JUSTICE MALALA: South Africa’s year of politicking dangerously

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WHAT are we to make of it all? Only two weeks into the year and so much has happened already — ANC succession battles, the new public protector‘s leaked report into apartheid-era bank bailouts, Mmusi Maimane in Israel, massive rhetoric around the economy and new policies, plus intimations that #FeesMustFall will be a big issue yet again.

The past week has provided even more evidence that fears about the ascendance of Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the world are justified. He has attacked journalists, rubbished civil rights icons and continued to show a complete lack of appreciation for the importance of the office he is about to assume.

China has flexed its muscles in Nigeria, forcing the country to dump relations with Taiwan. Expect China to flex its muscles elsewhere.

It is confusing. It is sometimes scary. How does one navigate such a noisy, contested terrain, particularly in South Africa?
The first thing to keep in mind about South African politics in 2017 is that this is an election year. The ANC chooses a new leader in December and so, as in any election year, what emanates from politicians’ mouths is the furthest thing from the truth. So this year politicians from the governing party will be speechifying and beating their chests and saying nice things about the past and the future.

Take all that with a pinch of salt.

Last week, for example, President Jacob Zuma said it was not true that it was an ANC tradition that the deputy president takes over from the sitting president.

Well, firstly, it was Zuma and his cronies who underlined this tradition in the mid-2000s when the man was seeking power. They were right, too, if you considered that, from Albert Luthuli in the 1950s to Oliver Tambo in the 1960s, Thabo Mbeki in 1997
and Zuma himself in 2007 the deputy has succeeded the president.

So why is Zuma suddenly suffering from this massive
bout of amnesia about a “tradition” that he was touting only 10 years ago when he wanted to be anointed?

It’s an election year.

He wants Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to be elected on the “woman president” ticket. He is hoping that she would block his prosecution on the 783 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering he still has to face in a court of law.

He won‘t be the only one dissembling this year.

The ANC is riven with factions jockeying for power. So expect the Baleka Mbete ticket to tell us that she is the best thing since sliced bread, the Cyril Ramaphosa crowd to paint their man as a saint and the Dlamini-Zuma adherents to tell us she is the original Ms Delivery.

This year some people might even proclaim that Zuma is the greatest president of the post-apartheid era.

Then there is economic policy. Don‘t expect policy to change but be prepared for the rhetoric about transformation, race, apartheid reparations and redress to be ratcheted up. The truth is that no one in the ANC cares about policy formulation at the moment. They are too busy fighting and using race in an attempt to appear radical.

If there are to be policy changes from the ANC, they will take place glacially after December and might speed up when a new leader finishes with electioneering for 2019 and gets to work.
That has terrible implications: the rot and ennui our nation is living through now will continue for a while to come.

The interesting area will be the issues of race, transformation, white privilege and wealth transfer.

As can be read from Zuma‘s pronouncements in December, when he couched South Africa’s problems in the light of apartheid-era white wealth acquisition versus post-apartheid black wealth hunger, I foresee an era of major anxiety and tumult as the “redress” rhetoric is cranked up. It will emanate from the left
— think the EFF and Numsa — and from the right in the ANC and its crony capitalists, such as the paid Twitter soldiers massed around the likes of the Gupta family.

None of the above has much to do with the real challenges facing ordinary people on the street — jobs, creating a growing and inclusive economy, and education. The Zuma administration has failed for nine years on the jobs and education front. Don’t expect movement.
There will be a lot of heat and noise over the next three years but don’t expect too much real change.

Sadly for so many of our people living in abject poverty, the reality is that there will be many insults and words but no real action to improve their lot.

This article first appeared in The Times

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