Ramaphosa is in a position of strength, but his failure to act emboldens Magashule's malcontents
This week's 26th anniversary of the assassination of Chris Hani brings to mind the critical role played by Nelson Mandela at the time to defuse a situation that could have easily descended into a bloodbath, derailing a peaceful transition from apartheid.
Hani, who had attained iconic status among the youth as a fearless freedom fighter, was gunned down in the driveway of his Boksburg home at Easter in 1993 by Janusz Walus, a Polish immigrant. Walus had plotted the murder with Clive Derby-Lewis, a senior member of the Conservative Party. Hani's murder threatened to plunge the country into a race war, which was the plotters' intention. Bands of youths went on the rampage around the country threatening revenge.
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With tension gripping SA, Mandela went on national television to appeal for calm, pointing out that it was a white woman "of Afrikaner origin" who had risked her life by providing the information that led to the arrest of the suspects. These evil men, he said, should not be allowed to destroy what Hani had given his life for. It was a master stroke. Relative calm returned.Three years earlier, hardly a month after his release from prison, Mandela had ventured into the cauldron that was KwaZulu-Natal, where hundreds had died and thousands had been displaced in a bloody civil war between ANC and IFP supporters. Amid groans of disapproval, Mandela urged his supporters to "take your guns, your knives and your pangas and throw them into the sea". It was a shock to supporters who had expected sympathy from the hero they were seeing for the first time. Some of them may even have expected him to launch them into battle. The appeal didn't stop the violence, but his message was unambiguous.
His attempt to meet IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi was met with fierce resistance from the likes of Harry Gwala. But as the late sociologist Fatima Meer, a Mandela biographer, pointed out at the time: why would Mandela have difficulty meeting Buthelezi when he was holding regular talks with then president FW de Klerk?
Then again, it was probably more prudent to talk directly to Pretoria. The IFP was merely a proxy for the apartheid state.
Mandela's courage is in stark contrast to the apparent cowardice of today's ANC. During this hectic election campaign, not once have politicians scolded their supporters about the mayhem they're causing during demonstrations. Their supporters are saints, while the other side's are devil worshippers.
The astonishing - and depressing - thing about the serious allegations surrounding Ace Magashule is that no one in the ANC seems even to be mildly suggesting that he should perhaps step aside from his position as the organisation's secretary-general until these issues have been investigated and he's been cleared of wrongdoing. Nobody is even broaching the subject. Magashule, meanwhile, ploughs on regardless.
For a party campaigning on an anticorruption ticket, this is pretty extraordinary. It's testament to its arrogant belief in its own invincibility. Or has Magashule become the ANC's Mr Untouchable? The Samson who, if tangled with, will bring the whole house down? Ramaphosa apparently in one meeting mumbled something about the need for Magashule to not involve the organisation in his corruption. It didn't seem to occur to him that what he was asking of Magashule was an impossibility. The man can't separate himself from himself, or from his scandals.
Ramaphosa's perceived weakness only helps to enhance Magashule's stature, and emboldens his growing army of malcontents. They were out burning books this week, a chilling reminder that fascism may be lurking around the corner. In their estimation, I suppose, burning books is no different from burning tyres. But a tyre also has the horrifying symbolism of the "necklace" killing that was visited on those suspected of being apartheid spies. Which was probably the message Tony Yengeni, the celebrated fraudster who sits on the ANC national executive committee, was trying to send Herman Mashaba when he tweeted a picture of a few nicely polished tyres. The book burners are not a fringe element.
The very idea of burning a book hits at the gut, at our very soul. It's akin to the incineration of the constitution. It is counter to the spirit or promise of what SA should be. Such intolerance bodes ill for the future.It is such criminality and lawlessness that has some people arguing for more support for the ANC in the elections in order to strengthen Ramaphosa's hand. But Ramaphosa has more leverage now than he will have after the elections because the party knows it stands a better chance of winning decisively with him at the helm.Some of them may not like him, but they know he's their trump card. He should therefore have thrown down the gauntlet, and called the likes of Magashule to order. After the elections, with a thumping victory in the bag, his opponents - all happily ensconced in parliament thanks to his popularity - will have five years to make mischief or even try to get rid of him.Ramaphosa's supporters like to say their man plays the long game. But what if he's not there at the end of the game?De Klerk destroyed his party to save the country. It's now Ramaphosa's turn. Will he instead run the risk of destroying the country in a vain attempt to preserve a party that is only tenuously glued together by the perks of power?