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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Secret state, low tricks and South Africa sleeps

Secret state, low tricks and South Africa sleeps

by Bryan Rostron, Saturday, May 21st, 2011

South Africa has been embroiled in nationwide municipal elections for the past month. Although most results should have been published, for the moment we can do without the statistics. More importantly, at the same time, there has been a secret election campaign.

The really significant power struggle that has been waged over the past month has been the covert one within the ruling African National Congress. President Jacob Zuma appears to be losing his grip fast. Some of his closest allies, who forced out former President Thabo Mbeki so brutally, have realised the mistake of latching onto an individual who is now revealed as standing for very little, except perhaps the rapid enrichment of his own family. The result is that powerful factions within the party are hedging their bets, encouraging rampant speculation as to who they may prefer to take over after Zuma has served only one term.

They do so almost openly. The liberation traditions of the ANC dictate that no one is allowed to show any leadership ambitions or put themselves forward for positions of power. They must be “called” and then they will “humbly serve”. The result is that power struggles within the party remain nearly as opaque as the election of popes by cardinals locked up in the Sistine Chapel. This secrecy and faux modesty is a guarantee of back-room deals and squalid horse-trading. It is also an absurd charade for a governing alliance whose members range from ravenous capitalists to the SA Communist Party, and encompassing everything in between, including ultra-conservative traditional chiefs. It is especially hypocritical as there are well-documented cases of cash and other inducements offered in leadership contests; even, more recently, factional party assassinations.

This is one of the most glaring proofs that the ANC is yet to emerge from being a secretive liberation movement to a modern political party.

The most recent example is the leaking of an extremely dubious intelligence report naming several prominent ANC leaders as “plotting” against Zuma. The President had been sitting on this report for months and took it seriously. Yet the report only came to light when the policeman who compiled it, the head of crime intelligence, was charged with involvement in a murder committed back in 1999. Was the “plot” report a desperate attempt to save a guilty man? Or was the crime intelligence boss arrested as part of a wider political conspiracy?

It is still sufficient for a few ANC politicians to meet privately, to discuss a presidential succession plan, for them to be accused of “plotting” – as though they were planning a coup d’état. Chief victim once again is the charismatic Tokyo Sexwale, former Robben Island prisoner, then flamboyant tycoon and now housing minister. Sexwale has committed the ANC “sin” of showing presidential ambitions.

In 2001, President Mbeki tried to scupper the presidential aspirations of his then deputy, Jacob Zuma. Back then, Tokyo Sexwale was also publicly smeared as a conspirator in a baseless “plot” based on ludicrous intelligence reports. The manoeuvre finally backfired on Mbeki. The current plot allegations may similarly hoist the floundering Zuma.

It is clear that South African intelligence agencies are increasingly bound up in factional ANC battles. Referring to this dangerous and abusive spy partisanship, the former ANC minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils warned: “The country is asleep.” No one paid any attention.

In other words, just as there was under apartheid, there is a secret state where leadership battles are decided out of the public eye and by dirty tricks. So while the municipal elections will be analysed minutely, that other, more sinister campaign will dictate our immediate future. Or will the country wake up?

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