We have been here before in another epoch when some stood accused of seeking to oust Mbeki
Sunday Times the Tiso Blackstar newspaper, broke this weekend with a story of an apparent ‘secret meeting’ that transpired between ANC people including a crossbreed of former and current leaders. As the gossip winds blow in South Africa, the claims were made by the Sunday Times that this meeting was clandestine with its aim being the ousting of the current caretaker president Matamela Ramaphosa.
The breaking of the story had seen some who are accused of attending the meeting either deny it or responding with no comment. The Sunday Times hitherto has given us no content. Yes, its journalists paraded some pictures and on the basis of that some argue a combination of pictures and accompanying denials by some, constitute material evidence for the plot to oust Ramaphosa.
There are those who argue the pictures confirm the clandestine nature of the meeting, yet pictures without content may exactly just be that, pictures. Why do these pictures and denials naturally translate to a secret meeting? What is a secret meeting? Is there anything wrong with a secret meeting, secret to what, and in denial of whom? The power of the media is again underscored when Sunday Times, despite a lack of any content, claims an inalienable right to declare the meeting a secret and clandestine with an explicit intent of ousting the caretaker president.
While we may not be sure why some chose to deny the meeting, we cannot assume they have something to hide. The probabilities for a choice to deny, leave no comment or admit remains that of those who attended the meeting. The conclusions drawn by those who want to find a proverbial smoking gun, are not borne out.
Why do we pretend the media is a court of law?
Let us then understand why ANC leaders stand accused today. At the centre of the accusation and speculations levelled against comrades who met, is their disregard for the media who act as a first and last arbiter of truth and or lies. Let us then not forget it’s the Sunday times who told us of a plot to oust Ramaphosa. Is the Sunday times an innocent reporter of news? The answer is a categorical no. It’s an active political player who has often shown its appetite to frame some as ‘angels’ and others as ‘demons.
The assumption that South Africans are naturally and automatically answerable to the media, equal to a court of law, is not just a faulty premise but it’s a very misplaced understanding of what the media in a democracy means. In South Africa the power of a scripted ideologically and economically vested media continues to attempt to supplant to the role of the courts.
What then to make of the alleged plot to oust Ramaphosa?
Is there any historical precedent for this same claim in this season? Well to pretend we have never been here before is to engage with our history in an evanescent manner. We will recall in April 2001, in a time under Thabo Mbeki as leader of the ANC and SA, we equally heard of a plot to oust Mbeki. Back then Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa stood accused as working with the SACP’s Blade Nzimande to oust Mbeki. This same time and the period saw Jacob Zuma as deputy of Mbeki forced to pronounce on his personal political ambitions.
Can we remember the role of the late ‘Mr Fixit’, Minister of Safety and Security Steve Tshwete who became the face of the investigation? Tshwete in his own words: “There are those who are alleged to be at the spearhead of the whole thing. We have set up an investigation team at divisional level of the Department of Safety and Security,”
It is claimed Tshwete on a visit to Phosa’s then Nelspruit home, told Phosa, to ignore these allegations and reduced the entire investigation to insecure politics. He dovetailed this with a paraphrased claim of ‘one day we will talk of this over a glass of wine’. It became apparent that the claims of an ousting hardly aroused from those who stood accused but may have emerged as a tactic and strategy to test the balance of forces in the ANC in a very uncertain time of the Mbeki presidency. Recognising this known history, the news of ousting claims in this season must be contextualised and can be located on that same axis, since the current environment is not too far removed from the reality of what Mbeki faced at that time.
The African National Congress after its 54th Ccnference remains a very factionalised organisation. Simply not capable to give effect to the unity it was mandated to work for. A number of decisions after the conference have contributed to an undeniable and abrasively factionalised space. Here we can easily think of the forced resignation of its SA president in February, followed by the same with the North West Provincial leader Supra Mahumapelo who subsequently saw the PEC he leads disbanded and replaced with a task team leader who is also the man who has succeeded him as premier – the octogenarian past civil servant Job Mokgoro. Granted, the ANC did resolve that ANC chairpersons will in future also be the premiers to ensure one centre of power for ease of implementation of ANC policies. This environment is not just toxic but it is also an organisation where the contest for its agreed resolutions remain very lively space for control.
Ramaphosa is and remains suspended between a crisis of legitimacy and the mistrust of personal sincerity in the implementation of ANC resolutions. Tensions are further exacerbated when the economic woes of SA under an ANC leadership are added to the mix. The primary reason for this the current incumbent at Mahlamba Ndlopfu was held up as the messiah of SA economy. SA is in recession, its VAT is at an all-time high, the economy has contracted and Moody’s rating agency has scaled its projected growth down to a meagre 0,7%. Unemployment is higher and the poor are poorer and fuel hikes are at least three additional knocks on the economy.
As if the aforementioned is not enough, the ANC has never articulated a coherent economic plan that shows the light to a better economic situation. On top of this SA’s caretaker leader in his SONA speech, which became a future summit-littered exercise, has SA’s hopes pinned on an economic summit that it is claimed will direct SA. The summit is yet to happen.
Given all of this, Ramaphosa’s supporters have reason to feel their leader is under threat, hence claims of an ousting can be levelled and may potentially be arising from this assessment. We may therefore with reasonable certainty conclude that the origin of the claim of an ousting is plausibly misplaced. A claim of ousting may very well be a tactical move to secure public sentiment, and support in a claim of victimhood. This may mean that the claims of ousting could be directly linked to a campaign to gain public sentiment for someone who increasingly appears vulnerable from within his own organisation. It goes without saying that the NEC is a very tight balance of opposing persuasions. If Ramaphosa has the edge, it’s by a slim margin, again the signpost of this is and remains his own election with a mere 179 votes for the position of the 13th ANC president.
On another score, the claim of an ousting may have another dimension to it where it serves the crafted purpose of a deflection from a nagging wet diaper of a stagnant economy. The Sunday Times which has long nailed its colours to the mast, and at some stage in the CR17 campaigning season became the mouthpiece and public relations company for Ramaphosa, has a vested interest to continue playing its role to keep its man in power. This may mean a perpetual attempt to ensure the heat is not on its man and to deflect such heat if and when it manifests. This may explain the Sunday Times’ need to lead with this week with a salacious story of a clandestine meeting of which the content hitherto is unknown.
Is the SG of the ANC anywhere denying a right to meet ANC members and leaders?
So, whether Secretary-General Ace Magashule gathered in the Maharani Hotel with members and leaders of the ANC in good standing, is an absolute non-issue. There is no prescribed constitutional articulation on the matter. If that is the case can some ANC leaders, also of the top six who meet regularly with ANC political foes, the EFF and segments of its leadership, also stand for secret, clandestine and in ousting of its president?
Ultimately, if one had attended any meeting would one be under obligation to answer to a known biased white-interest media the same sense as being summoned before a court of law? One equally would uphold the right of all who stand accused to have exercised their right to either, deny, reject or admit meeting. Exercising any of the aforementioned rights does not automatically extend or support any claims of the paraded content as measurable in frames of clandestine with the intention of ousting.
What then did the story attain?
It succeeded in increasing the gaping fissures of divide an ANC increasingly attests. It equally aided the known intention of a lusty media to find against Magashule as an enemy of the ANC president. It continues the narrative of natural demons and angels a media-driven campaign fuelled by some politicians who regard themselves as necessarily interested in SA when we know different.
The story managed to illicit empty but factionalised responses from among others the ANC Chief-Whip Jackson Mthembu and its Chairperson on Economic Transformation Enoch Godongwana, both highly controversial political players who specialise in Zuma blame for everything wrong in SA. These two comical Ali-characters that miss no opportunity to defend a faction were first off the mark to do their batting for those who seek to benefit from this orchestrated campaign strategy.
The story managed, though briefly, to get unobservant South Africans to take their eyes from an economic crisis.
I am inclined to conclude this may purely be a sloppy tactic to deflect and simultaneously gain public sympathy.
Political Commentator and Writer