A church so broad belief is optional is not all bad

I have often pointed out that the ANC’s clever- clever populism allows it to be all things to all people. I have mostly meant that that is a bad thing.

It is a legitimate question to ask: what are Julius Malema and  Barbara Hogan (to name two arbitrary ANC leaders) doing at the same table? When you strip away all the noise and posturing you are left with the question: what, politically, economically, ethically, spiritually, culturally do they have in common? How can one organisation have so broad a policy that both these people can claim to find a home there?

Usually, my conclusion is that the original policies designed to transform us away from Apartheid are disappearing from the ruling alliance and being replaced by the objective of power (and wealth and influence) for its own sake.

This morning I want to temper that negative view.

Our society has a number of real and urgent contradictions or fault-lines where the clashing currents are difficult to manage. Here are some of the most important:

  • White versus black (versus Indians versus Coloureds)
  • poor versus rich;
  • the employed versus the unemployed;
  • Zulu versus Xhosa versus Pedi versus Ndebele versus Sotho, versus Tswana versus Venda;
  • Western versus African;
  • Urban, modern and fast versus rural, traditional and conservative – with a sub-theme of modern city women versus patriarchal men or at least men carrying around chauvinist and patriarchal ideas in their heads.

The fact of the matter is that these divisions are not represented in the clash of politics in our formal political processes of parliament and government. There is no one party on one side of any of these divisions and mostly no one party on the other.

A quick glance through the ANC’s top leadership, structures and relationships shows a very deliberate attempt to represent the full scope of South African society.

I have mentioned elsewhere how Jacob Zuma has played a crucial role in winning Zulu’s back into the ANC. Cyril Ramaphosa is in part there for Venda’s, Hogan for whites and women, Derek Hanekom for whites and farmers, Mac Maharaj for Indians; Trevor Manuel for Coloureds and business …  and global capital markets; Baleka Mbete for women … the list really could go on for ever.

One of the reasons I think Julius Malema is unlikely to face serious punishment from the ANC leadership, is the organisation values the fact that, at one level of abstraction, he  “speaks for” the 2.5 million young black South Africans between the ages of 18 and 25 who are unemployed and not in any kind of education. (I do think Malema is primarily a populist disguising his own greed, but his populism also articulates – or helps weave into the national debate – a real view and an actual constituency.)

Then the alliance relationships with Cosatu, with the SACP and broader relationships with Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa); the Black Management Forum and outwards all the way to polite meetings with the Afrikaaner Weerstandsbeweging are all concentric circles of the ANC attempting to straddle all divides in the Society.

I think there is a very real danger in this context of ANC politics and policy becoming meaningless and allowing people in it for personal riches and power to rise to the top.

But I think it is important to acknowlge the upside.

We are a society in which the formal insitutions of democracy are new and tentative – and the divisions are threatening and profound. As many groups and interests as possible need to find expression in the national political debate and the formal institutions do not yet represent them.

As a second prize, an overwhelmingly dominant ruling party that attempts to play the role of a parliament of all the people, that attempts to speak with the cacophony of the thousand arguing tongues is not all bad.

It’s just loud, noisy, confusing and unsettling.

10 thoughts on “A church so broad belief is optional is not all bad

  1. Brilliant blog Nic – thanks. Makes it easier to deal with the loud, noisy and confusing stuff going on around us and makes it less unsettling.

  2. Nic,
    I like this piece because it suggests that while analyzing the cacophony is interesting, the real issue is not which voices have what volume (after all, populism is by definition good for mass media) but rather what policies emerge from the difference-stew.

    Why we spend so much time poking at ‘outrageous’, ‘populist’ or other appeals is because [from my perspective] the image of South Africa with those voices translated directly into policy is frightening.

    So, I guess… back to the question of how policy is being shaped behind closed doors… and to what extent the voices in the ANC translate to real access to power (and privilege) and [now I feel inclined to drag out a thesaurus and find all those cool P words but instead its school bus time!]

    Always thought provoking.


    1. Thanks Shannon …. I don’t normally comment on comments but I am so delighted people have commented that I am going to reply. The difficulties I have had with Malema’s running theatre of populist rhetoric (with its implicit racism, sexism and manipulative economics {for what of a better phrase}) is that Zuma’s apparent weakness allows ANC and government policy to be interpreted as almost anything or as represented by the voice that shouts the loudest – which tends to be Julius or other more angry people. Policy is formally shaped in ANC structures and cemented at National General Council meetings (one later this year) and the elective National Conferences once very … 5 years (now following the elective cycle of the country as a whole.) Senior ANC members will usually answer criticism about populist noise by telling you to “go look at the conference resolutions”- which is why the “Polokwane Resolutions” were so nb. However I still think, in a world where global capital markets trade in the blink of an eye a government of a country with the underlying political risk – in terms of unemployed, poverty and inequality – like SA needs to mind its P’s and Q’s … that I get the “broad church” imperative but at some point policy needs to be pronounced on, at least, owned up to. I hope you got the school bus in time and thanks for commenting

  3. Upside noted, but implied in your note are the very reasons we should also be very worried and very, very vigilant. When different voices are scrabbling for recognition, when a broad church that is trying to be all things to all people exists, and when the personage that rises to the top is currently unknowable, we are dealing with a situation that can as easily topple over as come out a reasonable policy. No cause for concern, yet, but there’s really no reason to assume that this is all just a bunfight that’ll correct itself.

    1. Hi Mark, good to see you here again … I have no comment on your comment because I absolutely agree with you. The ANC constantly runs the danger and the impulse to cross over this line – especially given Jacob Zuma’s leadership style and the fact that he has come to power leading such a fractious group of interests and ideologies …. however, at key moments, like this year’s budget speech (where the debate is over and the money is actually allocated) we a lot of continuity and policy certainty. Allowing Malema rope allows the ANC to engage in a kind of posturing, but too much of that reminds me of a childhood warning from my parents when my brother and I were seeing who could pull the ugliest face: “be careful”, my mother would say “if the winds suddenly changes your face will be stuck like that for ever”. Gosh, I just realised that is an irresistible metaphor – all the better for being a spontaneous thought that I haven’t had since I was a child …. Julius is the ANC’s ugly contorted face … hmmm I like that. Keep well.

  4. There you come again Nic; I hate to always be a “yes man”, but I cant help it on your articles.

    You seem to always fully understand the context of your subject. It is the truth that the ANC is a broad church, it tries very hard to satisfy everyone.

    Take me for instance; I am a Zulu, I have been a supporter of the ANC since the early 80s and became a member after its unbanning in 1990. All these years I have been labeled a sellout by my own people. I even lost my inure to IFP members in Tembisa Kempton Park. Reason being, they perceived ANC to be a Xhosa organisation. Zuma saved the day by winning ANC Presidency in 2007. Today most of my people are proud to be associated with the ANC because the President is a Zulu.

    The ANC REALLY tries to be everything to everybody. Time will tell how long will it last. There are two main blocs in the ANC, a Nationalist one led by Zuma,Mbalula, etc. and a Socialist one led by Motlante,Blade,Vavi etc. We foot know how long will it last … as each try to assert itself.

    Thank you again for your educational articles. Kind Regards Stan Mbatha

    1. Stanley that is so interesting to me because we linked up with the ANC at about the same time (although I joined at about the time you became a supporter – which is really just an accident of history). But we joined in such different circumstances – I was a white kid on campus hungry to join any kind of war against Apartheid – the more radical and effective the better. You lived in a context where the ANC’s Harry Gwala and Inkatha were outbidding each other in thuggery and political violence – and the early 90’s role of Jacob Zuma must have seemed so positive. The road to Polokwane must have been the answer to many Zulu speakers’ prayers. I don’t think anything is “over” or resolved in terms of ANC direction – in particular with regard to the nationalists versus socialists. However I do suspect that for many years the ANC will be hanging on to its leading members and its policy direction by the tips of its nails as it attempts to ride the wave of the impulse for cronyism and corruption – which, in retrospect, are forces and tendencies that were inevitable when trying to transform a society where power and wealth were so unequally shared. … PS I am going to delete your second post here because it seems it came through twice … hope that is okay – Nic

  5. Is South Africa turning into Zimbabwe? – Herald Scotland | News | World News

    Herald Scotland
    Monday 26 April 2010
    Is South Africa turning into Zimbabwe?
    Fred Bridgland
    Share   0 comments
    25 Apr 2010
    Aleading black South African commentator has uttered the dreaded “Z” word, a sentiment that has been considered too terrible to think for ordinary people and considered near-treasonous in the upper reaches of the ruling African National Congress.
    “Hardly a decade from now, Zimbabwe will be our destination, our reality,” wrote Barney Mthombothi in his column in this weekend’s Financial Mail, South Africa’s equivalent of The Economist.
    Mr Mthombothi, one of his country’s finest journalists, was commenting in the course of an analysis on the dire situation in neighbouring Zimbabwe where, he said, life had become “hell on earth”.
    The tragedy is not simply that Mugabe has destroyed his own country, Mr Mthombothi went on to say. “He has exported the cancer. He’s poisoned the well. He’s contaminated the politics of the region, especially South Africa. Our politicians have learnt from the master’s knee – the buck-passing, blame everything on imperialists and apartheid;
    the reckless and incendiary language; the refusal to see reason or deal with reality even as it stares you in the face.
    “Our people are increasingly suspicious or even frightened by the actions of their own government. It can no longer be trusted to do what’s right by them.”
    Mr Mthombothi’s apocalyptic warning – mirrored by other heavyweight analysts – comes as the global spotlight zeroes in on South Africa, with scarcely 40 more days to go before the country flings its doors open to humanity as it hosts football’s World Cup.
    With the first match due on June 11,
    a rise in racial tensions and ANC corruption together threaten to derail the feel-good national response that many hoped would be among the benefits of the tournament.
    Allister Sparks, the veteran anti-apartheid warhorse journalist who espoused the ANC during its darkest days when banned by whites-only rulers, said the extent to which the movement has abandoned its own core principles is astonishing. The rot is spreading ever deeper into the very soul of the ANC, said Mr Sparks, winner of many international awards for his reporting, in his latest column in the daily Business Day.
    The South African crisis, as the World Cup looms, is multi-dimensional. But Mr Sparks highlighted two core principles on which the ANC has gone backwards and which had carried it through all the long decades of its liberation struggle, through the tough constitutional negotiating process of the early 1990s under Nelson Mandela and into the dawn of the new South Africa – “the principle of non-racialism and the principle of clean, honest government that would deliver a better life for all.”
    Mr Sparks added: “We have become a corrupt country. The whole body politic is riddled with it. We have reached a kind of corruption gridlock. When so many people in high places have the dirt on each other, no one dares blow a whistle. When the President of the country (Jacob Zuma) has managed to get off the hook on a major corruption case (charges relating to bribes associated with the country’s multi-billion dollar arms deal with Britain and other European Union countries), how can he crack down on corruption anywhere else in his administration?
    “When he rewards the acting prosecuting chief who got him off the hook with a judgeship, how can he expect to have a clean civil service all the way down to municipal level?”
    Mokotedi Mpshe last year dropped the National Prosecuting Authority’s multiple corruption charges against Mr Zuma under highly controversial circumstances and against the wishes of his own team of investigators. Mr Zuma this year appointed Mr Mpshe a high court judge for life.
    MR Sparks is particularly outraged by the sleaze that pervades the ANC as a result of the party’s ownership of many companies to which it awards lucrative government contracts. For example, the state electricity company, Eskom, was last week given a £2.56billion loan to expand over-stretched power supplies. The ANC immediately made £68.5m thanks

    Is South Africa turning into Zimbabwe? – Herald Scotland | News | World News
    Page 2 of 3
    to the party’s shareholding in Hitachi Africa to whom Eskom’s chairman, Valli Moosa, a former ANC minister and present member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, conveniently awarded the expansion contract.
    “So it’s OK for the ANC in its capacity as controller of the State to hand out hugely profitable contracts to the ANC in its capacity as a political party,” lamented Mr Sparks.
    ANC leaders are now competing viciously among themselves for access to state resources, said William Gumede, author of Thabo Mbeki And The Battle For The Soul Of The ANC and currently a senior fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, in a lecture last week in Pretoria.
    Many in the ANC had become part of the “bling culture” – getting rich quickly, using short cuts. “Unfortunately, while this new bling lifestyle has become the new standard for achievement, a sign that one has made it, no new factories are being built and mass poverty is increasing,” said Mr Gumede.
    “What cannot be doubted any more is that our worse fears have come true: the ANC has lost its soul.”
    While the corruption at heart of government is enough to make good men despair, the resurgence of racism, through new injections of race hatred malevolence from the toxic ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and the resurrection of white racist fringe extremism through the murder of
    neo-Nazi leader Eugene Terre’Blanche, has ratcheted up the fear levels of moderate South Africans of all races.
    Mr Malema, a badly educated 29-year-old, has achieved huge powers since becoming leader of the Youth League and Jacob Zuma’s most vociferous supporter during the latter’s 2006 trial for rape and his subsequent toppling in 2008 of former President Thabo Mbeki.
    Mr Malema defended Mr Zuma against the rape allegations, on which he was found not guilty, by saying 68-year-old Mr Zuma had given his
    31-year-old HIV-positive accuser a “nice time”. During Mr Malema’s anti-Mbeki campaign, he said: “We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.”
    This month Mr Malema visited Zimbabwe and promised President Robert Mugabe that South Africa would emulate his policy of violent land seizures, which destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy. His support for Mr Mugabe came against a background of more than 3,000 white South African farmers killed in violent attacks since the ANC achieved power in 1994 in the country’s first all-race general election and the constant singing by Mr Malema at rallies of his theme song with lyrics, translated from the Zulu, that go, with many repetitions: “The cowards are scared. Shoot, shoot, shoot the Boer (white Afrikaner farmer). These dogs are raping. Shoot the Boer.”
    Mr Zuma’s refusal to rein in his attack dog has been of growing concern in many sections of society.
    “What Malema does to this country is tantamount to treason,” said Peter Bruce, editor of Business Day. “He is destructive and careless. He represents, in every conceivable way, what failure would look like for this country. If the ANC leadership does not get rid of him now, it will never have the opportunity again. And the damage he does will only get worse.”
    Allister Sparks said he did not believe Mr Malema’s insistence on singing “Kill the Boer” had any direct role in Terre’Blanches’s murder. “But,” he added, “the fact the two coincided has inflamed racial passions. Thanks to Malema, the faded and farcical Terre’Blanche’s racist cause has found a new lease of life in his death.”
    Terre’Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), or Afrikaner Resistance Movement, had become a politically irrelevant extremist with miniscule support by the time he was bludgeoned to death in his bed this month by two of his black farmworkers. Their lawyers say their motive was unpaid wages. However, the police said the killers stripped and mutilated the 69-year-old Terre’Blanche in a way that suggested extreme racial hatred.
    And Chris van Zyl, manager of safety and security with the conservative Transvaal Agricultural Union, said that in another recent murder of a white farmer the soles of his feet were stripped from him while he was still alive. Mr Van Zyl said 19 farmers had been killed this year, but the increasing violence of non-fatal attacks suggested the singing of “Kill the Boer” is fuelling the sentiment.
    Mr Malema ratcheted up his reputation for extremism this month with an attack on a BBC journalist that had commentators comparing him to the late Ugandan military dictator Idi Amin. Mr Malema called BBC staff reporter Jonah Fisher a “bloody agent” and a “small boy” with a “white tendency” as he ordered Youth League security men to throw Mr Fisher out of a press conference on the Youth League chief’s visit to Zimbabwe.
    Mr Malema mocked exiled supporters of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change for belonging to a “Mickey Mouse” organisation and insulting South Africa with statements issued from “air conditioned offices in Sandton,” Johannesburg’s most upmarket suburb.
    As Mr Malema went on, Mr Fisher interjected: “You live in Sandton. So they’re not welcome in Sandton but you are?” Mr Malema, who has become a multi-millionaire in a short period of time, snapped and warned Mr Fisher: “Here you behave or else you jump.” Mr Fisher and others laughed. “Don’t laugh,” Mr Malema snarled. Mr Fisher rejoined that the situation had become a joke and that Mr Malema was talking rubbish.
    Is South Africa turning into Zimbabwe? – Herald Scotland | News | World News
    Page 3 of 3
    It was then Mr Malema erupted and ordered the reporter’s ejection from the news conference. Collecting his recording equipment and walking out, Mr Fisher said: “I didn’t come here to be insulted.” Mr Malema bellowed after him: “Go out. Go out. Go out. You bloody agent!”
    The opposition Democratic Alliance said the incident proved Mr Malema was “South Africa’s Mugabe”. Mpowele Swathe, shadow minister of rural development, said: “Malema’s hysterical, conspiracy theory-laden attack on the BBC is painfully reminiscent of the frequent claims by Mugabe he is the victim of ‘malicious propaganda by external forces’. His actions, in throwing the journalist out of the press conference, are no different to Mugabe’s censorship of the press in Zimbabwe, and his banning of outlets like the BBC from reporting there.”
    Mr Malema has ignored a high court judge’s ruling that singing “Shoot the Boer” amounts to race-hatred speech. He has continued to sing the anthem, but the ANC issued a disciplinary hearing, scheduled for this week, following his attack on Mr Fisher.
    Many fear that if Mr Malema is not expelled from the ANC and gets only a slap on the wrist, race relations will deteriorate further, leading Mondi Makhanya, editor of the wide circulation South African Sunday Times to warn: “There was a guy who lived in a country in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and into the 1940s.
    “That particular person was allowed to rise because people didn’t take him seriously.”
    Copyright ©2010 Herald & Times Group. All rights reserved.
    :: :: :: :: :: :: ::


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