ANC December Conference: The worst that could happen

How far are those bent on maintaining a stranglehold on the ANC, willing to go to retain absolute power, asks YONELA DIKO

Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline to his friends) a Roman Senator known for the second Catilinarian conspiracy, an attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic, was a very power hungry man. Having once run against Cicero for the position of consul and lost, he became determined to win the next election by any devious method necessary.

Plan A was to bribe people to vote for him, and when that didn’t work, he decided to go for bust and simply knock Cicero off on election day. This plan was ferreted out by the ever-vigilant Cicero, the election was postponed and the Senate established martial law. When the election finally was held, the murderer-cum-candidate was surprisingly trounced at the polls.

Now it was time for Catiline’s Plan C: raise an army of co-conspirators, create insurrection throughout Italy, overthrow the government, and slice and dice as many Senators as they could get their hands on. But Cicero was again one step ahead and discovered the plan. He called the Senate together for a meeting at the Temple of Jupiter in the Capitol, an orifice only used in times of great crisis. Catiline, who didn’t know when he was not welcome, decided to crash the party. With his archenemy in attendance, Cicero began his Catiline Orations, a series of speeches covering how he saved Rome from rebellion, the guilt of Catiline, and the need to whack he and his cronies.

This is but one example of the difficulties which the republics have faced over time. Since the declaration of Independence by the United States colonies from Great Britain in 1776, there were not too many credible democracies in the world, except maybe Athens. This meant that even when the United States’ first President, George Washington took over, there were many people who wanted him to stay on as President after two terms, partly because he was an exceptional leader but mainly because people were used to having Monarchs and hereditary leaders who led from cradle to the grave. It took Washington himself to tell the country that his time was served and he felt that there were many leaders who were equally if not more capable than he was. He wanted to go back to his farm and rest. At this time the United States Constitution did not have the two-term limit (which is fairly new).

Since then many countries have become credible democracies with growing pains and some have been in and out of democracy due to leaders who refuse to leave the stage after losing elections.

Fortunately for South Africa, we became the last of the countries of the world to receive our democratic dispensation after having witnessed Republics rising and falling on the back of power-hungry leaders who, like Catiline, could not bear being outside power looking in and could not stand being led by other countrymen.

After 23 years of our democracy, South Africa finds itself with Catiline of a special type looking to usurp power even if they must burn the country down to it. We have seen an unprecedented destruction of the Republic and its institutions by those who wish to bend them into self-serving skeletons. Today, and for a generation to come, ascendancy to the ANC throne will still mean ascendancy to the throne of the Republic. What the Catilines of today have been willing to do to ascend to the ANC throne has brought back history with a vengeance.

There has been an unprecedented number of killings for political power, to silence critics, to hide the self-enrichment and looting of the republic. Given the fact that political power must always be contested with each election cycle, there has been a manipulation and elimination of processes and competition in order to ensure that power is retained within one’s base if not oneself.

The ANC constitution and processes have been trampled on and bent and it has taken back to back courts challenges to enforce the very basics of the ANC tenets. One can see that if we were not a constitutional democracy, we would have long gone into a civil war over a bloody power contest.

We have witnessed the misuse of government resources, such as the failed government event in Nelson Mandela Metro which exposed a party and provincial government at cross-purposes with one another, with one arm seeking to use the state machinery to win favour with branches and retain political power and wrestle it away from another group in the same organisation.

The recently reported concerns by the current President of the ANC over the potential collapse of the ANC’s conference in two weeks must be cause for concern on many fronts. Firstly, like Cataline, the collapse of this gathering will be a last resort for anyone who sees himself/herself as likely to lose the conference. We saw this attempt in the Eastern Cape a few weeks ago, where certain leaders came clearly with a resolve to collapse the conference.

This expression of concern by the President is also premature and could be read in many ways. This is a conference of branches and most challenges that have been witnessed are power struggles at provincial level. So, for the President to call on provincial leaders to reign in the branches seems like an attempt to convolute provincial executive committee problems with branch problems. It begs the question: why he would do that?

It is no secret that the President, like Catiline, has a vested interest in the outcomes of this conference which will speak directly to his hold on power and his future. The question has been how far will the President go in order to guarantee his hold on power and his personal safety. Will his minions bribe, will they eliminate competition, will they seek to collapse the conference or in the most extreme but possible sense, will they collapse the Republic just to ensure they remain in control of the state apparatus?

We must be vigilant, we must be on watch.

Diko is a media strategist and consultant

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