Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week marked the first 100 days of President Jacob Zuma’s presidency; an event which will be the subject of widespread review and commentary.
Whilst I harbour doubts about the wisdom of passing a judgment on a presidency after only 100 days in office, a practice, I believe, which began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal presidency, the anniversary is an important yardstick for every president.
The President has, in my view, demonstrated humility, gravitas, for these are serious times, and exuded a sense of purpose, if not certitude, in his first 100 days in office. His warm and reassuring public persona somehow seems to resonate with the nation’s deep-seated anxiety about the economy and his approach has been, largely, consensual and reconciliatory. The mood music, as it were, is right.
He has, thus far, avoided the unfortunate depiction in some quarters at home and abroad as the ‘accidental president’. If his but one predecessor had a reputation, and I stress reputation, of being a remote philosopher king, Mr Zuma is still seen as a man of the people.
And my more delicate friends, colleagues and staff have, perhaps, been reassured to have heard a little less of his hit rendition of ‘Umshini wami’, although, personally, I don’t mind it – too much.
One is, however, concerned about his government’s clear Leftist drift and there are some early signs of political populism a-la-Eva Peron which need to be checked. Many commentators are rightly (excuse the pun) concerned about the ideological centre of gravity of the government. This has led some seasoned analysts to posit that Mr Zuma is merely a figurehead and that the true centre of power has gravitated to Luthuli House and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.
Rather alarmingly, Mr Mantashe recently, when asked by a reporter if he would describe himself as a Marxist, replied: ‘I would not describe myself as a Marxist. I am a Marxist’.
Just as disconcertingly, Mr Zuma’s other friends in COSATU are being equally unhelpful. Mr Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s secretary-general, has suggested that policy should be determined by the alliance, not the government. ‘We are the policymakers,’ he said, ‘and the government implements. The government does not lead anymore’.
And to make matters worse, the President appears to be ceding to the ruling-party’s youth wing a debate about the merits (or, more accurately, demerits) of nationalisation. This debate, in my view, is spurious as the debate about nationalisation has long passed everywhere, with the exception of North Korea, Cuba and a clutch of maverick Latin American states. I don’t think for one moment Mr Zuma is about to nationalise the mines or even abandon inflation targeting: a central tenet of the Reserve Bank. But the impression created is that the President has not got his hand on the tiller of economic policy: is the tail wagging the dog or vice versa?
Mr Zuma’s big problem, and it will get worse if not remedied, is that he has had to tailor an executive out of the cloth of his political exigencies: i.e. to maintain the internal cohesion of the disparate elements of the tripartite alliance which brought him to power. The result is a mix of oil and water: former union leaders hold seven posts In Mr Zuma’s massive 34-member cabinet, including the key labour and economic development portfolios. Another four posts have gone to the SACP, including trade and industry.
On the other hand, the moderate and internationally respected Mr Trevor Manuel is charged with formulating economic policy from the Orwellian sounding National Planning Commission, which, one would have thought, that the eminently sensible Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan would have been left to implement.
None of this makes for a happy tea party.
Mr Zuma clearly stated that, as of July this year, cabinet ministers would be held accountable through performance instruments. If anyone has failed their mandate so far, we can expect this to be exposed. My hunch is if Mr Zuma is to succeed, he will have to finesse the size and quality of the cabinet sooner rather than later. He will need to create a smaller and more nimble top-level leadership within the cabinet stamped with his authority and direction. For in a time when doctors, miners, train drivers and workers in the chemical, construction, energy, paper, printing, retail and state broadcasting sectors have downed tools, never before has SA’s hard-won and carefully-crafted socio-economic contract been so imperiled.
I am concerned too about the President’s undertaking to be a kind of inspector at large of schools, townships, failing municipalities, etc – this, in addition, to his election commitment to elicit the views of unsuspecting in-flight SAA passengers. Whilst Mr Zuma’s intentions are no doubt good, it is simply not possible to micromanage the country like this. The man will simply wear himself out. It is not practical for the President with the domestic and international responsibilities of being head of government and head of state to be running helter skelter around SA doing his lieutenants work.
But Mr Zuma’s desire to have an ongoing national conversation does speak to one his nicest attributes: his penchant for reaching out beyond the ANC tent. As one who has advocated the separation of the two offices, if anyone can straddle the undesirable dichotomy of being both head of state and head of government, I hope it is Mr Zuma.
The President’s consensual approach has also been, by and large, evident in his approach to the public service and his relations with the opposition.
Yes, the IFP would have preferred a professional rather than political appointment as the police commissioner. I hope that this did not portend the President’s approach to making appointments to the public service.
We have no great concern about the President’s nomination for Chief Justice, save the fact that he did not follow the Constitutional imperative or protocol of consulting opposition leaders first. But I think this was clumsiness rather than a deliberate act.
Finally, there seems to be a feeling amongst the opposition that Mr Zuma won the election and he had a clear mandate to govern despite the controversies which had dogged him. I think he has cannily managed relations with the opposition, too. He has shown some nice touches in parliament and seems genuinely interested in the opposition’s interventions.
The President, however, did overstep the mark by calling for a merger between the ANC and the IFP. Whilst I hope that the relations between the two organisations will normalise befitting two distinct political competitors in a mature democracy, the President need not put the champagne on ice pending a merger as long as ‘Yours Truly’ leads the IFP.
That aside, ‘good luck Msholozi!’
And, I had the good fortune to attend the National Women’s Day function in Vryheid last which was addressed by President Jacob Zuma.
For me, it was a great disappointment for a number of reasons. I have heard people refer to SA with the natty marketing slogan of the ‘Rainbow Nation’. I always argued that we are not a Rainbow Nation, but rather a bowl of salad.
In a bowl of salad all the ingredients retain their identity (or should I say taste) and yet it remains one bowl. The salad would not be a delectable salad without the inclusion of each of the ingredients to tickle one’s palate. This is the multi-culturalism in which I and my Party believe in.
But these National Day’s which we are all supposed to observe as one Nation sadly demonstrate, as was the case in Vryheid, that we are far from being the Rainbow Nation. Over the last sixteen years, I have yet to see a National Day event attendance which truly reflects the face of the South African nation.
In Vryheid there were hardly ten white people! There were a couple of Indians and some employees of government departments and service providers. This is tragic because whilst we delude ourselves into thinking that we are all reconciled as desperate cultural groups which comprise one nation, we are far from that. This has nothing of course to do with President Zuma. It has been the case since the dawn of our fledgling democracy.
Our nation is great, and our strength lies in the richness of our cultural diversity. The social engineering of apartheid was predicting on the notion that our diversity was a disaster. They concluded that we could not live peacefully together as one strong multi-cultural nation. Then, they tried to fragment us by trying to balkanise the country.
In Vryheid at the Women’s Day function, it was depressingly conspicuous that our Rainbow Nation is still an unrealised dream.
Unless we do something to show that we are one, we shall continue to have huge problems in relating to one another as diverse members of one nation. I do admit, of course, that while affirmative action was well-intentioned, it has alienated many in the minority groups. Many feel they are not accepted as members of the same South African family.
I am on record for saying that we need to re-look at how we implement this policy. And if its implementation is causing other communities of our nation to be aggrieved, then we really do need to revisit it.
This applies also to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy, too. I was encouraged when the Deputy President Mr Kgalema Motlante, when he was still secretary-general of the ruling- party, expressed similar sentiments.
There were also other unfortunate incidents at the Women’s National Day in Vryheid which I would also like to mention. The President in his state of the nation address made comments which, as I said earlier, the opposition parties interpreted as him reaching out to them in the spirit of multi-party democracy. Something which took place in Vryheid was a clear indication that this was not the case.
We are still far from being a multi-party democracy.
I attended the function after receiving a joint invitation from the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya and the Premier of KwaZulu-Nata,l Dr Zweli Mkhize.
There have been complaints for years from members of opposition parties about the fact that these National Days have been abused by the ruling-party by turning them into ANC rallies. After receiving the invitation, I contacted some of our leaders in the Abaqulusi Municipality. Some of our members expressed a reluctance to attend for the reason that these so-called National Day functions had essentially become ANC rallies. I, however, indicated that I was attending the function.
On arrival, I found the Mayor of the Zululand District Municipality Mrs Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi already at the function. She is also the National Chairperson of the IFP. She was quite livid! She was angered that the ANC Women’s League Chairperson Mrs Angie Motshekga and members of the ANC Women’s League were all wearing the ANC Women’s League uniform.
Mrs KaMagwaza-Msibi said that IFP members were told not to wear any party uniforms. So although the Chairperson of the IFP Women’s Brigade Mrs Thembi Nzuza had a slot in the programme to deliver a message, for the sake of appearances, the attendance of so many hundreds of members of the ANC Women’s League dressed in their uniform belied the picture of it being a national government function.
To make things worse, the ANC women did not end up just wearing their uniforms, they started chanting ANC slogans and singing ANC songs, too.
As if this was not bad enough, they started to sing derogatory songs about the IFP during the function.
In a recent online letter, in which I responded to President Zuma’s repeated call for the IFP to merge with the ANC and "to return home", I cautioned that President Zuma was ignoring the extent to which the IFP has been at the receiving end of ANC hostility, denigration and violence for decades. First and foremost, I said, we just need to reconcile and normalise relations between the two political organisation’s.
The events Vryheid should have indicated to President Zuma how unrealistic his hopes are that we can be reconciled while the relations between our members are still as ugly and febrile as we saw on Sunday. One notes that this very week we have had by-elections triggered by political assassinations that have taken place between our members in the Umvoti Municipality. I hope that this will inspire President Zuma to flex his muscles in an effort to achieve reconciliation since these events do not augur well for the future well-being of this nation. I also acknowledge that it takes ‘two to tango’.
Mind you, also present at the function was a figure no less than the leader of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize. These matters were brought to his attention by Mrs KaMagwaza-Msibi but to not avail.
Nor was Dr Mkhize alone. There were at least five national ministers and a deputy minister present at the function. Their presence and the presence of President Zuma did not make the slightest iota of difference to the provocative behaviour of members of the ANC.
Finally, when one watched television coverage on Sunday evening of the provincial functions, the pattern was the same. There were no Whites and Indians and only a few coloureds in some provinces. At all these functions the members of Women’s League of the ANC wore their uniforms and sang ANC songs and chanted ANC slogans in scenes redolent of the old Soviet Union.
We still have a very long way to go. If President Zuma’s presidency can make a difference, history will remember him as one of the great Presidents. I wish him well, but I am not optimistic because, as I alluded earlier, the ruling-party resembles a tottering Tower of Babel too much. They are often described in the media as a ‘broad church’.
I am afraid this church choir might be huge, but there is precious little in the way of harmony or unison.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP