Mantashe had been the first ANC leader to condemn the scandal of the Guptas’ wedding plane landing at our military base, saying it left South Africa ‘naked’
IN 2008, ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Ngoako Ramatlhodi penned a heartbreaking piece.
Published on the op-ed page of the Sunday Times on October 19, the article described how former President Nelson Mandela was humiliated at a meeting of the NEC in 2002.
Madiba had attended the meeting to convey his concerns about the party’s stance on HIV/Aids and lack of internal debates.
This was after he received complaints from ANC leaders and cabinet ministers who were scared to speak out.
Madiba’s informers had spoken to him anonymously as they feared Mbeki who wielded “absolute power” within the party.
As soon as Madiba left the meeting, members “leapt to their feet, crying that Madiba had insulted them”.
They demanded he return when the meeting continued the next day. That is when “a well-orchestrated” plan to embarrass him unfolded.
The first speaker challenged those who had complained to Madiba to come forward and back up their claims, or else the former president would be rendered a liar.
“When no one spoke, Madiba was indeed turned into a liar,” Ramatlhodi wrote. “The meeting turned into a frenzy. It became a free-for-all, reminiscent of a pack of wild dogs tearing apart their prey.”
The ANC members were “wild, aggressive and merciless against their former president”.
“Those who attacked Madiba in that meeting did so with the silent approval of those who witnessed the orgy. They must have been genuinely afraid of Mbeki, a president who had somehow turned out to be the ANC itself. He had become larger than the movement. They were scared. I was scared.”
Ramatlhodi’s recollection of events, published conveniently after Mbeki had been ousted, has not been denied.
It remains an illustration of what power can do to those over whom it is exercised. It shows that deference is not accorded to symbolic stature. Had that been the case, the “wild” NEC members would have deferred to Mandela.
It also shows that the NEC members conducted themselves in a manner that guaranteed their material interests. Mbeki had the power to appoint the cabinet – and thus determined the bread and butter of these NEC members.
Mandela was mistaken to think he still had political power and could rule from the grave.
I was reminded of Ramatlhodi’s account when ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe made it clear that the ruling party would not question President Jacob Zuma over his relationship with the Guptas.
Ironically Mantashe had been the first ANC leader to condemn the scandal of the Guptas’ wedding plane landing at our military base, saying it left South Africa “naked”.
Tito Mboweni, a member of the party’s national executive committee and former Reserve Bank governor, was also disgusted. “Ag sies!” he exclaimed in a tweet. The responses were in line with public sentiment.
But after the party’s national working committee meeting last week Monday and that of the NEC the following weekend, it was evident that Zuma had to be defended at all costs.
No matter how intricately he was linked to the Guptas, no questions would be raised about their power extending to that of the military.
Like Mbeki who was once feared, Zuma has, to borrow from Ramatlhodi’s phrase, “somehow turned out to be the ANC itself. He has become larger than the movement”.
No one wants to offend him. No ANC leader will risk their political career by criticising Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas.
Mantashe made it clear – the ANC would not ask Zuma about his relationship with the Guptas. End of the story. In rather bizarre fashion the Guptas are to Zuma what dissident Aids theories were to Mbeki.
The big difference, though, is that Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas is not based on biased reading of science literature, but on the Guptas adding to Zuma’s family balance sheet.
We cannot be misled into believing Mantashe has genuinely changed his stance on the Guptas. But he has been told that such scandals, if condemned, cast the president in a bad light and this is not good for the ANC ahead of the general elections. So castigating Zuma’s unseemly relationship with the Guptas is tantamount to jeopardising the ANC’s electoral prospects. It could be seen as a plot to besmirch the ANC.
In terms of this line of thinking, the negative perception of the Guptas denigrates Zuma and ultimately affects the ANC. The best remedy, so the thinking goes, is to put a positive spin onto it.
The Gupta-Zuma-ANC is the new tripartite alliance that has to be handled with kid gloves, lest the ANC is compromised.
Had Mantashe been firm like Mandela he would have received a dressing down for speaking the truth.
No one would have defended him. Mantashe sensed political isolation well in advance.
There is no Mandela-like figure to be preyed upon. There is no one to take punches. Everyone keeps their positions and unites around the sitting president.
Until . . . Mpumelelo Mkhabela is the editor of the Sowetan