Of snakes, politicians and ladders...and why the ANC is yet to grasp democracy
Don Mattera, the veteran struggle poet/writer and raconteur par excellence, has a beautiful analogy — often told with the panache of which only he is the master — to explain or make sense of the current state of affairs.
Our leaders and those who have prospered since the dawn of democracy, he says, are like a man who goes up a ladder and then, on reaching the top, takes up the ladder with him.
Those at the bottom cannot go up, or can only do so with the permission of the man at the top. Our leaders have possession of the ladder.
Such a characterisation often comes to mind when listening to ANC leaders.
Democracy is a messy, unpredictable business. The ANC has yet to get the hang of it or understand its essence.
The leadership always wants to be in charge, to control the outcome. This partly explains our electoral system, where the party hierarchy, not the voting masses, decides who sits in our parliament, or our various city or village councils.
There's too much power given to our politicians, and it has not always been used to the benefit of the masses. They're in charge of the ladder.
But I digress. ANC honchos, having reached the summit, want to control the ascent to power, to all the good things in life.Anybody who aspires to anything suspiciously akin to power is accused of being ambitious.
And "ambition" is a dirty word in the organisation. You have to wait your turn. You have to be deployed. The leadership will decide.
And President Jacob Zuma was at it again this week in his closing remarks at the ANC's policy conference. He devoted a fair amount of time to the presidential contest — a subject the ANC had insisted all week the conference was not about.
Zuma knew that who takes over from him was all the delegates were interested in. This week's shebang was all foreplay, a preamble to the main event in December.
Zuma has two pressing projects for the duration of his term: his permanent job, which is to loot the state; and to work tirelessly for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife, to succeed him.
True to ANC tradition, Zuma believes he is or should be in possession of the ladder and should therefore have a say in who takes over from him.
Dlamini-Zuma is his ticket to a safe and secure retirement, free from harassment or possible prosecution.
Zuma has been ceaseless in promoting his candidate, arguing that the country is ready for a woman president (as if there has been a time when it wasn't); and that it isn't ANC policy for the deputy president to step up to the presidential chair, a sharp elbow into Cyril Ramaphosa's rib cage and a shameless about-turn from the argument he passionately made when seeking to succeed Thabo Mbeki 10 years ago.
But Dlamini-Zuma has not set the house on fire since announcing her candidacy.
She's retiring, a boring and uninspiring speaker. She doesn't seem to have views of her own and has thus gratefully embraced Zuma's race-laced agenda, given to him by Bell Pottinger via the Guptas.
Nothing commends her to the job except that she's been around the block, she's served her time and therefore it must now be her turn.
The gathering this week was useful in sensing the mood of the foot soldiers who will ultimately elect the president. Zuma must have read the tea leaves.
If we go by the stupid argument over whether the economy is dominated by white monopoly capital or simply monopoly capital, Zuma seems to have lost the battle of the slogans. And there seems to have been not much appetite for expropriation of land without compensation either.