THERE have been two critical developments in South Africa since the fall of Thabo Mbeki two weeks ago.
Renowned cleric and Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he might not vote in next yearâ€™s elections. The second is that the ANC is not only losing its parliamentary majority but that it has also sullied an image it earned over the past 92 years as a principled liberation movement.
Tutuâ€™s announcement that he will not be voting is significant not because of his single vote; it is its symbolism which is critical: that one of the leading lights of the darkest phase of the anti-apartheid struggle is so disgusted by the manner ANC president Jacob Zuma and his gang have so abused the democracy for which the ANC fought for so long that people have lost faith in its ability to offer moral and principled leadership.
That is the view of many senior ANC members who donâ€™t buy into the ethnic arguments favoured by the Zuma camp to colour his political rivalry with Mbeki or the neo-liberal polemics about Mbekiâ€™s despotism.
There are people looking more closely at the character and image of Zuma and asking themselves whether he embodies the values with which South Africa would want to be associated?
Such people worry that democracy has betrayed them; that it is failing to deal with deeply felt moral and ethical misgivings about Zumaâ€™s suitability to raise the stature of the republic. Zuma faces grave charges of fraud, corruption, and racketeering. He was acquitted of rape but as ANC leader he has pandered to the ANC Youth League as it threatens all the nationâ€™s institutions which have made the exercise of democracy possible. For people like Tutu, the ANC has lost its core values of ubuntu which gave it a distinct identity.
(And where are the rich beneficiaries of the BEE programmes to defend Mbekiâ€™s legacy? Reading through South Africaâ€™s major papers, you would think all he ever did was invent HIV and deny its link to Aids.)
The advocates of a weaker ANC should be wary in their celebrations. While it might be good for democracy, a divided ANC evokes memories of its bitter and often violent rivalries with the UDF, IFP and PAC before majority rule.
The big irony of a divided ANC is however that it has debunked a most cherished axiom of Reverend William JH Boetcker in defence of free capitalist enterprise, that â€œyou cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strongâ€ or â€œhelp the poor by destroying the richâ€.
The Democratic Alliance and South African Communist Party, among others, can be strengthened by a weakened ANC; the MDC can reap the benefits of a divided and weakened Zanu PF as we saw in the March 29 elections; and a majority of formerly marginalised Zimbabweans could only be empowered by possession of natural resources rather than the â€œtrickle-downâ€ from a few super-rich white commercial farmers. For in essence what is to weaken or to destroy a dominant organisation or enterprise but to reduce or take over completely its share of the market!
What lessons are there from Polokwane for Zanu PF and the MDC?
That leaders can be changed at congress if you have men and women with spine. That decampaigning the party clandestinely can only lead to the current â€œcompromisesâ€ and â€œhumiliationsâ€ which have come to haunt Zanu PF and hold the entire nation to ransom.
Failure to have amadoda sibili rise up to challenge Mugabe last year and the deepening schisms mean that Zanu PF has been so weakened it is unlikely to survive as we have known it once Mugabe leaves the scene. Unlike the ANC which still has a brave and identifiable cadre of heroes of the struggle, we donâ€™t seem to have any such candidates in Zanu PF.
While Zuma may not be the best person for the highest office, the ANC is not short of clear alternatives to meet the bill. Whereas in the ANC you have men and women who can talk in their own right, in Zanu PF everyone must speak for and on behalf of the first secretary of the party. As a result it would be hard once Mugabe leaves for anyone to start trying to build a credible profile in the name of Zanu PF.
The lesson for the MDC is also that you can capitalise on the divisions in the ruling party to win elections if you are organised. Victory does not come from apocalyptic prophecies of violence or electoral boycotts. There is also a limit to what foreigners promising â€œfinancial bailoutsâ€ can do; the turmoil in Europe and the US is a salutary and timely reminder that those promising us heaven on earth and preaching the virtues of market forces are no less fallible than we are.
The MDC also faces an invidious identity crisis in its relations with the US. It is not about its leader Morgan Tsvangirai playing golf with Ambassador James McGee, but its umbilical connection to the Republican chariot, making it a two-faced creature, at once Republican and Democrat.
It is the MDC which should play the prosecutorial Democrat role by raising the charge sheet against local Republicans over human rights violations, service delivery, lack of food and power and calling for change, yet it maintains a comradeship with the Republicans while Mugabe and Zanu PF play Barak Obama and the Democrats. Is the MDC impervious to â€œchangeâ€ taking place in the US?
By Joram Nyathi