NDZ is just a stalking horse

Ignore people who tell you that leadership succession does not matter. They are wrong.

The ANC presidency matters most of all, because it leads almost inexorably to the state presidency. The ANC will probably remain the party of national government — on its own or in coalition with others — after 2019.

SA has an executive presidency, housed in a parliamentary system. The incumbent combines the authority of a head of state with control of a party machine. It is true that the power of a leader to do good is limited, but their capacity to create havoc is vast. This is why the notion of prudence is — or should be — so central for those who think seriously about politics.

President Jacob Zuma is a remarkable politician. His reign of destruction is proof enough that leadership really matters in human affairs. My suspicion is that Zuma is going to get precisely the successor he has planned for. And it is not Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

We have often been told that the succession struggle is a “two-horse race”. In one sense, this is correct. It is in the nature of a relatively fluid factional politics, dominated by the pursuit of resources, that two broad factions will fight for supremacy. There is no point joining a minority grouping.

One of the horses is definitely Cyril Ramaphosa. But it is starting to look like Dlamini-Zuma was never really in the race at all. She is a “stalking horse”: a horse-shaped screen behind which a hunter can stay concealed until it is time for him to strike.

When Zuma groomed her to compete for the highest ANC office, by sending her to the African Union Commission to acquire seniority, his acute political antennae would already have told him that she could not win in December. He promoted a no-hoper in full knowledge that her candidacy would not fly.

Why? Not because he believes she would not allow the prosecution of the father of her children. This is sentimental nonsense. Especially given that she cannot win.

A more likely explanation is that Zuma wanted to play the “third-term” card in the approach to the elective conference. “Tired though I am,” he probably planned to say, “I am obliged to step in and rescue the ANC from the unelectable candidate to whom I was once married, by staying on myself as ANC president.”

As events have unfolded, a third term for Zuma has become almost impossible to conceive, but Dlamini-Zuma remains eminently ditchable: this, after all, is why she is there at all.

Just as her un-electability in 2019 has begun to sink in across the movement, a third way, “unity” candidate has magically appeared: Dr Zweli Mkhize.

Mkhize is a very capable politician indeed. If, as appears likely, he is nominated for the presidency by a majority of branches in Mpumalanga, he will be on the ballot in December, and so will not have to rely on nomination from the conference floor.

Mpumalanga chairperson, David Mabuza, is young enough to wait out two Mkhize terms. He will probably trade his support — and the large number of provincial delegates he will control — for a place as Mkhize’s deputy, in the expectation that he will ascend to the presidency 10 years hence.

For his part, Ace Magashule will do anything to secure a national position before he is kicked out by his own Free State troops.

Once Dlamini-Zuma withdraws her candidacy — a decision that is effectively Zuma’s to take — Mkhize will cannibalise her support base in KwaZulu-Natal and the ANC’s leagues. He could then campaign on an “Anyone But Cyril” ticket. He would be a credible face for the ANC in the 2019 elections. And he could claim that he is not Zuma’s man.

• Butler is the author of Cyril Ramaphosa (Jacana, 2013). He is preparing an unauthorised biography of Dr Zweli Mkhize

Ramaphosa on personal affluence

This is an excerpt from Anthony Butler, Cyril Ramaphosa (Jacana 2007).

Some ANC veterans – and even more white liberal observers – have struggled to come to terms with the affluence of the new black elite. Journalists love to dwell on ‘ostentatious displays of wealth’. One 1998 polemic ridiculed ‘the readiness of a liberation movement to be liberated into the bourgeois lifestyle of its opponents’. It commented that ‘Daring ties, silk and quasi-military style suits predominate among the male liberators; fancy hats and ostentatious dresses among the newly elevated female elite.’ Ramaphosa was singled out in this attack for his ‘weakness for fly-fishing and single-malt whiskies’.

For Ramaphosa such reporting has subtle racist undertones. ‘It’s almost like, “Here they are, the Johnny-come-latelies … Look at the type of cars they drive; look at the clothes they wear.” I find it despi- cable. Because quite often black people who are succeeding in business are not recognized for what they are achieving, but for how different they have now become.’

Ramaphosa sees no contradiction between the struggle for justice and the enjoyment of luxury. At times, and by necessity, Ramaphosa has lived a very modest life. Working at NUM in the middle of the 1980s, he was often at his desk for days at a time, with almost no sleep, earning R600 per month. But even as a student, he revelled in ‘bourgeois pleas- ures’ and there was nothing he liked better than to entertain. When he and his school friends took the train from Soweto to Doornfontein for their holiday work in the early 1970s, Cyril loved to dress up smartly ina suit an d tie – and, above all, to buy a first-class ticket.13 At the NUM he would fly first-class on union business.

The scholar Padraig O’Malley once asked Ramaphosa about the contrast between Nelson Mandela’s lavish inauguration and the wider poverty of the society. The ANC, after all, had indulged in a three-day post-election celebration at the Carlton Hotel in which ‘even the drapes were done in satin in ANC colours’. Ramaphosa’s comment was that ‘In the end, I think life has to be good for all our people’.

Such a statement is consistent with Ramaphosa’s earlier behaviour as NUM general secretary. He would insist – despite the union’s financial deficit – that union delegates must stay at the Johannesburg Sun Hotel. ‘I want the best for mineworkers,’ he would explain, arguing that they deserved to enjoy the same comforts as their mining-house counterparts.

Ramaphosa’s version of socialism seemingly demands that equality must be achieved by raising up and not by levelling down. Education, culture and the arts – but also good food, vintage wine, beautiful clothes, and fast cars – should not be reserved to the rich. Why should rich whites monopolise access to material and aesthetic goods?

The late Peter Mokaba wrote a discussion paper entitled ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’ that today guides ANC branch members in the choice of their leaders. The biblical reference seems to imply that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of the presidency. However, the eye of the needle is in fact an apocryphal gate in biblical Jerusalem providing access to the city after dark. The gate was built low so that a wealthy merchant’s camel would have to be unloaded of its treasures in order that the animal might crawl humbly and unburdened of wealth, on its knees, into the city.

It remains unclear if Ramaphosa would be willing to sacrifice his wealth for political office. Matthew 6. 24 is sometimes cited against him: ‘No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’

In Ramaphosa’s youth, this passage would have been interpreted as concerning God’s insistence that human beings should not be preoccu- pied with money or with the necessities of life: ‘Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?’18 Anxiety about material consumption is a sign that one is not yet fully committed to being a child of God. The desire to protect and provide for ourselves demonstrates that we have not yet understood that it is God, and not we, who is in control of the circumstances of our lives.


Today’s post-religious Ramaphosa exhibited some real sensitivity to allegations of crass materialism when a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler claimed in 2005 that Cyril had purchased a Maybach 62. The Maybach was priced at R3 million and it was widely reported to boast a television, a DVD player, and a 21-speaker surround sound system. Other adver- tised features included a refrigerator, a heated steering wheel, a golf-bag holder, and a set of fitted sterling silver champagne flutes.

For Ramaphosa a Maybach would have been ‘far too much of a conspicuous display of wealth in a sea of enormous poverty’.19 He com- plained that ‘I have spoken to DaimlerChrysler several times and asked them to apologise, but they have refused … I drive a BMW and I felt embarrassed to be associated with a car that is worth millions … They must correct the impression they have created.’

The company backed down and in settlement paid an undisclosed amount into one of Ramaphosa’s educational charities. Ramaphosa then had to respond to media speculation that the legal action was designed to protect his image because he wanted one day to return to politics. ‘That is absolute, absolute rubbish. That is really stretching it. I am acting to protect my personal interests.’

Some old books that help us predict Trump’s impact

All the world’s a stage where Donald Trump is free to make his worst mistakes

An American president’s powers are quite circumscribed at home. This is not the case in foreign policy, writes Anthony Butler

Business Day, 11 November, 2016.

Commentators and financial market analysts are struggling to figure out the possible implications of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory earlier this week. In such disorienting times, it is helpful to look back at two enduring analyses of the character of the modern presidency, written half a century ago.

Richard E. Neustadt’s Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, first published in 1960, argues that the institutional power of an American leader is surprisingly limited. Prime ministers, premiers, and executive presidents in other countries can issue commands through the state bureaucracy and manipulate the levers of party power to get their way.

American presidents, in contrast, confront a vigorous separation of powers, and neither Congress nor the Supreme Court can be bullied into submission. The federal system of government devolves most decisions to state, county, or town hall level. US political culture encourages the defiance of edicts from Washington. And, for all the talk of Republican dominance in all three branches of government, the big two political parties do not really exist at national level between elections.

Equally important is the limited control that the president exercises within the executive branch itself. Cabinet secretaries, the heads of government agencies like the Pentagon, and the numerous labyrinthine bureaucracies that stretch across federal, state and local government, offer myriad veto points that can frustrate presidential intentions.

To get things done, Neustadt observes, a president must rely on his ‘power to persuade’. As the first citizen, a president can get a hearing whenever he chooses, sway powerful interests inside and outside the bureaucracy, and influence citizens to mobilise behind his values. His effectiveness depends on his reputation in Washington and on his wider national prestige. A President who lacks both can be easily blocked.

Trump might wish to dismantle Obamacare, but he will need to put something in its place. He will quickly discover that healthcare reform is a vipers’ nest of populist hazards and intractable commercial interests.

Cuts to businesses taxes may make their way through Congress relatively smoothly; a slashing of income tax will be far harder, probably impossible, to accomplish.

The same is true of Trump’s anti-free-trade proposals. At best, these offend the values of much of the intellectual right, and undermine the interests of key Republican donors. As worst, they threaten a global trade war, so opposition to reckless policy change will come from across the political spectrum.

The second great book, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr’s The Imperial Presidency, was written in 1973, just as the era of President Richard Nixon was drawing to its close.

Schlesinger described an office quite different to Neustadt’s, in which the Presidency was beginning to run out of control. Foreign wars, most recently in Vietnam, had allowed presidents to accumulate unprecedented powers. Domestically, Oval Office incumbents were claiming ‘executive privilege’ in defiance of the separation of powers.

Soon after the book was published, however, Nixon was forced to resign. In a reaction against the Watergate scandal and the excesses of the Vietnam War, Congress underwent a remarkable renaissance, reasserting its right to make policy, and creating the congressional Budget Office to restore legislators’ authority over the national budget.

Schlesinger was quick to celebrate this resurgence of congressional power and the containment of the runaway presidency that it implied. But he observed that the new constraints on presidential power lay primarily in domestic affairs, where bad decisions are, in any event, usually reversible.

Trump will be effectively contained in domestic affairs. Unfortunately, he will not be on such a short leash in foreign affairs. His hostility to climate change science threatens to throw away a decade of gains. His vulgar nationalism and support for strongman politics could quickly turn peaceful conflicts into violent ones. And his unwillingness to accept American responsibility to protect the international order will generate a new era of global political uncertainty. In foreign policy, where US presidents can make big and irreversible mistakes, there are still few limitations on the havoc that a lamentable leader can wreak.

Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town

Dogma, religion, and South Africa


Reason is sacrificed at altar of pious assemblies. Business Day. 9 September 2011. Anthony Butler

In these troubling times many South Africans have embarked on a spiritual quest for a higher authority to guide and protect them.

A first significant congregation believes that the African National Congress (ANC) will be their provider and protector. False gods, they claim, are not needed to explain why the sun rises, the seasons follow one another, or the national economy grows: such phenomena are brought about by resolutions adopted at ANC conferences.

The holy spirit of the national democratic revolution moves among us, its meaning partially revealed in the sacred liberation scrolls of the ANC’s “strategy and tactics”. Although the spirit acts as the source of strength of all mighty men (Judges 14:6) we must not be afraid when it produces unexpected results (I Kings 2:16 and Book of Joel (Netshitenzhe) 2:18).

The power of the spirit enables the ANC to work its renowned holy miracles, such as building houses without engineers, generating electricity without power stations, and distributing wealth without first creating it.

A second devout assembly believes that God is an eternal and supernatural Being. The Lord God, they claim, is the only true god, and his guidance to us — even on the practical affairs of man — is revealed in the Holy Bible. In this great book, for example, we learn to eschew astrology and divination, and so to reject the findings of the National Planning Commission.

In previous decades, national leaders were transported from the Church into the practical world of politics. Today a reverse pilgrimage is gathering speed. President Jacob Zuma took the first steps in this collective spiritual journey of evasion when he allowed the eThekwini Community Church and the Miracles Gospel Church to confer upon him the honorary title of Pastor.

Last weekend, ANC Youth league leader Julius Malema was similarly blessed at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pimville, Soweto. This event, which moved many observers to tears, prompted speculation that Malema will require divine intervention to prevail over Godless ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

A third pious assemblage, made up primarily of pilgrims to the Western Cape, insists that every soul is subject not to a Supreme Being but to a Supreme Law. Adherents of this cult of “constitutional law” are known to dress in dusty robes, to speak in indecipherable tongues, and to meditate devoutly on their sacred scrolls of “professional fees”.

A veritable theological schism has recently opened up between cult leaders such as the Venerable Hoffman, who believe in the supremacy of The Law itself, and those, such as the current Chief Justice designate, who believe that God Himself directly determines the truth and who shall be chosen to arbitrate upon it.

A final religious congregation consists of the devotees of a Supreme Being whose name is never openly spoken. This “unspeakable” former state president was once believed to have set South Africa on a hazardous route towards personalised power and the suppression of democratic politics. His followers now claim that His actions were motivated by a Godly yearning to avert the fragmentation, factionalism and corruption that have plagued the country since His forced departure from office.

It is in some respects admirable that citizens continue to display a profound respect for the life of the spirit. It is troubling, however, that members of an avowedly democratic society still wish to rest on the crutch of an absolute authority when deliberating upon basic moral and political choices.

These four Supreme Authorities brook no competition: each claims an immanent authority over the others. Conflicts over the proper dominions of God, the law, secular leaders, and the liberation movement cannot be brought to any conclusive earthly resolution. The dogmatic assertion of absolutist doctrines can lead citizens to overlook the responsibilities that truly matter — to reason and to their own hearts.

The ANC as a religion

ANC is not unlike new ‘churches of prosperity’. Business Day, 18 February 2011. Anthony Butler

President Jacob Zuma has been widely admonished for his recent claim that opposition voters support “the man who carries a fork” and “cooks people”. He has also been criticized for his insistence that holders of African National Congress (ANC) membership cards have a fast-track to heaven, and for his warning that those who abandon the liberation movement will be cast out by their ancestors and “struggle until they die”.

Zuma’s remarks shed fascinating light on the changing role of religion in South African political life. The South African Native National Congress, as the ANC was first known, was founded and led by Christian converts and former mission school pupils who propagated values of moral improvement and respectability.

When the ANC was first convulsed by ideological conflict in the late 1920s, the communist insurgents believed themselves to be “scientific socialists”. However, they remained prisoners of the Christian values expressed thus in Acts, Book 4: “There was no poor person among them, since whoever possessed fields or houses sold them …and a distribution was made to each one in accordance with his needs.”

Today, Christian concepts have fused in unexpected ways with African systems of ideas. The partisan pursuit of sectional interests and values at the expense of communal cohesion – known to its supporters as “healthy democratic competition” — has been regarded as divisive across most of the political history of Christian societies. Cabals, factions, and political parties themselves have been viewed as threats to the “one perfect body” to which a Christian people should aspire.

This view has echoed and reinforced African conceptions of the legitimacy of “communal” governance. It is a small step from the celebration of one indivisible community to the demonising of the official opposition’s leader as a Satanist or “high priestess” of disunity.

The recent growth of organized religion in this country has been influenced by what is sometimes called “prosperity theology”. A 2006 Pew Forum survey suggested that eight out of every ten South African Christians believe that God “grants material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith”.

In many fast-growing churches, worshippers are preoccupied with the blessings to which they feel entitled as a result of their faith. Church services include testimonials that link religious devotion to wealth. The pastors who lead these churches demand substantial tithes and enjoy lavish personal lifestyles. The plight of the poor must not be ignored — this is the sin of the man named Lazarus – but personal wealth should nevertheless be celebrated and pursued. In the words of the Rhema church’s school of business, believers should aspire to “impact the marketplace with Christ.”

There is a remarkable ethical parallel between the prosperity churches and the liberation movement.

In a prosperity church, worshippers’ tithes support the ostentatious wealth of the pastor, and the congregation’s members understand their success and bodily health as signs of divine intervention and as rewards for their religious devotion.

In the contemporary ANC, wealthy cadres make substantial donations to support the administrative and campaigning expenses of the movement. When they do business, they give the ANC a cut of the spoils. The tenders and job opportunities that come their way are accepted as an expression of grace — as a sign that they are in good standing with the movement to which they have devoted their lives.

It is probably the questionable legitimacy of new-found wealth that explains these striking parallels. The ANC and the new churches have not forgotten the poor but they do not know how to help them. Yet it remains an affront against African communalist ethics – and indeed against the morality of any decent society — for individuals to live in luxury amidst a sea of poverty, while withholding the fruits of their good fortune from their extended families and communities. The ANC and the prosperity churches have found a way to render such personal enjoyment of wealth legitimate in a morally rich but profoundly unequal society.

Why shopping matters (2011)


A deep-seated national prejudice against conspicuous consumption has been exposed in recent weeks. First there was a furore around businessman Kenny Kunene’s nibbles from sushi-bedecked women. Then journalists ridiculed a Department of Public Works’ tender for golden gravy ladles, cut-glass champagne glasses, and Persian carpets “of presidential standard” for the Bryntirion ministerial estate. Soon afterwards, a Sunday newspaper complained that officials and ministers had flown business class to New York on a “shopping junket”.

Stern media moralists appear to share the view first advanced by Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, Heribert Adam, and Kogila Moodley in 1998, that the liberation movement has been “liberated into the bourgeois lifestyle of its opponents”. In their book Comrades in Business they ridiculed male ANC MPs for their “daring ties, silk and quasi-military style suits” and their female counterparts for “fancy hats and ostentatious dresses”.

Such critics do not offer a balanced account of the role of shopping in South African society.

First, shopping played a significant role in the country’s transition to democracy. Sociologist Jonathan Hyslop observed more than a decade ago that, “as barricades burned in the townships, and armoured vehicles rolled through their streets, whites poured endlessly into the shops and malls in an apparent frenzy of consumption”. Middle class whites, and especially socially mobile Afrikaners, attached themselves to “lifestyle” aspirations. When the crunch came, shopping proved to be more important to them than defending a moribund racial ideology.

Second, conspicuous consumption provides the only conceivable basis for the development of a cross-racial national identity in South Africa.

Third, materialism in South Africa is balanced by conservative social attitudes. An article in International Journal of Consumer Studies last August showed that countries such as China have a far more advanced consumption culture than ours. For Chinese youth, material possessions now lie at the centre of conceptions of human happiness.


South Africans often delight in being seen to consume goods rather than in actually consuming them. They enjoy passing time in underground shopping malls devoid of natural light. Their hearts are stirred by the great names in South African retailing: Pick n Pay, Mr. Price, Foschini, Clicks, and Spur. Who can visit Sandton City or the 60,000 square metres of Soweto’s Maponya Mall and leave unmoved by the greatness of their creators’ imaginations?


In most societies, shopping is an instrument of class division. The aesthetic preferences of the rich and the powerful are viewed as superior to the tastes of the lower classes. Yet in South Africa, aesthetics are becoming uniquely and genuinely democratic: whatever their race and gender, and no matter how poor or wealthy they may be, absolutely everyone appears to have bad taste.

We must not forget the dark side of materialism. Poor citizens are excluded from the new catherdrals of consumption. Poverty continues to serve as a barrier to the creativity and individuality that could potentially be expressed through still more national participation in shopping.

The significance of shopping has been hidden by the sinister brotherhood of South African historians who have mostly limited their research to the realm of production (noble workers and exploitative captains of industry). They have ignored shopping as a women’s activity of little relevance to historical and political change.

In recent years, however, it is South Africa’s male politicians who have taken to consumer culture like fish to an aquarium. Gay icon and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is so beautifully dressed that he sometimes resembles a shop window dummy. Rugged police commissioner Bheki Cele has shown that even a tough guy can expose his feminine side, by shopping for hats and dressing up for fun in fake military uniforms. It cannot be long before shopping is recognized as a key “motive force” in the ANC’s national democratic revolution.

Pork from Mbalula, Sushi from Kunene

A Business Day column from 4 Feb 2011. Anthony Butler

Recent African National Congress (ANC) deliberations about the ethics of sushi consumption demonstrate how hard it has become to fashion a coherent moral framework for a fast-changing liberation movement.

The furore has centred on businessman Kenny Kunene who earned notoriety last year for employing bikini-clad women, adorned with sushi, as human plates at a Johannesburg party. At a Cape Town event last weekend to celebrate his new nightclub he arranged a repeat performance.

ANC leaders initially seemed uncertain whether the problem was Kunene’s crass materialism or his denigration of women. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe rather precisely demanded that cadres disengage with immediate effect from eating sushi from women’s bodies. He left it unclear whether a more substantial meal – perhaps a burger with fries — might be viewed as less counter revolutionary.

Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu, apparently misconceiving the matter as a health and safety complaint, stated that the League disapproves of “serving any kind of food on human bodies”.

Only the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) directly condemned “stripping women and reducing them to sex symbols for the pleasure of men”. Unfortunately women are rather thin on the ground at Cosatu House and the federation’s gallant observation that “our country will not be free until women’s dignity is protected by all genuine revolutionaries” sounded an unavoidably patronising tone.

It is tempting but unwise to celebrate the ANC leadership’s condemnation of Kunene. The businessman fell quickly into line, accepting not that he was wrong but rather that he is dependent on the ANC to make money and so will not risk offending it. The next time political leaders threaten to destroy a businessman for affronting their conservative values their gripe may concern the promotion of homosexuality or the creation of controversial artworks.

Alongside the sushi fiasco it has also been a week for pork. “Pork barrel politics” refers to the state’s provision of publicly funded goods to narrow constituencies. Two juicy examples, both concerning KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), have hit the headlines in the past few days.

First, speculation has returned that a massively expensive high-speed rail link between Johannesburg and Durban will soon be approved.

The chief executive of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa warned last year that the national rail system faces collapse within a decade. Minister for transport Sibusiso Ndebele responded that his department lacked the budget to recapitalise the system at the required annual level of R5 billion.

Ndebele’s subsequent announcement of an apparent white elephant – one that will benefit only KZN’s business and political elites at a cost of hundreds of billions of Rand — has inevitably raised eyebrows. The minister has now hilariously obliged his deputy director-general for transport logistics to formulate plans for an imaginary multi-city high-speed network, of which the Durban-Johannesburg link will purportedly just be the first stage.

A second piece of KZN pork was unveiled this week by sports minister Fikile Mbalula. The minister insisted on Tuesday that South Africans must rush into nominating a host city to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. He pretended that four hosts are in the running despite Cape Town’s repeated denials and the evident lack of credibility of Nelson Mandela Bay or Johannesburg.

Although Durban is unlikely to secure the dubious right to host the games, the bid process itself will enable the diversion of bounteous public resources to KZN’s political and business class and further facilitate the political rise of Mbalula.

Special interests, notably in South Africa’s collusive construction industry, are already out in force defending these frankly ludicrous projects. Shameless consultants will soon be handsomely rewarded for preparing the required “feasibility studies” and “technical assessments”. All this pork is as morally reprehensible as Kunene’s sushi. And it is our moralising ANC leaders who are planning to distribute it.

Black forgiveness must be preceded by White remorse

An excerpt from a piece in Business Day, 21 June, 2010, published under the title “Whites’ failure to say sorry holds back SA’. Anthony Butler

In South Africa there is curiously little discussion of whites’ failure, collectively and at the level of their political leadership, to apologise to blacks for the apartheid system, and to ask for forgiveness for the specific atrocities in which it resulted.

Post-apartheid public intellectuals have mostly followed former Anglican Archbishop’s Desmond Tutu’s nostrum that “without forgiveness there is no future”. In 1995, Tutu even described forgiveness as a done deal. He conceived South Africa as “a living example of how forgiveness may unite people”, and insisted that “our miracle would almost certainly not have happened without the willingness of our people to forgive.”

Tutu’s conflation of moral forgiveness with psychotherapy does not do justice to the necessary role of repentance. Although one might conceivably forgive the dead, for example, the normal meaning of the word requires that an offer of forgiveness can, at least in principle, be understood and embraced by the wrongdoer.

If the process of forgiveness is to be concluded, moreover, it requires of the wrongdoer that he understand that he has done wrong. It must therefore be preceded by remorse and then by self-forgiveness — for surely one can only truly accept forgiveness from others when one has forgiven oneself?

Most whites have not begun to take that first step. Former state president FW De Klerk, a formidable strategist but not a statesman, set the pattern of evasion that still characterises white sentiment today. There has been no apology – just equivocation and amnesia, followed directly by the blather of the “open opportunity society”.

When the issue of responsibility is pushed, Afrikaners and English cynically point the finger at each other for a system from which they benefitted together.

The result of this poor leadership and moral cowardice is that whites have been unable to accept, or even to understand, the forgiveness that blacks have offered them. When forgiveness is thrown back in the face of an injured party, bitterness is supplemented with frustration, and new generations grow up with anger in their hearts.

Perhaps because of close relations between adult African women and white children in their care, Africans in this country have continued to treat whites as moral infants who cannot be held fully responsible for their actions. To hold a wrongdoer to account, however, is at its core an act of respect, because it treats that guilty party as a fully moral person.

Tutu’s therapeutic sentimentality has almost had its day. Sometimes, where rights have been violated, the pursuit of retribution is inescapable – and ultimately it can be good for injured parties and wrongdoers alike.

The offering — and true acceptance — of forgiveness still offers the most promising path forward for all South Africans. But until whites can bring themselves to say sorry, they should not be surprised if black people argue for retribution.


Leftist attacks on treasury: time for an apology

Published in Business Day, 26 October, 2009, under the title, ‘Excluding treasury will serve Zuma, not the left’. Anthony Butler.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have become disoriented dupes of President Jacob Zuma’s conservative administration. Leftist intellectuals have abandoned planning and instead adopted an ill-advised critique of “treasury domination”.

First, the left wants treasury stripped of its control of economic policy. SACP theorists complain that the economy is still dominated by resources groups, and by financial and agro-processing conglomerates. Growth is not absorbing available labour, savings are low, and the small business sector is stagnant.

Why are these pathologies the treasury’s fault? Treasury has allegedly been obsessed with fiscal and monetary stability and an excessively conservative pursuit of low inflation, all buttressed by an “indefensible” inflation targeting regime.

Treasury “bean counters” have supposedly disallowed strategic industrial policy and obstructed the developmental mobilisation of state-owned agencies and infrastructure programmes. They have also overlooked the positive externalities that public investment in health, education and rural development could generate.

The treasury has been under even heavier fire for its second key role as manager of public expenditure. Its macro-economic stance allegedly obliges it to control spending at any cost. Its junior officials veto programmes that might increase human welfare and expand the productive potential of the economy. A treasury preoccupied by bilateral wars of attrition with individual departments has meanwhile failed to introduce overarching appraisals of the value of public spending.

Treasury’s third key role has been in the strategic co-ordination of government. The left complains that treasury’s divide-and-rule negotiations with individual departments are incompatible with the planning, long-term strategic thinking, and information-sharing required for effective governance.

This treasury critique is in some respects highly persuasive, but the left’s proposals for corrective action are poorly considered. In the absence of credible alternative economic policies and instruments, stripping the treasury of power is worse than futile.

Where the left has been given free rein to develop such alternatives — in creating new regulatory institutions, formulating industrial policies, leveraging infrastructural programmes, and setting out sector strategies — progress has been painfully slow or non-existent. Private and state monopolists have meanwhile used the languages of “strategic development” to cloak planning fiascos and procurement abuses.

Jacob Zuma has been here before and he knows that economic development minister Ebrahim Patel has few policy cards to put on the table. When Zuma and his then comrade-at-arms Thabo Mbeki were last suppressing the left in the mid-1990s, they used exactly the same ruse: they assigned a lame-duck economic portfolio (the RDP office) to a mild-mannered and institutionally disempowered trade union leader.

On public spending, the left’s diagnoses are again more persuasive than its remedies. The treasury, for all its failings, has introduced a culture of justification into the public expenditure process. Every supplicant alike – a leftist minister proposing a strategic investment, a rent-seeking special interest, or an opportunist looking to boost his personal patronage powers — has been obliged humbly to justify his demand for scarce resources.

Treasury officials can be arrogant and they sometimes cut out good proposals along with the bad. But treasury arrogance and discipline have partly insulated national departments against the disorder and financial mismanagement that plague provincial and local government.

The treasury’s coordination and planning failings are well known. A year ago, the left championed the planning commission to address precisely these limitations. Suddenly the left has turned full about and instead now backs what may be far-reaching changes to the functioning of the cabinet system.

National government coordination has rested on a system of cabinet subcommittees or “clusters” that bring only relevant ministers and officials into play. Over the past decade, treasury has been represented on all cluster committees at all levels to ensure that resource considerations are mainstreamed into policy development.

Last week, the presidency announced that reorganised ministerial committees for human development, social protection, and justice would henceforth have no finance ministry representation. Forum of Directors-General (FOSAD) clusters are to be “re-configured” in the same way.

If true, this is a dramatic and foolhardy change. It is hard to believe that treasury representatives should be absent, at any stage, from committees that take decisions with major resource implications.

The SACP and COSATU may have been misled that the human development cluster can now formulate public policy on national health insurance, or higher education and training, without being subjected to treasury-imposed financial discipline. The real beneficiaries of treasury exclusion will be Zuma’s close political allies in the justice cluster who may now treat even cursory treasury oversight as beneath them.

Zuma has chosen provincial politicians with provincial mindsets to chair many of his cabinet committees. If the treasury culture of justification continues to be eroded by its unthinking detractors, the provincial patronage-based tender and procurement model may firmly establish itself across the national sphere of government.


Butler teaches politics at Wits University

Missing Mbeki; fearing Zuma. A prediction from 2008

Published in Business Day on 19 May 2008 under the title, ‘Lovable Zuma may be harder to keep from perpetual power’. Anthony Butler

When former President Nelson Mandela last week praised the new African National Congress (ANC) leadership at a ceremonial to mark his acceptance of the Freedom of the City of Tshwane, he may have been speaking from a sense of personal regret.

Mandela, after all, chose Thabo Mbeki to be his deputy president. He then set precedents, such as the neglect of HIV/AIDS, informal schmoozing with business people, and the cultivation of a personality cult, that prefigured some of the worst aspects of his successor’s rule.

By the time Mandela realised Mbeki’s limitations it was too late to stop him. OR Tambo’s determined protégé quickly fused, and so multiplied, the powers of the offices of state and ANC president.

It is not an easy time to reflect on lessons to be learned from President Thabo Mbeki’s rise and fall because a chorus of his former praise-singers are noisily blaming him for each and every ill that afflicts the region. Nevertheless, it is only prudent to consider the potential dangers posed by his most likely successor, Jacob Zuma, a man inexplicably buoyed by an airy and inappropriate optimism.

It is comforting for some to attribute all of SA’s ills to the person and personality of Thabo Mbeki, and to suppose that once he has departed a great cloud will be lifted. However, three major weaknesses undermine this rosy scenario.

First, Mbeki possessed certain valuable capabilities that will be greatly missed when they are gone. He was willing to shoulder the immense unpopularity that came with championing economic stabilisation, and he fiercely protected his finance minister’s right to take controversial decisions.

He resisted blackmail by special interests in the trade union movement and big business, and he astutely ignored the South African Communist Party’s empty threat to throw itself on the mercy of the electorate. He refused to humour white denialists about their culpability for apartheid, and he rejected the easy pretence that race does not matter any more. In all these respects, Mbeki’s replacements already show a tendency to find and then to follow the paths of least resistance.

Second, the practical problems that destroyed Mbeki have not gone away. The social environment has worsened dramatically as a result of the maturing HIV/AIDS epidemic which will very soon leave a million – and then two million — South Africans in need of anti-retroviral drugs. Obstacles to sustainable and universal ARV provision remain deeply entrenched and there is little reason to hope that more rational leadership can turn around this deepening crisis.

Service delivery shortfalls will continue to grow, in part because the low-hanging fruit of the Mbeki era have already been picked. Only hard cases now remain in areas such land reform, household services, and the education system. There will also be a Polokwane payback period which will divert energies and involve a costly rotation of snouts at the provincial procurement trough.

Third, the uniquely favourable economic environment Thabo Mbeki enjoyed for a full decade is over, and inequality, poverty and unemployment can be expected to maintain their hold.

The successor will endure continued political turbulence and he may be forced to respond to it in very much the same way as Mbeki. Centralisation in Luthuli House had the primary functions of controlling factionalism, neutralising ethnic and racial entrepreneurs, regulating the worst extremes of corruption and patronage, and maintaining the liberation movement as a professional electoral machine. The stifling of debate, imposition of office-holders, and insulation of leaders from competition were mostly unintended side-effects of this well-meaning – and perhaps necessary — process of central control.

The new ANC leadership has emphasised that collective decision making will replace Mbeki’s factionalist power monopoly. The National Executive Committee’s array of redoubtable sub-committee chairs, and a secretary general now armed with a policy institute, will supposedly keep a rein on the state president and control appointment and deployment processes.

Such hopes fly in the face of history. Once Jacob Zuma is entrenched in the Union Buildings, with a landslide election victory behind him, he is certain to expand his authority rapidly. Even the leaden-footed and unsympathetic Mbeki was able to accumulate powers relentlessly and to sideline rivals and antagonists using the instruments of state power.

Patronage and political intelligence, once injected with the emotions of sycophancy and fear that a president excites, propelled even Mbeki dangerously close to perpetual power. How much harder will it be to contain the ambitions of the loveable, resilient and quick-footed Jacob Zuma?


Butler teaches public policy at UCT