Zombie MPs

What on earth has happened to ANC MPs? Two decades ago, the party’s legislators helped forge SA’s new Constitution and overhauled a vast swathe of apartheid-era legislation.

Soon after these triumphs, however, many of the governing party’s MPs moved into a dormant or even vegetative state. Party whips and the caucus code of conduct damped any enthusiasm they might have felt for parliamentary oversight.

Any committee chairman showing abnormal signs of intellectual activity was quickly appointed a deputy minister. The quality of ANC MPs steadily declined as the legislature became a retirement home for divisive provincial politicians.

Even the arrival of the noisy EFF in 2014 did not rouse most ANC members from their slumbers. But almost all parliamentary zombies have now been jolted into life by the shock of Cyril Ramaphosa’s elevation to the presidency.

Every day now, a torrent of statements pours out of the parliamentary media office. Earlier this week, the portfolio committees on police and on justice and correctional services castigated ministers and former ministers for “inadequate responses” to questions about the prosecution of alleged state-capture malefactors.

The portfolio committee on social development also hauled South African Social Security Agency directors over the coals for inadequate audit processes. The portfolio committee on public enterprises said it was “not happy or impressed” by how former Eskom board chairman Ben Ngubane had responded to its questions.

There are four possible explanations for the extraordinary revitalisation of once lethargic committee members and chairmen.

First, we may have arrived at a genuine watershed moment with regard to the moral character of SA’s political elites. MPs may have been shocked by how close the country came to full-scale state capture. Recognising how little they did to avert such a disastrous situation, ANC MPs are now driven by a redoubled personal determination to serve the people and by a deeper than ever moral rectitude.

Second, the ANC still lies in a post-conference interregnum. Since Ramaphosa has yet to secure an electoral mandate, party activists are now free to “follow their conscience”, although sceptics may feel that many MPs may not know what this entity is or where to find it.

Third, the reanimation of zombie MPs may have been initiated by paranormal clairvoyance about their presence on or absence from future candidate lists. After the Polokwane conference in 2007, when Jacob Zuma became ANC president, even doddery ANC parliamentarians staggered to their feet to lambast Thabo Mbeki’s loyalist ministers — often in the hope of future rewards from Zuma. Today, a Ramaphosa-controlled list process for the 2019 elections is again concentrating MPs’ minds.

Finally, ANC MPs may have been recruited to perform walk-on roles in the most ambitious theatrical performances yet conceived in post-apartheid SA. Given that state capture and parastatal looting were instigated and realised by multitudes of ANC politicians and their allies, these numerous malfeasants simply cannot all be punished without putting much of the party behind bars.

For this reason, a spectacular drama of parliamentary interrogation, castigation and humiliation is required to avert the need for a comprehensive (and also bourgeois-liberal) programme of prosecution and punishment.

Such a drama will smooth the way for a more thorough and legalistic covering of the tracks, one that can be accomplished only by a presidential commission of selective inquiry into state capture.

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

Opposition party weakness

Cyril Ramaphosa’s elevation to the presidency of the ANC was a close call. Some of his backers were swayed by their fear that a victory for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would plunge the ANC to defeat in the 2019 elections.

Fear of the electorate also hastened Jacob Zuma’s removal from the state presidency. A “dignified exit” in reality allowed the ANC as a whole to turn on its former leader, so marking a clear dividing line between a discredited “old ANC” and Ramaphosa’s allegedly quite different party.

Wednesday’s painful budget also sent a signal to the people. Tax rises were spun as a result of Zuma’s disastrous decisions and his corrupt administration. Acting Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba — perhaps in exchange for the promise of a smaller but still gratifying blue light convoy — blamed Zuma for the unanticipated higher education funding announcement in December.

Ramaphosa’s political priority is presumably to deliver a resounding victory to the ANC in the 2019 elections.

His first cabinet reshuffle, delayed only by the budget, will be gratifying for almost everyone.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa has already ducked blame for the abuses of the Zuma era – despite being Zuma’s deputy since 2014.

As general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1980s, Ramaphosa handled negotiations with the bosses. His sidekicks, such as James Motlatsi, sold the deals that he struck to union activists. Now that Ramaphosa is state president, his juniors will once again justify his actions to ANC members. His focus will be on key actors outside the ANC: opposition parties, investors, and swing voters.

Smiling warmly, in the manner of an affectionate crocodile, the president has reached out to the two key opposition parties in Parliament, the DA and the EFF. It has been widely reported that he “held out an olive branch” to them in a “spirit of national unity”.

If the DA participates in Ramaphosa’s talk-shops and policy conventions, the party will find it hard to criticise him when the election campaign begins. If the party refuses to participate, DA leaders will be portrayed as unpatriotic cynics, turning their backs on the new spirit of national unity. It is already easy to imagine the DA’s young leader, Mmusi Maimane, turning to the ANC leader for wise counsel.

The Ramaphosa crocodile is even more dangerous for the EFF. He is a son of Soweto, whose parents moved to Johannesburg from what is today Limpopo. His personal shadow falls over the EFF’s most promising regional and ethnic footprints.

Enthusing about a murky ANC resolution on the expropriation of land without compensation, Ramaphosa is now stealing the EFF’s policy thunder.

To sidestep Ramaphosa’s dubious advances, the DA may feel compelled to move right and the EFF left. A conservative and centrist electorate might then be enticed to remain with a centrist “new” ANC.

The opposition parties’ disarray will worsen when the quasi-coalitions they formed in major metropolitan authorities in 2016 start to fall apart. Despite steering shy of formal coalition agreements, the EFF supported DA candidates for mayor, in effect handing minority control of some of SA’s biggest urban centres to the official opposition.

The red berets have to destroy these sinful collaborations with white monopoly capital before the national and provincial election campaigns begin. This means attacking the DA.

While the opposition parties fight mock battles on the margins of politics, a rejuvenated — if essentially unreformed — ANC could walk to an easy victory through the middle ground of politics.

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

Boiling frogs and lobsters

In one of the most exciting Swiss news stories to break in decades, the country’s Federal Council issued an order in January banning cooks from placing live lobsters into pots of boiling water.

British lobby group Crustacean Compassion celebrated this animal rights triumph, noting that Switzerland has joined a small number of progressive states that have extended animal welfare protection to decapod crustaceans.

Biological anthropologist Barbara King, author of Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat, believes that crustaceans feel pain. Many scientists and philosophers disagree, but an official from the Swiss Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs says policy-makers should act on the basis of a precautionary principle.

The enlightened treatment of lobsters has obvious policy implications for the ANC. In his memoirs, the late Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, the parliamentarian, recalls Cyril Ramaphosa’s account of the ANC’s strategy for dealing with whites. “It would be like boiling a frog alive, which is done by raising the temperature very slowly.”

Oriani-Ambrosini believed that the ANC would gradually introduce laws transferring land and economic power from white to black hands, “but without taking too much from them at any given time to cause them to rebel or fight”.

The underlying premise is that an amphibian dropped into boiling water will leap out of the pot. If it is put in warm water that is gradually brought to a boil, the frog will be cooked alive. Perhaps understandably, this metaphor does not always go down very well with the frogs — or in this case whites.

Scientists point out that the fable is based on ignorance. Ectotherms rely on thermoregulation through location change. In other words, a frog that is gradually heated up will soon jump out of the pot. The opposite is true when a frog is dropped into boiling water. Biologist Douglas Melton has confirmed that, “if you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die.” When you think about it, this is obvious.

Whites, it transpires, are more like real frogs than metaphorical ones. They have some sensitivity to their environment, which has helped them become the principal beneficiaries of the post-apartheid settlement. Their near monopoly of access to high-quality education has allowed them to dominate employment in the knowledge economy. The new geography of privatised urban spaces has allowed them to relocate to gated communities and business parks, while armed security guards shield them from the world outside.

Their quiescence is interrupted only by sporadic threats to disturb the infrastructure of private estates or to regulate the security, health, leisure and workplace systems that preserve their lifestyles.

ANC policy makers have remained acutely, if uncomfortably, aware that SA is heavily dependent on its white population. The privileges that whites have enjoyed across centuries have turned them into irreplaceable national assets. They have skills and capacities that result from generations of public educational investment. Their privileged upbringing gives them a deep-seated self-confidence that makes them excellent managers and innovators.

They cannot be brought slowly to the boil. The lobsters among them will die. The frogs will jump out of the pot, taking their skills and assets with them.

Ramaphosa has been a powerful proponent of black economic empowerment but he has been dogged by the fact that so many whites intuitively trust him. If white relief at his elevation to the presidency turns into complacency or even a return to arrogance, this will bring political costs both for him and for the country.

 Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Zuma still controls the real centre of power

Is the ANC really a strategic centre of power, as its officials like to claim? As is now convention, the national executive committee’s (NEC) recent lekgotla resolved that, “the actions of government must, at all times, affirm the ANC as strategic centre of power with authority over the state”.

To make this dream come true, the NEC has once again proposed “a clear accountability framework for all cadres operating in the state” that will apparently “be developed within eight months”. The ANC will also ostensibly “build its internal capacity to give policy direction to its elected representatives as well as creating a monitoring mechanism”.

The ANC makes the same fantastical claims every five years. The doctrine of ANC supremacy is embedded in the sacred text known as “strategy and tactics”, an object of deep veneration for delegates at elective conferences.

In the early years of SA’s democracy, it is true, political commentators and journalists often made an elementary but contrary mistake: they viewed the system of government set out in the country’s new Constitution as a map that could help explain the exercise of power.

According to this map, the people elected a parliament, the parliament elected a president, and the president governed together with a cabinet that he alone appointed. The role of the ANC in the process was discounted.

When Thabo Mbeki was elected president of the ANC in 1997, and started to dominate the political agenda, astute political analysts began to attribute greater influence to the liberation movement’s own doctrines, policy processes and ideological positions.

In particular, the ANC’s repeated claims to occupy the centre space of society — representing the people as a whole, serving as the key site of power and decision-making, generating knowledge, and securing dominance over social institutions — was increasingly touted by commentators and academics.

In reality, however, Mbeki’s power flowed almost entirely from the state presidency. It helped that he was able to subdue party factions and dominate the top six during both terms. But his control over the party — while it lasted — was deepened by his control over Cabinet appointments: in NEC elections, delegates voted for candidates made famous as ministers.

Jacob Zuma’s victory at the Polokwane conference in 2007 was a useful reminder of the brute power a political party can periodically exercise in a parliamentary system of government. A majority party or coalition has the power to appoint or remove a sitting president or prime minister. Short of pushing this Armageddon button, however, it is really very hard for a mere party to monitor and control the actions of the leader of the executive branch of the state.

The ANC, it is true, has a rudimentary system for policy deliberation. The NEC’s policy committees allegedly oversee the activities of the state and ensure party policy preferences are translated into action.

Read ANC statements after NEC lekgotla, however, and you will see that members were “briefed” or “received presentations” about government performance, financial issues, and the implementation of key policies. Party activists do not determine — or even much understand — what government does.

In truth, it is hard to find many instances of the party successfully asserting its will. The head of policy in recent years has been Jeff Radebe, a minister almost pathologically uninterested in public policy. Most NEC committees scarcely meet, and when they do it is mostly to prepare vague and poorly drafted discussion documents for conference consumption. (One exception has been the economic transformation committee.)

When conference has voted in favour of a dramatic policy change, that policy usually originated in government rather than in the party.

In any event, ministers and officials more often than not ignore or circumvent inconvenient conference resolutions. They are far more likely to do what the state president tells them to do — not least because he can fire them.

The executive authority of the Republic is vested in the state president, and he exercises it together with a cabinet that he appoints. An active president can dominate the appointment process for deputy ministers and senior officials.

Where there are conflicts within government, the presidency intervenes in the name of “policy co-ordination”. Ministers can be locked in by national development plans that are controlled by presidential appointees. The performance of ministers and officials is conducted by state-based institutions rather than by the denizens of Luthuli House.

What Zuma has taught us, above all, is that other key centres of power, in the criminal justice system, intelligence services, parastatals, revenue authorities, and the treasury, are vulnerable to a determined president using the appointment and dismissal powers of the state president.

The elaborate self-deception that the ANC is the strategic centre of power — determining who does what, and when — may sometimes make ANC leaders feel better about themselves. Right now, however, they need to remember where real power lies, and to make sure that Zuma is no longer able to exercise it.

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

The limitations of Davos

Swiss police guard the Davos Congress Hotel during the World Economic Forum 2018 annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Swiss police guard the Davos Congress Hotel during the World Economic Forum 2018 annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS

 

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) annual jamboree in the Swiss ski resort of Davos always presents a depressing spectacle. The business hosts who pay for the thing are drawn from the biggest companies. Top-flight central bankers, international financiers, media bosses and institutional investors from around the world join them.

Drop-in politicians in 2018 include leaders from the Group of Seven countries, Latin American and Asian emerging economies and even the once-shunned small states of the global South. Despite a few trade unionists, charity bosses and “ethical business” gurus, this meeting is between money and political power, showcasing the WEF’s general mission of “improving the state of the world”.

Davos offers some valuable reminders of important truths. Multinationals, international banks and institutional investors act quietly but they are the most powerful actors in global affairs. The inane reflections of almost all Davos participants confirm a second unwelcome fact: the world’s businesses, like her peoples, are not led by intellectual giants.

A decade ago, democracy and markets were inexorable. Today, relatively modest economic and political setbacks in the West apparently point to an equally inexorable, if variously characterised, socioeconomic cataclysm.

In the postcolonial South, ordinary people know that economic processes are international in nature and that the fates of nations are decided by forces and actors that lie outside their borders.

The view from the charmed zone of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development has been different. For decades, citizens believed democratic elections gave them some real say in how their countries were run. This rosy post-1945 notion has now been thrown into question. Hundreds of millions of Asians may have gained from trade and investment flows in recent decades, but the middle and working classes in established democracies have wage stagnation and growing inequality. The challenges posed by technological change are mounting.

American elites have suffered another delusion about “liberal internationalism”. Trade and economic openness they have believed, perhaps rightly, were the keys to their own countries’ postwar stability, peace and economic growth. Less plausibly, they believed the spread of democracy and markets would eventually bring the various “fly-on-the-wall countries” of the global South into the circle of prosperity.

Davos delegates have been seeking out solutions this week to the crisis of confidence in both democracy and capitalism they see today in wealthy societies. One popular Davos diagnosis of the West’s current travails is that liberal internationalism is suffering from a “crisis of success”. The spread of global markets and democratic mobilisation has led to such “complexity” that existing institutions can’t cope.

Others claim international economic integration threatens domestic political stability because Asian wages are rising while western workers and middle classes face stagnation. Domestic populations need to be reassured their elites have the interests of locals in mind.

Resurgent nationalism has been treated as a sociological product of deep and intractable processes and rarely as an outcome of weak education systems, the changing dynamics of democratic competition or — God forbid! — lamentable and unethical political leadership.

The WEF’s thought leaders have mostly skirted around the problem of growing inequality and the extraordinary accrual of wealth by the very top 1% of citizens — people like themselves — over the past two decades. Perhaps we will all just have to live with it.

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

Rural land matters, but urban land matters more

Despite the generally positive response from business to the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC, a conference resolution to allow for land expropriation and redistribution without compensation has alarmed many observers.

Ramaphosa compounded investors’ unease at the weekend by saying that expropriation could “make this country the Garden of Eden”. This remark, and the debate that followed, perpetuated the misunderstanding that land is a rural issue.

The ANC’s low-key approach to land reform since 1994 has had three prongs: restitution of land lost through racially discriminatory apartheid-era laws; tenure reform to create legal coherence out of the diversity of inherited tenure forms; and land redistribution. Tens of thousands of restitution claims lodged in 1998 have been resolved, mostly through financial compensation.

The redistribution strategy has lacked urgency, and most of the 8% of land transferred has not resulted in viable black-owned farms.

The 2017 conference resolution was therefore no real surprise. Two-thirds or more of productive farm land cannot continue to be owned by whites, while major historic grievances remain unaddressed, and poverty and unemployment are at such extreme levels. Hasty policy changes pose major systemic risks. The farming sector’s capital assets, machinery and livestock are valued at about R400bn and forms the collateral for financing from commercial banks. Generalised expropriation without compensation would have catastrophic consequences for the banks, and for future investment and employment.

The ANC’s resolution included a strong qualifier: reforms must not affect food security or the economy negatively. This suggests that alternative policy pathways will be explored. The government may fast-track tenure upgrading and agricultural assistance for smallholder farmers. Meanwhile, the National Development Plan endorses significant further transfers of commercial agricultural property to black ownership by 2030.

Rural land reform is big news. Commercial farmers are major party donors, traditional leaders have fought hard to retain their apartheid autocracies, citizens of all races have romantic attachments to farm land, and the shadow of Zimbabwe hangs over policy debate. But land in SA is primarily an urban and peri-urban issue. SA is not Zimbabwe.

At least two-thirds of South Africans live in urban areas and this is rapidly growing. Agriculture generates less that 2.5% of GDP, compared with industry’s 30% and the service sector’s 67%. South Africans are overwhelmingly dependent on employment and wages. Most people do not want to farm but rather to make a home within striking distance of urban employment.

Urban land reformers have low-hanging fruit to pick. The metros are large landowners, and possess powerful regulatory powers over private land users. Other key owners in urban areas include government departments: in every city there are tracts of strategically placed land ostensibly occupied by military forces, public health facilities, state transport agencies, schools, or state security bodies. Just as much urban land is held — mostly wasted — by the parastatals.

Changing city land access and control is potentially hazardous because it brings policy uncertainty to the heart of the economy, and the politics of peri-urban townships are volatile. The potential pickings for corrupt politicians are also vastly greater. But the cities are the future, and this is where the government’s policy focus should lie. Rural land matters, but urban land matters more.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town

Zuma must go. State power is the key

Cyril Ramaphosa’s election to the presidency of the ANC was an extraordinary achievement. Critics have presented it as the culmination of a career steeped in ambition. Cynics have observed that Ramaphosa had good fortune on his side. But the most important lesson to draw from the challenger’s victory is that his team displayed ruthlessness and effective organisation in the face of an incumbent faction with an overwhelming predominance of resources. This ruthlessness can be expected to continue.

The challenges confronting the country impose a set of inescapable imperatives on Ramaphosa. Analysts who doubt his ability to marshal a coalition for change forget the logic of political power under Ramaphosa’s predecessors: Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma.

State power is immeasurably more potent than party power. An astute president can use state power, in conjunction with party power, to overwhelm the most resilient opponents.

The internal elections had to be won, but the current brouhaha over the “divided” top six officials of the party, and the mixed composition of the national executive committee (NEC), is a distraction from the fight over the real nexus of power: the state.

Ramaphosa may not have precisely the top six he would have chosen, given a free hand. But it now seems likely that he planned all along to install Mpumalanga ANC chairman David “DD” Mabuza into the movement’s deputy presidency.

The way Mabuza has been elected allows Ramaphosa to claim plausible deniability for his rise. There is no longer any need to pander to Lindiwe Sisulu’s ambitions to be second-in-command of the party. Moreover, the position of deputy president is powerful primarily as a stepping stone to the presidency.

In common with Mbeki and Zuma, Ramaphosa has a deputy president who is politically — or even criminally — vulnerable.

Like Ramaphosa under Zuma, Mabuza can be obliged to take on projects that will drain his political capital.

New treasurer-general Paul Mashatile sits alongside Mabuza as the other key contender for the highest office in the ANC, and he too will court Ramaphosa’s favour.

At the time of writing, the fate of Free State ANC chairman Ace Magashule’s ambitions to become secretary-general remained uncertain.

The power of a secretary-general, in any event, is personal more than it is institutional: Kgalema Motlanthe, for example, proved entirely unable to contain his president, Mbeki.

To describe these new office holders as “gangsters”, as some critics have done, is to close one’s eyes to the realities of power in SA. The arrival, en masse, of provincial “barons” at the centre of power has been a long-anticipated development, and is a logical product of the ANC provinces’ parasitical dependency on revenue streams from the central government.

This relationship can be changed. The fact that provincial politicians cannot survive without entering into dubious relationships of patronage and corruption does not imply that they, as individuals, can or will reproduce such behaviour once they move to the centre of the movement.

In Ramaphosa’s favour too, is the retention of the outgoing secretary-general Gwede Mantashe in the position of party chairman. It seems likely that Mantashe will spend much time at Luthuli House. He will be Ramaphosa’s eyes and ears, and he has the capacity to engender chaos among the new president’s enemies. A weak and divided top six could suit Ramaphosa, just as it has suited his predecessors.

The greatest internal challenge confronting Ramaphosa is the exclusion of KwaZulu-Natal from representation at the highest level (unless Senzo Mchunu is installed belatedly). Dlamini-Zuma’s faction voted against Mchunu, while running with a KwaZulu-Natal-heavy slate.

Beyond the internal bickering of the liberation movement, an economic and social crisis is brewing, and national and provincial elections are closing in. In such circumstances, Zuma’s tenure as state president simply cannot continue. Will Ramaphosa sit on a lumpy sofa in Luthuli House for 18 months while the blue-light brigades loot and pillage in the run-up to the 2019 elections?

The state-owned enterprises pose a desperate hazard to a toppling economy. The Public Investment Corporation is a sitting duck for the cronies of the lame-duck president. International investors are sitting on their hands. Russian President Vladimir Putin is still marketing radioactive reactors. It is simply impossible to deal with any of these challenges while the current coterie of Cabinet ministers and senior officials remains in place. They are not merely incompetent, but serve as key agents of socio-economic instability. Zuma’s grip over the criminal justice, security, and intelligence agencies is a menace that will intensify.

The constructive power of an ANC president is nothing next to the destructive power of a state president. Zuma has to go.

A deal may be brokered between Ramaphosa and Zuma, and SA will not be informed about the details. This might concern the terms of reference of a state-capture commission or the ANC’s political and financial support for a beleaguered former president. There are many possible terms to such a deal — although not even a soon-to-be state president can legally promise immunity from prosecution or an arbitrary pardon.

If Zuma does not resign, it is difficult to see how decisive action to remove him can be avoided. There is no reason for the new leadership to prop up Zuma and his cronies and every reason to remove him forthwith.

There is little affection for Zuma in the top six, and there is unlikely to be much in the new NEC. Zuma has stabbed almost every erstwhile ally in the back. SA was, until quite recently, an authoritarian country and its governing party was quite recently an authoritarian liberation movement. It is little surprise that Zuma’s power has been based on fear rather than loyalty.

Now he has lost his cloak of invulnerability. There is no sympathetic successor waiting in the wings to protect this lame duck. And there is no one but himself to blame for the defeat of his faction: Zuma lost the election by imposing his preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on branches when they could have won handily under former treasurer-general and unity candidate Zweli Mkhize.

If Zuma fights a rearguard action, the NEC is likely to hold a “recall” meeting at the earliest opportunity. With its eyes on the future rather than the past, it is unlikely to tolerate delay and obfuscation. If Zuma does not agree to resign, the NEC will presumably instruct the ANC caucus in Parliament to vote against Zuma in a

no-confidence motion.

There is now a precedent for a secret ballot, and there may be perverse incentives for opposition parties to prolong Zuma’s stay. But the seriousness of the national crisis is incentive enough for parliamentarians to vote together for Zuma’s removal.

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

Santa column (sorry)

Ho ho ho! We have finally reached that time of the year when little boys and girls across the land begin to dream about a nighttime visit by a man with a low centre of gravity, dressed in a suit of indescribably bad taste. No, not Uncle Gwede! I mean Santa Claus!

Santa Zuma is always so busy. He has to run the toy workshop, manage the elves and choose the right reindeer to pull the sleigh. Finally, he has to deliver millions of gifts.

He used to be good at his job. He understood how to break into a house in the middle of the night. He had so many surveillance systems that he always knew which children really deserved rewards. He had a Very Special Book to help him. No, not the Constitution of SA — don’t be so silly! He used as his guide Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, the famous management text.

At first, as the book instructed, he listened carefully to the workshop elves. But soon he became friends with the Gupta Goblins. Then he promised Vlad the Impaler all the children’s pocket money in exchange for a new generator.

 

Without a new Santa, we will move from a state of capture to a state of emergency.

But who should the new Santa be?

Uncle Gwede would get stuck in the chimney, and the reindeer would get very tired pulling him around. The little dwarves, “Dopey” Floyd and “Doc” Mbuyiseni, want Julius to be Santa. But Julius isn’t fat anymore, and only 8% of the children ever use their crayons to write to him. Some silly dwarves even say Santa is a “colonial construct”!

Abominable Blade and “Pointy Ears” Jeremy claim the elves can pull their own sleigh.

But Uncle Cyril has promised a tempting New Deal: “You will all be paid higher wages so that unemployment will go down! My National Development McPlan Meal has already made the country better by 2030!”

Could it instead be time for a White Santa? After all, former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly once declared that Santa Claus, like Jesus, really is white. Perhaps Santa Christo can convert his run-down wooden furniture factory into a toy warehouse?

Others say it is time for a woman to become Mother Christmas. Sexists have usually portrayed the female Santa as a Princess in skimpy clothes, possessed by a deep sense of personal entitlement.

 

But the Roman writer Tacitus reminds us that it was the robust goddess Nerthus (“mother earth”) who first
rode a “sleigh-like wagon” and spread good cheer and peace wherever she went (except Sudan, Gambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo).

With her “Agenda 2063” plan, Nerthus Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) has already made Africa better by 2063. That is only slightly slower than Cyril, and she has improved the whole continent!

NDZ used to be Mrs Claus, a figure traditionally depicted as a heavy-set old woman, baking cookies and fussing over the elves.

But NDZ’s enemies say she is more likely to fuss over the cookies and put the elves in the oven.

On Saturday morning, Santa Zuma will have his last chance to speak to the assembled magical creatures.

“Ho ho ho!” he will say (or perhaps in his funny, avuncular way, “He he he!”).

“Look in my sack! There is money enough for everyone, if only you vote the right way!”

Leadership Secrets reminds us that Santa exists only because the little girls and boys believe that he does. If the wrong successor is chosen, Santa and the mystical movement that he leads will quickly vanish into thin air.

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

Two weeks to the conference

A victory for ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in December’s elective conference is probably now a little more likely than any other outcome. Some sources of uncertainty have diminished. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has put in place layers of oversight and appeal mechanisms to avert much-anticipated legal paralysis. So far, the courts have steered a prudent path, insisting that parties should (more or less) follow their own rules.

The prospect of the conference being postponed or collapsed has also diminished. Nasrec is a fortuitous venue for the management of a chaotic credentials process and for the containment of potential protests. As a former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mantashe is one of the country’s most experienced directors of violence-threatened elections.

Once the conference gets under way, however, uncertainties multiply.

The likely fate of the proposed amendments to the ANC constitution remains obscure. Preconference deliberations between factions suggested there might be a consensus for some reforms, but in the end it will not prove easy to muster a two-thirds majority of delegates.

Proposals to introduce a second deputy president and two additional deputy secretaries-general would, if they are adopted, open up fresh and dramatic possibilities for the last-minute reconfiguration of slates.

Meanwhile, the current quasi-slates in circulation are curiously malformed. The candidates touted for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s team demonstrate a fairly single-minded pursuit of delegate numbers.

Mpumalanga chairman David Mabuza has been widely nominated for deputy president by branches aligned to Dlamini-Zuma, but Mabuza has remained carefully noncommittal. He may ultimately appear on Ramaphosa’s slate or as deputy president on a “unity” slate.

Ramaphosa’s ostensible team includes Mantashe, Paul Mashatile and Naledi Pandor (or perhaps, some insiders sigh, Lindiwe Sisulu after all). This team will secure support most reliably in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, where the deputy president already has a decisive advantage, but it will not necessarily deliver the overall delegate numbers needed.

As Gauteng chairman, Mashatile’s enigmatic attitude towards his proposed election as treasurer-general has not been satisfactorily explained. He has been actively negotiating with proponents of “unity”, so creating the impression that he might be willing to cut a last-minute deal. He is influential, and just young enough to plan ahead for 2022 or even 2027.

Those who remain sceptical about Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign — and especially about her ability to run a presidential campaign in 2019 while carrying the Zuma name and legacy — are running out of time.

Current treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize has been running a quiet unity campaign since early in the year. Given the significant overlap between his support base and Dlamini-Zuma’s, the two cannot both sensibly run in the ANC’s elections. An apparent lack of enthusiasm for his nomination in the branches now creates a dilemma for his camp. He can only get onto the ballot paper if Jacob Zuma pulls the rug from under Dlamini-Zuma and switches his endorsement to Mkhize. But this would deepen suspicion that she was a stalking horse all along, and would probably generate resentment towards Zuma and Mkhize alike.

Zuma probably has some final gambits to play, but they are all potentially counterproductive. A long-awaited smear campaign linking Ramaphosa to international capital has not yet materialised.

 

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town