Not all slates are the same

ANTHONY BUTLER: The ABC slate spells disaster for SA

First published in BusinessLive

20 October 2022

A slate of “top six” candidates for the December conference of the ANC was widely circulated, and endorsed earlier this week as “the team”, by one of Cyril Ramaphosa’s “CR22” campaign managers, Derek Hanekom.

Water affairs minister Senzo Mchunu would make an excellent deputy president. Gwen Ramokgopa would be a capable treasurer-general. Political strategist and campaigner Fikile Mbalula is an unusual choice for secretary-general, to be sure, but even his sternest critics concede it would be good for the country to get him out of the cabinet.

In any event, Febe Potgieter will be on hand as his deputy, to carry out essential reading and writing tasks at Luthuli House. These people will try very hard, as best they can, not to destroy the country.

Some citizens have affected a weary response, complaining that it does not matter who wins key leadership positions. The ANC will remain corrupt, and no action will be taken to reverse the deterioration in the country’s fortunes no matter which ANC cadres are in charge.

A significant group of citizens goes further, insisting a terrible ANC leadership is desirable. The worse the ANC leadership becomes, in their view, the more surely the liberation movement will be removed from power in the 2024 general elections. This is almost certainly a misjudgment.

Consider the Anyone But Cyril (ABC) slate that is likely to emerge in the days ahead. It may include former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who earlier this week saved the criminal justice system time and money by clearing himself of malfeasance in the Digital Vibes matter.

Paul Mashatile, former don of the Alex Mafia — “mafia” in a nice sense, he has explained — will surely play a part. Struggle heritage princess Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana “he didn’t tell me to run” Dlamini-Zuma, and David “I didn’t do it” Mabuza are also likely participants.

Would it really be good for the country to have this team as the senior ANC leadership? Perhaps it is true that they would bring electoral problems for the ANC, but there are three drawbacks.

First, they represent bizarre economic policy tendencies, even by the standards of today’s ANC. They would bring nonreversible policy errors, the permanent destruction of productive capacity, and the exit of skills and capital. The spectacle of incompetent populist policy-makers being destroyed by financial markets in other places may sometimes be entertaining, but it is not to be wished on your own country.

Second, the national constitution is in play. The nascent ABC slate has got into many tangles with our zealous legal and criminal watchdogs — little wonder they do not much like the law. In January Sisulu described the constitution as a “palliative” and complained that our “mentally colonised” judges are “confused by foreign belief systems”.

Finally, there is the problem of actually removing the liberation movement through the 2024 or 2029 national and provincial elections. Supporters of the ABC slate already assume the desirability of ANC reunification with the EFF. A poor election showing is just what the ABC group wants, because it will create conditions in which the embrace of the red berets by the blue light brigade becomes inescapable.

These three dimensions of politics are interrelated. The conjoined decline of constitutional government, damaging economic populism and a refusal to accept the outcomes of properly conducted national and provincial elections together will be immeasurably destructive.

It will be far better to have a fair electoral contest, between the strongest coalition the opposition parties can assemble and the most coherent leadership the ANC can muster. That, right now, is Ramaphosa’s team.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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