much longer (our actual president, is, of course, whichever Gupta feels like handling the South Africa account that day), but it is now accepted dogma that his plan is long-range, long-term control over the country via remote control.

All of which brings us, rather confusingly, to the ANC Stalwarts. You’ve probably read one of their faintly heroic ejaculations about pulling the country back from the brink and how they don’t agree with the direction we’re going.

Who sends the best emojis?

What they mean, of course, is that they are feeling terribly uncomfortable. Fighting for a good spot at the trough is hard enough at the best of times, but imagine trying to position yourself ahead of Zuma’s transformation into a digital, holographic ruler. Whose back are you going to massage now? Or will it boil down to who sends the best emojis?

Drowning people will cling to anything, so it’s not surprising that the Stalwarts are gaining some traction. Already, some folks are convincing themselves that the apparatchiks who put Zuma in power and kept him there are actually ardent democrats just waiting to explode into a rainbow of good governance. “Yes, it looked like she was asleep in parliament but she was actually resting her mind ahead of the great struggle to take back the country from, er, herself.”

Alas, they’re going to sink. I know that not everyone in government is corrupt. Some of them are merely incompetent. Others are paralysed, trapped in a web of conflicts and contradictory promises they’ve made to their backers. But when I consider life after Zuma, I remember the words of Cyril Ramaphosa, our next president.

“The ANC is pained immensely by stories of corruption,” he told the New York Times. “We are highly conscious of the damage that corruption does to a party and a country.”

He said those words in 1996. Twenty-fucking-one years ago. The context? Damage control around Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s Sarafina 2 corruption debacle. And you tell me this lot can change?

We don’t know if there is leadership that can do right by the country. Certainly many people are becoming frustrated with the media’s focus on Zuma: why, they ask, do we keep saying what we don’t want rather than outlining what we do?

I understand that question, but right now it’s like marching up to a paramedic who is holding someone’s intestines in, and saying, “Excuse me, but I’m very concerned that you’re not addressing when this person will go back to work.”

When you’re learning how to identify feelings, you start with the not-feelings: what a thing doesn’t feel like. We’re clearly unskilled at electing good governments, so, as we begin to grope our way towards a better alternative, I think it’s OK to focus on what we don’t want; to say that we don’t want this, or the people who allowed this to happen.

The next step? Education. Better safeguards. Perhaps a paragraph added to the constitution explicitly stating that the country probably shouldn’t be run via e-mail from abroad.

We’ll slowly clarify what we want. But it’s not this.

*

Published in The Times