Predictable dirty tricks the order of the day

Any number of attempts have been made over the last few weeks to divert attentions from the Gupta Leaks and the related daily revelations about serious and damaging financial irregularities.

The latest of which have been the Hawks revisiting of Pravin Gordhan’s role in the SARS rogue spy unit, and of course, the Sunday press allegations of extra-marital affairs by Presidential front-runner Cyril Ramaphosa.

With the Gupta Leaks enjoying saturation coverage in most national media outlets, a fightback from those implicated was always expected.

It is therefore no surprise that a predictable season of dirty tricks, e-mail leaks and even fake news may now be upon us.

And, media houses with close connections either to the Guptas or to President Zuma and his preferred successor slate will play their role in punting their preferred candidates – with little shame.

However, those hoping that this weekend’s e-mail revelations surrounding Presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa this past weekend would scupper his campaign, will need to try harder in future.

South Africa’s recent political history suggests that sex scandals among even those who hold the highest office in the land cause few ruffles among the electorate.

And from within the ANC, buffeted by all sorts of larger-than-life sets of intrigue and Game of Thrones-style machinations, allegations of extra-marital affairs seem somewhat small-fry. The fact that the Sunday Independent together with their political connected bosses chose to run this as a headline story, does indicate the depth to which the succession debate has now sunk. But, ironically, it also indicates that Ramaphosa is now seen as a serious contender and potential disrupter of the status quo.

No doubt, the more allegations of impropriety that a candidate attracts, the greater the threat that candidate is to others as well as vested interests keen on perpetuating both political and patronage-based continuity.

The problem for the anti-Ramaphosa camp is that sex scandals might besmirch someone’s character, but they are not a criminally punishable offence. They occupy the front pages for a day – but barely remain in the mind for much longer.

And, amidst an atmosphere of more and more fake news, media-related bias and ownership tussles, as well as the expectation that dirty tricks will soon be unleashed, it simply is likely to make little impact on the December conference.

In addition, following the scandalous abuse of power and deep-state corruption unleashed within governance in South Africa, affairs of the heart are somewhat less of a political priority.

When taxpayers’ money is wasted on a profligate basis and hitherto respected institutions of state are reduced to partisan pawns, that’s the real priority.

Given the increasing seriousness of the Gupta Leaks and rising calls for a judicial inquiry and possible prosecutions, there is a distinct battle for survival among those who see their hitherto profitable lifestyle being disrupted by new leadership.

A serious reformer who wants to undo networks of patronage and rent-seeking will need substantial strength to withstand the onslaught now unleashed and likely to continue unabated to December and even beyond. Ramaphosa, as the arch anti-Zuma, will bear the brunt of this.

Ramaphosa therefore has the most to lose – not just to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma but to other ANC heavyweights keen to see him slip on the way to the top job.

No one wants their name muddied in Sunday newspaper headlines. No one wants to defend their personal indiscretions to the world.

The chief beneficiary of any campaign collapse will be Zweli Mkhize, a moderate, who would be seen to favour governance policies much akin to Ramaphosa himself – someone who could take on the mantle of the anti-Zuma equally vociferously.

While analysts can easily see through this less-than-transparent attempt at steering the succession debate to a desired end-point, it was Pravin Gordhan who summed up the situation so well, as reported in the Rand Daily Mail of September 1.

“It’s a massive tussle – it’s about the future of the ANC as we know it. Either you follow the capture of the ANC or change the party’s character and recapture the state, which has now gotten into the wrong hands. People like ourselves are backing Mr Ramaphosa, because we believe he has the integrity, to put it bluntly. And secondly, he has the modernity to innovate, to allow new ideas to emerge, understands the economy.”

With statements like this, it is no wonder that those who seek to undermine Ramaphosa, desire much the same fate for Gordhan. Gordhan, and a vocal but relatively small coterie of supporters, are a continual thorn in the side of those who see their benefits draining away as a result of the end of the Zuma era.

Still, Gordhan ultimately puts before the ANC a very stark choice. It’s either Ramaphosa or the forces of state capture.

In other words, he is suggesting that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is effectively the candidate of continuity – a continuum of all that is wrong with South Africa at present. With Mrs Zuma’s silence on her take on state capture, her choice of omission might well come back to haunt her.

South Africa therefore enters another period of toxicity in our domestic politics.

But fortunately, or unfortunately, since we are all somewhat numbed by the constant media onslaught on our sensibilities over the wastage of resources, the scourge of poverty or the impunity of those holding the highest public office in the land, the plethora of dirty tricks will be seen as just another day at the office.

South Africans both inside and outside the ANC will rather be wrestling with the real issues. And those in charge of the dirty tricks department will just have to up their game accordingly.

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