Mondli Makhanya: Looking beyond the circus of the election campaigns

2019-01-15 00:39

Behind the formation of new, Zuma-inspired parties ahead of elections lie nagging questions for SA about how to retrieve its moral compass, writes Mondli Makhanya

The political year 2018 ended with the farcical return to the public stage of someone whose face we all hoped we would never see again – unless he was greeting a high court judge.

Disgraced SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng returned to the Milpark Holiday Inn, his old stomping ground, where he used to hold long, rambling press conferences in which he railed against the public broadcaster’s board that was curbing his wayward behaviour.

In December, he came back to the venue for another rambling press conference, where he announced the formation of his African Content Movement party.

He promised that his only real rival for the presidency was the incumbent, Cyril Ramaphosa, whom he would trounce anyway and take charge of the country.

“With you people of South Africa, we are going to eat change, we are going to touch change ... We are going to feel change when I’m the president of the country.”

The man who was once an unashamed deployee of Jacob Zuma’s ANC at the public broadcaster would now have us believe that the party is the worst thing to have happened to South Africa since someone badly advised Mandoza that he could sing.

And so, barring any calamity, Motsoeneng will be on the ballot box in May.

The year then began with another slapstick comedy.

Mzwanele Manyi, another Zuma acolyte, assembled his own band of weirdos for a press conference in which he announced he was joining something called the African Transformation Movement, which would also be contesting the elections.

Read: Mzwanele Manyi abandons 'tired' ANC for ATM

Quoting the Bible, Manyi compared the ANC to salt that had lost its saltiness and was only good for being trampled on underfoot.

“The ANC is tired. The ANC is fatigued. The ANC has reached a saturation point. The ANC has lost its hegemony. The ANC has lost its moral compass,” said the man who presumably has the finest moral compass in the land.

In the ensuing days, some Zuma-supporting bishop (how does one qualify to be a bishop or a prophet these days?) launched his own African Freedom Revolution, which also preaches some radical gobbledygook.

The Dagga Party went on a fundraising drive, hoping to raise enough money to register with the Electoral Commission of SA and then campaign for a presence in Parliament so it can influence marijuana-related legislation.

It is election season in the republic.

Over the next few weeks, the other serious parties will be kick-starting their campaigns in earnest.

All the parties – big and small – will bombard us with the messages, along with promises of free waffles and quiche, all the while clogging our news cycle and darkening our doorways.

Ramaphosa, who will be seeking formal permission from the citizens to live at Mahlamba Ndlopfu, should ordinarily be concerned with warding off the challenges from the top five parties.

But polls released towards the end of last year and early this year suggest that the opposition is the least of his problems.

The Institute for Race Relations put the ANC – which won with just over 62% five years ago – at 59% and the DA at 22%, while the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) move into double figures at 10%.

Pollster Ipsos also has the ANC slightly down at 59%, with the DA plummeting to 14% and the EFF improving to 9%.

Former Afro Worldview owner Mzwanele Manyi has linked with up a political party, the African Transformation Movement. Picture: Gallo images

About 13% of the sample of registered voters refused to answer, did not know who to vote for or said they would not vote for any of the existing parties.

It should be clear, then, that unless the opposition parties significantly up their game, Ramaphosa should comfortably return a result somewhere in the mid to late 50s.

What should, and most likely is, giving him sleepless nights is the resistance movement within his own party.

More than 12 months after the Nasrec conference, where he won by a slim 179 votes, many in the losers’ camp are still bitter and are refusing to accept the legitimacy of his presidency.

Curiously, they pledge their allegiance to a man whose term was up at Nasrec anyway, and not to the candidate who lost.

That candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has gladly moved on and is serving the incumbent president and the republic without any rancour.

If Ramaphosa and his inner circle needed any confirmation of the resistance movement rallying around Zuma, the behaviour of Zuma supporters in KwaZulu-Natal last week provided it.

Whether it was spontaneous or orchestrated, the demonstration of the rejection of Ramaphosa and the embrace of Zuma was emphatic.

They sang pro-Zuma songs and chanted his name in the presence of the sitting ANC president.

In one instance, when he concluded an address, they broke into a Zuma chant instead of applauding the president, who had just finished speaking.

The rapturous reception that Zuma received at the ANC’s manifesto launch on Saturday – as opposed to the politely enthusiastic one Ramaphosa received – said it all.

Zuma is enjoying making Ramaphosa’s life difficult.

He naively believes that fomenting a simmering rebellion will somehow strengthen his hand when he stands trial and in negotiating a deal, should he be convicted.

He is using his pull strategically ahead of the elections.

In the end, the rebellion is unlikely to impact heavily on the election. Voters will choose from candidates on the ballot paper, and the guy on the high court charge sheet will not be one of them.

They will vote their hopes, trust, dreams and fears.

Patronage and sentiment will also play a big role and many will be swayed by loyalty to the colours, legacy and tradition of their favoured party.

In the case of the ANC, Zuma – who has pledged undying fealty to the party – will simply have no choice but to deliver his loyal supporters to the man he so resents.

The main worry about the Zuma-inspired resistance – a worry that will outlive the election campaign – is what it stands for and what it aims to achieve.

It is not a mutiny against an individual who happens to be named Ramaphosa, but rather, against the post-Nasrec clean-up of the South African polity.

That resistance to renewal must necessarily begin within the ANC and the state, which were corrupted by Zuma and almost totally gutted of morality.

Without any obvious champion, those resisting the correction have turned to Zuma as a rallying point.

It is an eerie repetition of the pre-Polokwane scenario, where the forces railed against then president Thabo Mbeki turned to the one man who had nothing to lose – a Zuma who was potentially facing jail time.

Today, with the prospect of jail time again hanging over his head, Zuma is happily obliging himself and his charisma to the cause.

The ANC’s January 8 statement contained all the statements that would rattle the proponents and beneficiaries of state capture and general corruption.

Phrases like “restoring the integrity of the ANC”; the “ethical standards expected of the public representatives and ANC leaders”; “efforts to stamp out deviant and abhorrent practices”; and “addressing instances of wrongdoing and unethical behaviour” would have been just words in a speech during the Zuma years.

If you scour his speeches from when he was in office, you would find similar language – but at that time it would not have worried anyone. Not in that free-for-all era that we come from.

The ANC’s manifesto lays bare that the failure to contain this resistance and proceed with the renewal of society would mean a continuation of the downward spiral of malfeasance and instability that was fuelled by institutionalised rot.

“Many political leaders and civil servants are hardworking, honest, competent, committed and accountable,” the manifesto states.

“Unfortunately, too many have been seduced by greed and succumbed to corruption and the arrogance of power, and have become unresponsive and unaccountable. Violent protests have become too frequent.” 

So, beyond the circus of the election campaigns, where we will be entertained by a variety of clowns, buffoons and trapeze artists, the moral health of our body politic should be high up on our list of priorities.


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September 15 2019