South Africa’s explosive political cocktail: Fear, Loathing, Conspiracy, Paranoia
From a mysterious alleged attempted robbery involving someone visiting ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to a suspected gunman targeting the SACP’s Solly Mapaila, to death threats against DA leader Mmusi Maimane and a headless cat found in Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini’s garden, it appears that fear and paranoia are besetting South Africa’s political players. It is difficult to say how much of what is reported is due to heightened anxiety, public deception and genuine security threats, and whether ANC MPs considering voting against President Jacob Zuma in a motion of no confidence have reason to fear for their lives. What is clear is that everybody is suspicious of everybody else and absolutely nobody trusts the state. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
At a highly charged ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting in November last year, President Jacob Zuma claimed there was a foreign plot to kill him. Zuma allegedly told the meeting that his enemies made three attempts to poison him. This was Zuma’s response to fierce arguments from some NEC members that he should step down from office because of the shame he brought to the ANC through, among other things, the Nkandla and state capture scandals.
How the alleged attempts to poison the president related to him being terrible at his job is unclear. But Zuma often employs the conspiracy trick to defend himself and to blackmail the ANC into closing ranks around him.
If the President of South Africa had been poisoned, three times at that, surely the full details should be disclosed to the public and a high-priority treason and attempted murder investigation should be underway. All that emerged, however, were accusations against one of the president’s wives, Nompumelelo Ntuli, who is apparently under investigation by the Hawks for an alleged poisoning attempt in 2014.
To say Zuma is paranoid is an understatement. It still beggars belief that he summoned former finance minister Pravin Gordhan back from an international investor roadshow based on nonsensical allegations in a dodgy document purporting to be an “intelligence report”. Despite objections from senior ANC and SACP leaders, who told Zuma that the report was rubbish, he went ahead and fired Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas, placing the economy in peril and prompting the current political turmoil.
Out of one conspiracy, Zuma then manufactured another. He is touting the narrative that thousands of people took to the streets to protest against him because they are racists and are opposed to his supposed “radical economic transformation” agenda.
At a church service in Umgababa in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, Zuma claimed the protests were against radical economic transformation and land expropriation without compensation – not his reckless Cabinet reshuffle and his disastrous leadership.
“Now you must be removed because you are trying to make black people wiser,” Zuma said in reference to himself. “You saw the people in those marches‚ the type of people who have never marched before.”
He said he would not step down because people wanted him to leave for “telling the truth”. “He cannot just walk away,” Zuma said referring to himself in the third person.
Zuma’s move to reshuffle the Cabinet has led to security fears around a number of people. The most outspoken person in the tripartite alliance has been the SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila, who exposed Zuma’s plans to fire Gordhan and Jonas based on the bogus report. He is also leading the SACP campaign for Zuma to step down, speaking frankly on the matter on various platforms, including Ahmed Kathrada’s memorial service in Johannesburg.
Mapaila was scheduled to share a platform with Zuma at a memorial service for Chris Hani last week but could not do so because of bad weather conditions. He was booed by ANC supporters as he was going up onto the stage. A video has been widely circulated of someone in the crowd pointing an object at Mapaila, which is claimed to be a gun. The footage is fuzzy and it cannot be determined conclusively whether this was an assassination attempt, as the SACP claims.
SACP structures have reacted with outrage, attributing blame to the rot besetting the ANC.
“This is a worst form of political and ideological degeneration and will, if allowed to prevail, completely destroy the ANC-headed political movement. In particular this comes against the background of the ongoing systemic murders of SACP members in Inchanga, KwaZulu-Natal province. The SACP will intensify its efforts to tackle the rot politically by democratic means. This includes confronting corporate capture within the ranks of our movement and the state, corruption, rent-seeking, patronage and abuse of state resources and processes,” the SACP said.
Threats have also been levelled against people perceived to be in the anti-Zuma camp in the ANC. Human Settlements minister and ANC NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu has allegedly escaped two assassination attempts, according to the Mail & Guardian. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and the party’s chief whip Jackson Mthembu have apparently been sent threatening messages, with the latter being accused of conniving with opposition parties against the president.
With the motion of no confidence in the president initially scheduled for this week, several ANC MPs have also received messages warning them against voting according to their conscience. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) will use this to try to convince the Constitutional Court to make a ruling allowing the vote to be conducted by secret ballot.
But even if the Constitutional Court does rule in the UDM’s favour, those ANC MPs who may be willing to defy the party line might still be suspicious of the voting system. Levels of paranoia are so high that people might be worried that either Parliament or the State Security Agency could rig the system to determine how they voted. The fears would not be far fetched as State Security brought a signal jammer into the National Assembly during the 2015 State of the Nation Address, which Parliament pleaded ignorance about.
There is a general air of distrust of the State Security Agency under Minister David Mahlobo. Besides using the state intelligence service for political purposes, he has shown himself to be untrustworthy, making contradictory statements to the public and cavorting with a rhino-poaching ring.
When the Office of the Chief Justice was broken into in March, with computers containing confidential information about the country’s judges being stolen, fingers were immediately pointed at Mahlobo and the State Security Agency. Many politicians, including the alliance and union leaders, believe they are under surveillance and their phone conversations monitored.
The Sunday Independent reported this weekend that Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini was beefing up security at his home in Umlazi, Durban after a headless cat was found in his garden. He believes this was a way to threaten him. If it were a threat, it is not clear if was because of Cosatu’s call for Zuma to step down or because Dlamini is trying to ingratiate himself to the president in spite of his federation’s definitive stance.
In an atmosphere of fear and loathing, security threats can be concocted out of thin air. This certainly does seem to be the case with former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma whose unwarranted presidential security detail is being defended through an alleged attempted robbery of someone going to visit her.
The Sunday Times reported that government was using the incident, for which there are several conflicting versions, to justify the hefty security contingent accompanying Dlamini-Zuma at state expense. The police claim that the allocation of presidential security guards to Dlamini-Zuma was based on a threat and security assessment, which of course will not be made public.
Protectors and blue-light brigades are deemed to be status symbols for politicians, with even small-town mayors flanked by men and women in black suits. As someone who has grown accustomed to being treated as a head of state, it would seem that Dlamini-Zuma is having trouble embracing her new status as an ordinary citizen. With her now hitting the campaign trail, she apparently needs to look the part of a VVIP to convince people that she can be their next leader.
South Africa has undoubtedly a high crime rate and a worrying history of political violence assassinations. There is also an escalation of political intolerance and violence around election periods. With intense factional battles and patronage networks at play in the ANC, this is a high-stakes year as the party heads to its elective conference. But this is also a season of conspiracy and paranoia where it is difficult to decipher hogwash from real danger.
The big problem is that nobody can rely on or trust the state security agencies to ensure fair play and proper investigations into threats. The contagion infesting the state is deep and even those in the upper echelons of the government system do not trust the security services.
So unless you are a Gupta with your own military vehicle parked in the driveway and a group of paid activists guarding your gate, you have to fly by the seat of your pants. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma participates in The New Age SABC Business briefing held in Cape Town which is aimed at unpacking some of the key messages and actions from the State of the Nation Address, 1o February 2017. (Photo: GCIS)