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The Sisulu debate: Hi Mzansi, let’s not get distracted

Lihle Ngcobozi, Wits lecturer and author

Lihle Ngcobozi, Wits lecturer and author

Published Jan 18, 2022


Political contestations and the assertion of individual eligibility in partisan politics is not an abstract occurrence.

Lihle Ngcobozi, Wits lecturer and author

Lihle Ngcobozi

Political contestations and the assertion of individual eligibility in partisan politics is not an abstract occurrence.

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Power, as well its allure and seduction, plays itself out in a myriad of ways across the globe, at least where governance and political expediency are concerned.

From early democracies and governance arrangements, to modern democracies and their systems, proxy ‘wars’ and factional politicking form part and parcel of organisation renewal, ideological shifts, and the shaping of critical philosophies which attempt to find ways of dealing with, and in some instances resolving contemporary challenges, which are often socio-economic in nature.

Further to this, power battles have also been integral to the development of democracies and by implication, political organisations and cultures. To this end, it is not a South African phenomenon for the African National Congress (ANC), and political parties in South Africa in general, to unreservedly lay bare factional politics in the public sphere and political discourse.

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Nor is it peculiar for the general public to find themselves grappling with the hot potato that is battling for the ANC’s power seat.

To the contrary, it would be worrisome for the public to not engage in such discourse, as in many ways, the outcome of such battles implicitly trickle down to how individuals will experience and contest varied components of their citizenship.

It is indeed in the interest of the public to engage in emerging political discourse, not only for the dynamism of their citizenship, but also for the electorate to exercise their voting rights from an informed and insightful standpoint.

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However, we must resist the urge to be consumed and distracted by factional politics with no basis or (which) make little to no substantive contribution to public life in the main. On any given day, a critique of the judiciary would be welcomed.

Access to justice in South Africa is often resource intensive and laborious particularly for those without the means to lay claim to substantive recourse. In spite of this, the judiciary, or rather the courts, have been the intermediary between citizens and the government, especially in instances where there has been a dereliction of duty or care exercised by the state.

Where the state or government officials have failed to uphold constitutional values of dignity, the constitutional right to adequate healthcare and education, as well as a number of socio-economic securities, the courts have intervened to safeguard against otherwise gross human rights violations.

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Unfortunately for Minister Sisulu, the judiciary does not have the scope or reach to execute policy or exercise its powers in a way which delivers on the responsibilities of the executive or legislature. We therefore have to be aware when we, as the public, are being swindled and invariably pulled into a sinister attempt at power grabbing disguised as insightful public debate.

The ANC’s National Elective Conference, alongside its policy conference preceding that, has traditionally been the opportunity for the party, and its structures and branches to make critical decisions and policy positions on the political and socio-economic orientation of the party.

Prior to the advent of democracy, critical mobilisation strategies, the forward charting of an envisioned post-apartheid economy and social compact, as well as the question of leadership and organisational renewal of the party have been the focal point of the conference and its delegates.

The ANC of a democratic South Africa has, to some extent, stuck to this tradition, although with a slight shift in focus. Policy approaches and critical ideological debates have in many ways been subsumed by individualised politics, and this, much like critical governance failures, have been to the detriment to the ANC’s constituent base - those who rely on the ANC to exercise its executive powers to deliver on transformative socio-economic justice, as the government incumbent.

Over the years, we have witnessed the intellectual brain drain of the ANC and its long standing ideological traditions. What we see now, is what we have come to know as the emergence of two ‘camps’- the ‘radical economic transformation’ (RET) as well as the custodians of ‘white monopoly capital’ (WMC) - one being described as the anti-colonial vanguards and the other being dubbed as the neo-liberal foot soldiers.

Both of these characterisations, whether true or random misnomers, have been used not for their philosophical and critical theoretical outlook, instead they have been used as the battleground for willfully perverse politicking.

Given this reality, it should surprise us little that Sisulu, a long-standing member of both the National Executive and Legislature since the dawn of democracy, and a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, would pseudo-announce her candidacy for the ANC’s power seat using this factional template.

Her characterisation of the Judiciary as ‘house negroes’ and by extension colonised Africans who preside over a neo-liberal Constitution and a widely untransformed socio-economic landscape, is poor decolonial rhetoric which is typical of the RET’s misunderstanding of decolonial thought and practice.

The Minister, in her scheming and opportunist utterances, should serve as a reminder of the need for imaginative and critical public discourse which not only intimately understands the workings of contestation, but beyond that, should point us into a direction which does not detract from the critical governance challenges we have inherited not only from a colonial and apartheid past, but also from this post-1994 ANC government which has failed to exercise appropriate fiscal management.

A democratic government which has failed to capacitate its institutions to be able to provide socio-economic justice, and a government which has failed to create mechanisms which insulate critical public entities from political manipulation.

The post-1994 ANC has been characterised by poor governance, clientelism and patronage networks, as well as sophisticated money wars fought mostly within state owned entities (SOEs) and procurement processes, which have been mostly bypassed or manipulated - read the colloquially called Zondo Commission for proof of this assertion.

Further to this, the ANC government has hallowed the efficiencies of governance institutions and has failed to provide the execution of strategies and policies which they have identified as critical to its envisioned developmental state.

What should be occupying public debate and taking up political airtime in South Africa is not the absurd musings of a long serving ANC and senior government official who is intimately linked to governance faux pas, and is now positioning herself as the bastion of decolonial thinking.

Rather, our attention should be redirected to finding new ways to concretely build a South Africa with institutions which function for the betterment of the public, promote strategic thought that prioritizes and encourage public discourse focusing on finding systemic approaches to governance which inspire confidence in the electorate.

Beyond this, our forward looking approaches should be anticipatory in their nature and execution. We must begin to anticipate a time where a new social order is built (with or without the ANC), where the public service is characterised by integrity, fiscal prudence and adequate resource distribution, as well as safeguarding constitutional democracy which still remains the entry point for the population’s claim to citizenship.

So, Mzansi, let’s not get distracted!!!

Ngcobozi is a lecturer in Public Sector Governance Public Policy, and Approaches to Development at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of Mothers of the Nation: Manyano Women in South Africa.

Sunday Independent