Editor's note: Wisely Manzini is a Durban-based journalist with a passion for reporting on politics. For him, journalism is about holding those in positions of power to account. He has worked for several publications in his career spanning close to a decade, covering local and national political developments.
There is an age-old African adage that says: “When two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
This fittingly sums up what is currently unfolding in the African National Congress (ANC) and the pervasive consequences this has on ordinary South Africans.
The party, which glorifies itself as the oldest liberation movement in Africa, is glaringly beset with infighting between two factions. One faction is aligned to the incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa and the other firmly backing the erstwhile President Jacob Zuma.
These two “bulls” (Ramaphosa and Zuma) have been locking horns in a subtle and veiled style since the latter was forced to resign as president in February 2018.
While the “bulls” square up, the casualty is, unfortunately, the “grass”, in this case the 59 million citizens of South Africa.
In an unprecedented move, Zuma took a jab at his successor Ramaphosa in a stinging 12-page letter last week.
At first, I was reluctant to believe that Zuma had penned that scathing letter. After all, it is not his style to write letters. It turned out it was him. In retaliation, Ramaphosa’s allies scurried to shield him amid the onslaught from his predecessor.
The Radical Economic Transformation (RET) troops, who back Zuma, pressed on with convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni, Zuma’s die-hard backer, calling on Ramaphosa to resign with “Immediate effect”.
From there the attacks were being unleashed from both sides. I knew from this point that South Africa was in crisis.
Analysts and the learned would call what’s happening inside the ANC, “palace politics”. But the happenings inside the ANC palace have far-reaching consequences for South Africans because the ANC is a ruling party in government.
Just over 10 million South Africans voted for the ANC in 2019, entrusting the party to lead yet again for the sixth consecutive term since 1994. Consequently, this meant the ANC was handed yet another chance to implement its policies in government not just for its voters but the country’s citizens.
However, it is an undeniable fact that some of the noble policies that are adopted by the ANC in its conferences seldom see the light of day because of the infighting.
As a result, such policies are quashed or plainly ignored or not implemented by members of the ANC - mostly senior - who are deployed to government as ministers or deputy ministers.
A recent case in point is the fee-free tertiary education, which is the ANC policy as adopted by the party’s 54 National Conference in 2017. However, some destitute students still have to dig into their empty pockets to pay at tertiary institutions, three years after they were promised free education.
Those who are lucky enough to be bankrolled by the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) face a huge debt when they complete their studies. The government says NSFAS is now a bursary but it is a known fact that some students still have to pay back the money when they complete their studies.
This is a classic example of the “grass” (South Africans) suffering as the “bulls” battle it out.
Cast your mind back to the early 2000s when Thabo Mbeki was the president and Zuma his deputy. The government implemented what was called the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy.
Initially, the policy was aimed at addressing the justices of the past and level the playing field, economically. Although some objected to this policy, it nevertheless received a stamp of approval, even from the businesses that had benefited from the apartheid government.
Instead, the factions in the ANC, then torn between Mbeki and Zuma, manipulated the noble policy for their own political gains. Subsequently, the BEE produced a few politically-connected elites, contrary to what it stood for.
Millions of South Africans were plunged into the doldrums of poverty and a selected few emerged as millionaires, others even billionaires. Again, the “grass” suffered as many emerging businesses then were unable to have a slice in the economic cake.
The remnants of this still shadow the country close to two decades later.
The less said about the ANC’s 1990s ANC policy Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the better.
In all fairness to the ANC, the RDP policy achieved some strides. However, it crumbled and its department which was led by Jay Naidoo was unceremoniously scrapped in 1996, two years after it was introduced.
This again owed to the infighting in the ANC, which was then well-curtained off from the public, unlike now. Nelson Mandela was the president at the time.
The RDP pitted ANC comrades against each other, with some arguing strongly the ANC was promising too much than it could deliver. On the other hand, others like Zuma’s former spokesperson and ANC heavyweight Mac Maharaj supported the policy.
Be the judge whether the promises of the RDP, which included among others proper housing and clean water, have been kept as millions of South Africans still live in squatter camps.
More than four million to be exact still lived in informal settlements, according to the Housing Development Agency’s 2019 report.
This is yet another case of the “grass” suffering as the “bulls” clash.
It is time South Africans – whether ANC members or not - to hold the ANC in its capacity as the ruling party in government accountable or more damage would be inflicted on the “grass” as the “bulls” butt heads. The time is now. Deal?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Briefly.co.za.
Earlier, Briefly.co.za reported that speaking during a briefing announcing the decisions reached by the ANC National Executive Committee on Monday, Ramaphosa brushed off the notion of validating Zuma's comments with a response.
Ramaphosa made it clear that he would not be entertaining his predecessor's opinion, saying that:
“I receive many letters as the president of the ANC and this letter is one of those. So, I have not responded. Obviously, the letter is being debated and being talked about. I don't even know what the reasoning for the letter was and I will not even publicly entertain issues that are raised in the letter."
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