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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

IN 1994, South Africa became the youngest African country that was born from the womb of apartheid and its foundational constitutional order was uniquely informed by not only the experiences of other post-colonial African states but other nations outside the continent.

The deracialisation of South Africa was a costly project principally because the stakes were high and the settler community had invested in making the country an extension of Europe with its own race-based constitutional order underpinned by a balkanisation concept. Blacks were apportioned their own land under the apartheid structure where they were presumed to be free, notwithstanding the unfair resource allocation.

The challenges of nation building that confronted South Africa at birth are no different from the challenges faced by many African states post-colonialism. The architecture of the apartheid state was informed by vested economic and political interests of a small settler population that drew its legitimacy from a constitutional order that was patently unjust and undemocratic.

Democracy was a threat to the colonial order in as much as it has become a threat to the post-colonial one. The apparent divisions and conflicts before and during the just ended ANC’s national conference in Polokwane have to be seen in the context of the contestations for power that have characterised the post-colonial experience.

The struggle against the colonial state was motivated by a collective desire to assert the rights of citizens to determine their own destiny without being manipulated by the few. To what extent has sovereignty been restored to citizens in the post-colonial or apartheid state? Who really owns the national democratic revolution (NDR)?

Until Polokwane, there was a widely held view that South Africa was different from its elder African states and the constitution of the country provided a reliable and predictable guide to citizens in organising themselves through a system that allowed them to assert rights that were denied to them under the apartheid state.

What happened at Polokwane confirmed that South Africa’s experience and prospects may not be fundamentally any different from the experiences of other African states. The challenges are the same and the issues are as complex as they are paradoxical.

The majority of African citizens through their liberation movements sacrificed a lot to bring about what they expected to be a democratic dispensation only to find themselves in an ideological confusion of such proportions as to negate the moral and political justification of the liberation struggle.

Jacob Zuma is now the President of the African National Congress (ANC) after defeating incumbent President Mbeki. In the run up to the elections, President Mbeki had argued that the party had been infiltrated by opportunists and careerists and, therefore, there was a real risk that the motivation for removing him may have little to do with advancing the real objectives of the NDR but the personal exploits of the alleged political mercenaries.

Under this construction, an election of Zuma, given his alleged corruptibility, would necessarily expose the NDR to unintended consequences with the ultimate victims being the very poor that liberation was supposed to change their quality of life. Accordingly, to avoid the revolution from being hijacked, President Mbeki argued that there was need to protect the party by investing in ideological education.

In as much as this school of thought is premised on the belief that people are sovereign and are entitled to make their democratic choices, it is evident that such choices must necessarily be qualified. The mindset that informs this kind of thinking is widespread in Africa and appears to be no different than the colonial mind. What then is the meaning of freedom if choices are to be prescribed and qualified?

The constitutional order of South Africa does not provide a vehicle for citizens electing a President directly, but through their political parties who then nominate representatives to Parliament. Under this order, President Mandela was not elected directly but was first nominated by his party, ANC, as a Member of Parliament and then was nominated and elected as President of the Republic in Parliament. President Mbeki was also elected in a similar fashion. It is only Parliament that can remove him in accordance with the constitution. However, given the majority of the ANC in Parliament it is clear that his removal does not pose any problem for the party and would not require a general election.

When the storm is over, the one who remains standing should be ideally be the winner. However, in the context of ANC, it appears that after Polokwane, President Mbeki has not conceded defeat and has not changed his views about the illegitimacy of the ANC elections.

Writing in his capacity as outgoing ANC president on the party’s website, Mbeki is still of the view that the ultimate winner of the elections was anarchy, opportunism, and careerism. In holding this view, it is evident that he excludes himself and his appointed cabinet ministers as opportunists and careerists.

He makes the point that following the democratic victory of 1994, the second phase of the NDR meant that membership of the ANC did not carry the cost of banning, banishment, imprisonment, torture, exile and death that confronted it during the first phase. He then concludes that instead, membership of the ANC held out the promise of significant personal material benefit.

By holding the view that "the second phase of the NDR opens the way for our members to reap immense personal benefits," President Mbeki is effectively saying that his administration has not been susceptible to corruption and to the extent that Zuma’s personal advisor, Shabil Shaik, is already serving time, the prospect of the government being protected from soldiers of fortune is remote with a Zuma Presidency. The President is also making the point that his administration is clean and free from corrupt tendencies.

The import of what President Mbeki is saying is that the liberation project should be owned by those who sacrificed for it. Anyone who intends to benefit from “uhuru” should necessarily be excluded, begging the question of what precisely is liberation meant to bring to citizens?

President Mbeki had this to say: "We have attracted into our ranks the opportunists and careerists who would never have had the courage and devotion to principle that were required of our cadres during the first phase of the NDR.
"Thus, though requiring cadres of the highest calibre, it (the ANC) attracts into its ranks people who are contemptuous of all notions of patriotism and serving the people, who are driven by a value system characterised by the pursuit of personal wealth at all costs."

Using this framework, he concludes that some of the internal problems that created the apparent divisions and conflicts before and during the Polokwane Conference originated from this contradiction.

What President Mbeki is effectively saying is that the state should not have any role in transforming the class relationships that were inherited from the apartheid state. The first destination of blacks in the journey to reduce the frontiers of poverty is the state. There is no provision for an intelligent President in the Constitution of South Africa and, therefore, what is being said is that a ruling political party should be impotent in directing the economic agenda of change.

The colonial state was clear about its obligations to the settler community and yet during the post-colonial state, it appears that those who championed the anti-colonial struggle are of the view that the status quo ante should remain. Who benefits from this logic? Why then vote for change if change becomes merely a slogan? Is the thinking of President Mbeki any different from his contemporaries in Africa?

As a solution, President Mbeki recommends the enormous strengthening of the party as an agent of fundamental social transformation capable of carrying out the tasks of the second phase of the NDR. While he grudging accepts and respects the outcome of the conference, he still holds the view that the masses made a mistake by electing President Zuma and his dubious colleagues. He believes strongly that the liberation project can only be protected if genuine revolutionaries like him are at the helm and directing the struggle.

It is significant that President Mbeki said: "We, genuine patriots and members of the ANC, have the unique responsibility and duty to ensure that the ANC is the kind of revolutionary movement that has the capacity to lead the sustained offensive for the realisation of this goal.”

Those who decide to challenge the status quo are easily labelled corrupt, opportunists, careerists, unpatriotic, and agents of imperialism. What is tragic is that while a view is held that the post-colonial state must not benefit its own historically disadvantaged people who are in any event the owners and custodians of the democratic project, no attempt is made to originate a new value system that will democratise the economy.

The interplay between business and politics in human civilisation is widely accepted and many would argue that the primary justification of the colonial state was its ability to confer opportunities and careers to its intended beneficiaries.

No colonial state ever made a mistake of misdirecting benefits to the victims no matter how intelligent they might have been. Although President Zuma in his victory speech was magnanimous, it appears that President Mbeki feels otherwise about the forces that were at play in making him lose the elections.

If one analyses Zuma’s victory speech, questions arise as to why members of the ANC really wanted change when there appears to be no justification for it according to Zuma. Zuma maintained that there are no policy differences between him and President Mbeki and asserted the supremacy of the party in shaping ANC policies. He then accepted the notion of two centres of power when the policy conference of June resolved otherwise. For the next 18 months, it appears that a situation has been accepted that two centres of power will exist.

What may appear to be a victory by Zuma may be illusory as Mbeki believes that the changes that took place at Polokwane have no impact on the government. Now you have a situation where the President and his deputy of the party are neither in Parliament nor in government.

Notwithstanding, President Mbeki is of the view that "I have no reason to assume that there would be anything that would stop the government serving the full term for which it was elected," and yet the real centre of power under the constitutional order of South Africa is the ruling party.

No-one can be a President of South Africa without a party backing him/her in as much as a change of the controlling shareholding in company has direct consequences on the board of directors. Already Mbeki has shot the first salvo by appointing a controversial board to the SABC and the reaction of Zuma’s supporters has been predictable and yet they have accepted that it is okay for Mbeki to carry on. Who really is in charge after Polokwane?

When the Labour party lost confidence in Prime Minister Blair, he had no choice but to resign just like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did before him. If Zuma has confidence in Mbeki, then why did he challenge him? If being President of the ANC had no consequence then why did President Mbeki offer himself as a candidate?

The Zuma/Mbeki saga suggests that the level of literacy in South Africa just like in many other post colonial states on governance and constitutional issues is low. Both Mbeki and Zuma agree that there can be a situation where a government can have its own legitimacy without a connecting link to the people. If citizens express themselves through political parties, then how can Mbeki say: "[Zuma] said nothing would happen, as indeed nothing will happen as a consequence of the elections"?

At the conference, Zuma said that relations between the ANC and government would continue to run smoothly. Based on this construction Mbeki was justified in saying that people who had voted Zuma could only have done so because of the perceived differences in their leadership style rather than on substantive policy issues.

Whereas before the elections, allegations were made rather forcefully by Zuma’s supporters that they wanted Mbeki out because of the abuse of state power and the selective administration of justice, it appears that these sentiments evaporated immediately following the elections. Even the ANC Youth League and the Communist Party are now advocating the two centres of power approach when prior to Zuma’s election they appeared to be against the principle.

Was the election of Zuma a product of principles or calculation? Many have argued that the liberation struggle was nothing but a product of calculation by political elites who could not be assimilated in the colonial state. However, when the elites seized power they collapsed into confusion and often became intoxicated with power and reduced themselves to tyrants. Could it be the case that in victory, Zuma is as confused as his predecessors in Africa about why precisely people wanted change?

If Zuma is not angry at how he was fired from government by Mbeki then his supporters should also not be angry why the law should not take its course on the corruption allegations. To confirm the existence of two centres of power, Mbeki had this to say: "All of us in the ANC have insisted, even ... Zuma himself, that the law must take its course."

While Mbeki accepts the notion that a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, on Zuma it is apparent that the test was too high leading him to dismiss him before any court had pronounced him to be guilty.

Whether Zuma and his supporters are naïve or not, only time will tell. What is evident, however, is that if ANC delegates were a jury, Zuma would be acquitted and yet Mbeki is blind to what his power base is saying about corruption. Even Winnie Mandela, with her relationship with the criminal justice system, received the highest votes confirming Mbeki’s view that the party has been sufficiently infiltrated to spur him to do something.

Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column is published on New every Monday. You can contact him at:

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