Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beyond knee-jerk gloom over new ANC leadership
Anthony Butler writes a very sage op-ed piece in the Business Day today regarding the over-reaction to the Zuma win in Polokwane. Some of you may decry my stance as optimistic, but there's no doubting the caliber of Anthony Butler. He writes:
First, branch delegates at Polokwane magnificently chose the least bad option when they elevated an admittedly flawed Zuma over what had become a totally unthinkable Thabo Mbeki. They rejected Mbeki’s Putin-esque ambition to retain the ANC presidency, manage the state presidential succession and rule from beyond the political grave. The Mbeki faction’s arrogant domination of the empowerment state, the public broadcaster and the national policy process needed to be broken. The triumph of competitive internal politics signals to future ANC presidents that their misdemeanours will not be swept automatically under the carpet by a sympathetic successor.

Second, the ANC’s new collective leadership is more impressive than critics claim. Looking beyond Zuma, the remainder of the “top six” national executive committee (NEC) offices are in safer hands than during the Mbeki era. Few will lament the departure of Mendi Msimang and the elevation of Mathews Phosa to the treasurer-general’s office. The new deputy secretary-general, Thandi Modise, has a strong reputation as a fighter against corruption and a champion of robust parliamentary oversight of the executive.

The pivotal figure in the top six, however, is the new secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe. Reputed to be a man of exceptional integrity, Mantashe would appear to be neither “Zuma’s man” nor a dangerous communist radical. An organic intellectual from an impoverished village of migrant labourers, he will bridge what have become debilitating divides in the tripartite alliance. He can be expected to champion much-needed community participation in schools, policing and housing after a decade of Mbeki’s top-down dead hand of “delivery”.

The confident and measured manner in which Mantashe has taken on the mantle of secretary-general indicates that it is the broad left alliance he represents, and not Zuma’s band of malcontents, that is now the dominant force in the ANC’s collective leadership.

Third, the full NEC elected at Polokwane shows equally little sign of being the plaything of Zuma. Under Mbeki, the NEC was on its way to becoming a club for people made famous by appointment to government office. The new NEC brings the great variety of the ANC’s regional political cultures — in all their glory and their shame — back to the centre of the movement’s decision making.

Finally, the overall composition of the expanded NWC has changed in largely positive ways. It has become too large to function as an executive committee for the political management of the cabinet — which is a benign development — and it has lost most of its prominent cabinet ministers. Instead it now hosts six provincial MECs alongside robust regional power brokers such as Tony Yengeni and charismatic former ballroom dancing champion Makhenkesi Stofile. This suggests it will now provide a much-needed link between the centre, where policy is made, and the tumultuous regions where it has been only fitfully implemented.

Read the whole article here. It's a very reasoned argument and I share most of Butler's sentiments.