Political Watch

Fracturing ANC alliance falls back on age-old strategies

Gwede Mantashe, playing the blame game

As tensions in the governing ANC alliance and in the party itself are mounting, its list of ‘enemies’, conspirators and people to blame keeps growing.

Identifying common enemies, real and imagined, and shifting blame are but two of a whole package of age-old political strategies the alliance has started digging into in its attempts to paper over internal cracks and to deflect broad civic disaffection with its track record in government.

The blame game

Probably the political strategy most often used by governments across the world, and also well known in South Africa, is the ‘blame game’.

The blame game has, in fact, become such a prevalent strategy in modern politics and governance that academic studies on the phenomenon have been published.

Christopher Hood, professor of Government at Oxford University’s All Souls College, captured it neatly in his book, The Blame Game: Spin, Bureaucracy, and Self-Preservation in Government –  this ‘game’, with its “finger-pointing and mutual buck-passing”, has become a familiar feature of politics and organisational life, with “blame avoidance” pervading government and public organisations at every level.

The blame game has blossomed in South Africa under the Zuma administration as, especially with an upcoming generation, the credibility faded of blaming everything that went wrong on the previous regime – replaced more than 20 years ago.  

While that was used in particular with regard to overriding issues like the economy, unemployment and education failures, the game goes on.

The ‘apartheid regime’ has now been replaced by ‘white dominated capital’, ‘big business refusing to invest’, etc.

When it comes to specific contemporary events, the rulers of the day are past masters at the blame game.

When the Nkandla controversy erupted, attempts were made to shift the blame, first to some officials in the Department of Public Works and then to President Jacob Zuma’s personal architect. In the case of the latter the civil action against him seems to have got lost in a bureaucratic maze.

When a private plane with the president’s friends landed at Waterkloof Air Force base, the sacrificial lamb-in-chief was a senior Foreign Affairs official, ‘punished’ by moving him to an ambassadorial posting.

Create and finger enemies

Enemies and conspirators did make some appearance early in Mr Zuma’s rise to power, for instance when corruption charges against him were withdrawn on the basis that they had been formulated in a political conspiracy against him, but in recent times charges of conspiracy have become very prominent.

Creating/identifying a common enemy is a classic political strategy in the face of threatening internal divisions, of which there are presently plenty within the ANC and its alliance. . 

Handmaidens of this strategy are campaigns to discredit and/or create suspicions around those targeted. As we reported before, these include the Public Protector and the Nkandla affair; the launch of a State Security Agency (SSA) investigation into allegations on an obscure website that known government opponents are paid agents of the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); and reports that the security cluster ministers had launched “informal probes” into five NGOs, including the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), the organisation that approached the courts to prevent the government from allowing Omar al-Bashir to leave. And more recently:

  • Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told the federation’s congress that people with a sinister agenda are fuelling the federation’s problems, naming the US government as among those plotting to influence Cosatu against the ANC and the South African Communist Party;
  • Dlamini also lashed out at “imperialist forces” for funding an alleged dirty tricks campaign in Cosatu;
  • These claims about “sinister forces” are also echoed by the South African Communist Party, with one of its provincial structures claiming its general secretary, Minister Blade Nzimande, is under attack in a “well-orchestrated and coordinated” campaign that wants to align the ANC with the ideals of capitalism;  
  • At the Cosatu congress President Zuma called on the federation to unite to “fight enemies” plotting against the ANC and the alliance. “Those who oppose us gang together. That is why we need to unite to fight the onslaught,”  he said; and
  • After the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on 28 November, its general secretary, Gwede Mantashe, rolled a number of these strategies together in a statement to the media. He said at the meeting in reference to the recent #FeesMustFall student unrest that the meeting noted that on a number of campuses foreign funding was channelled to various student accounts, expressed grave concern about attempts to use genuine concerns of students for other objectives and identified early signs of (a) “counter-revolution”.

Part of such a strategies is to take elements of truth to lend credibility to the claims being made. In this regard the NEC statement said: “The people of South Africa should be more vigilant and appreciate that the broader threats of counter-revolution beyond the university campuses, as witnessed in other countries, are a reality of the day.”

It is indeed a fact that democracy and social stability are presently simultaneously under stress in many countries because of the influence of globalisation on many fronts, as reported as far back as March last year.

Symptomatic of the global connectedness of trends, and the student unrest in particular, is an article on the website of the Institute for Global Dialogue of in October under the headline “Youth Advocacy, #FeesMustFall and New Diplomacies”.

This article noted: “The South African, Chilean and Colombian economies have generally struggled due to factors such as corruption (public and private), the global economic recession, struggling economic performance and productivity, growing populations and needs, brain drain, persistent inequality and poverty, declining public expenditures particularly on education, and challenges of sourcing investments.”

It is clear from this article’s analysis that jumping from one issue to the next, as happened with “#FeesMustFall”, was to be expected. It indeed advocates that “students and their relevant organisations target not only the specific systemic education issues (Education Advocacy) but also expand their cause to a political and global level, in order to address youth dissatisfaction …”

The reach and depth of what has been happening on university campuses this year is much too complex just to be framed in terms of, and dealt with, by simplistic political strategies.

Political rhetoric as a sole response will turn it into a tiger the ANC will not be able to ride and will increase its potential to seriously destabilise the country as a whole.

                                                                                                                                                         by The Intelligence Bulletin Team

Also readThe demon of liberalism

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