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
2 January 2009

The new year will test our democracy

I was happy to note that Mr Jacob Zuma earlier this week recommitted the ANC to upholding the Constitution and the values enshrined in it. But words are empty unless they are followed by deeds. So lets hope in 2009 Mr Zuma and the ANC leadership in general practice what they preach.

I have always thought the DA’s whining about the ANC getting a two-thirds majority and changing the Constitution was nothing more than a bit of race-based fear-mongering. After all, for the first 13 years of our democracy the ANC respected the independence of the judiciary and always complied with court orders in the end, while they did not make any major changes to the Constitution – even with their two-thirds majority.

But in 2008, with a very serious corruption case hanging over the head of its President, the ANC leaders completely lost the plot. Secretary General Gwede Mantashe called the Constitutional Court judges counter-revolutionaries and talk was rife of a “political solution” for the corruption case against Zuma. And then caretaker President Kgalema Motlanthe fired the National Director of Public Prosecutions, possibly opening the door for a kind of a “political solution” to Zuma’s trial.

In 2008 I thus for the first time became worried that the ANC would use its two-thirds majority to completely undermine the Constitution and the independent institutions created by it, for short term political gain to get Mr Umshini Wami in the Union Buildings.

A first test for the ANC in 2009 will be the appointment of a new National Director of Public Prosecutions. If President Motlanthe appoints an ANC lackey who miraculously decides not to proceed with the corruption case against Zuma, we will know we are in for a rough ride from the party who claims to have fought for and delivered to us our wonderful Constitution.

With COPE emerging as at least a marginal threat to the ANC’s electoral dominance, it will also be important to see how the ANC leadership deals with political intollerance among its ranks. If it issues bland statements of condemnation without taking action againts its members who intimidate others and disrupt the political activities of COPE, then we know the ANC is giving tacit support to the thugs in its ranks – much like the National Party gave tacit support to the extra legal actions of the security forces during the apartheid regime.

It is so easy to make the right kind of statements, but it is the actions of the leadership that will speak much louder that the bland statements issues by that snake oil salesman, Carl Neihaus (he studied to be a dominee in the Dutch Reformed Church after all, so I am not trusting much of what he says).

So, maybe at the beginning of 2010 we would look back at 2009 as the year in which our democracy matured. Either that, or we will be on a rollercoaster ride with an out of control ANC who believes it has a divine right to rule until Jesus comes (and that ain’t gonna happen – ever). If I was a religious person I would pray to God to give the ANC leadership some wisdom and dollops of humility. Without that we are going to have quite a difficult year.

Happy New Year everyone!

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