Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
15 May 2007

ANC democracy and Tokyo rising

Anybody watching Tokyo Sexwale in conversation with Stephen Sackur on the BBC News’ HardTalk programme yesterday could not but have concluded that Mr Sexwale has declared his candidacy for the Presidency of the ANC.

In some respects, Mr Sexwale’s performance was brilliant – especially if contrasted and compared with the testy, brittle, and sometimes gaff-prone performances of our current President. Mr. Sexwale might not have won over Zwelenzima Vavi or Fikile Mbalula, but he was charming, warm and charismatic while also making a relative amount of sense – for a politician at least.

But when asked about his Presidential ambitions, Mr. Sexwale was forced to give the most tortured and unbelievable answers. He looked like Bill Clinton talking about not having sexual relations with that woman. Because the ANC still follows the now bizarre and dangerous rules around the selection of its leaders devised in exile, no one is supposed to want to become leader of the organisations.

Like Jesus or Moses, in the ANC leaders emerge through osmosis from the masses of our people to lead. All the ANC branches somehow independently from one another decide to anoint one candidate, but how they know which candidate, no one can tell us. Of course this “mystical process” is nothing other than backroom fixing by the party leaders – something that was necessary in exile for security reasons.

As Karima Brown points out in today’s Business Day, the ANC’s process for the election of leaders is part of its Stalinist political culture.

Happy to use Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s pollsters and election gurus, as well as their cosy relationships with business, Mbeki’s ANC has said “thanks, but no thanks” to their political culture of open debate and transparent leadership races. Instead, SA’s ruling party sticks to — and even entrenches — modes of operation more in tune with the communist party of the Soviet Union before the era of Gorbachev.

I have argued before here and here that South Africa desperately needs legislation that would provide the framework for and would require internal party democracy. In our system where we elect the National Assembly members through a system of pure proportional representation and party discipline is very strong, party democracy is essential to ensure that leaders do not acquire dictatorial powers.

I think many of the present internal problems of the ANC stems from the fact that there is no real internal democracy in the ANC. The highly centralised system around a relatively unpopular leader breeds resentment and frustration. A law that requires every party who receives money from the state to meet at least some minimum standards of internal party democracy would go a long way to cure this terminal defect. Such a law could also address requirements for open and transparent party funding.

Strangely enough the main opposition party, the DA, also seems to oppose such a move on the ground that an ANC Parliament would make a law that would harm the DA. To me this seems to reflect a paranoia that is usually only displayed by a Cabinet Minister attacked in the media or by the average Jacob Zuma supporter.

Maybe the real reason for the DA’s opposition to such a party law is that such a law would also require openness and transparency when it comes to the finances of the party. Strangely enough, this idea horrifies both the major political parties. We know what the ANC has to hide, but what is the DA hiding?

If it is really true that an electorate gets the political parties it deserves, then we South Africans do not deserve much at the moment. Maybe Tokyo would rise and save all us middle class champagne socialists from our political purgatory. Then again, maybe not.

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