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 Flag waving won’t fix the widening cracks

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PosOnderwerp: Flag waving won’t fix the widening cracks   Sun Jun 13, 2010 10:34 pm

RICHARD CALLAND: CONTRETEMPS - Jun 13 2010 16:16

Football has made us all touchy-feely for now -- but there’s no real unity

While the World Cup does its level best to enjoin a sense of national unity, at least among the middle classes, enlisting thousands of Bulls fans into the process by making them travel to Soweto -- an unintended but thoroughly useful consequence of Fifa's requirements -- the ANC-led alliance devotes itself to disunity and disharmony.

And, with a president who is pre-occupied with affairs of state (some of the time) and affairs of his family (surprisingly often), the ANC's centre is simply not holding. Is this in any way surprising?

Not only is the alliance an improbable hybrid of competing political traditions, drawn from an implausible array of ideological sources, it lacks strong leadership.

That the organisation has collected such an eclectic band of waifs and strays, migrants from parties as diverse as the old National Party, the Pan Africanist Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party, who sit alongside ardent socialists, is part of the ANC's strength and its appeal, some would argue. But it assumes a leadership that is capable of holding it all together.

Thabo Mbeki's was a strategy of accumulation from the centre, but within that strategy, and his apparent disregard and disrespect for the trade unionists on the left, there lay the seeds of the current disarray. But at least he had the political wherewithal to somehow pull the strands together, demanding respect, commanding the centre ground, in contrast to Jacob Zuma. One ANC insider, a former senior government official, observed recently that he had never seen an ANC "so isolated".

Would Mbeki or his predecessors have tolerated the verbal hostilities of the recent past, provoked by Julius Malema's cringe-worthy outbursts and culminating in his humiliating disciplinary proceedings?

Like the Capulets seeking revenge against the house of Montague, this triggers further political bloodshed and results in calls for the tit-for-tat disciplining of conscientious disciples of the project of transformative constitutionalism such as Jeremy Cronin and Zwelinzima Vavi. In turn, Vavi is threatened with legal action for having the temerity to accuse the leaders of the conservative project of grand accumulation of corruption.

Would Mbeki or his predecessors even have allowed the organisation to get to such a point? I doubt it. But those were different times; the organisation -- the alliance -- is a very different creature and the context is very different; the balance of forces has shifted. The common enemy -- apartheid -- is vanquished, but there is little agreement about how best to heal the scars of inequality and injustice.


And so, finally, the "battle for the soul of the ANC" inevitably begins to reach its climax. William Gumede was hopelessly premature; the "right" did not defeat the "left" in the 1990s. The switch from the Reconstruction and Development Programme to the growth, employment and redistribution strategy was a significant strategic adjustment of policy, but it did not create the toxic conservative wing of the ANC that now deserves our full attention.

As I have argued here before, business is now waking up to the fact that its preoccupation with the "left" was misplaced; the real dangers come from the "right". Among others, Business Day cutely refers to this wing as the "nationalists", but I am not sure this label does justice to the deep conservatism that defines its interests, because it is less about race than class interests.

It is conservative in the sense that it is anti-transformation or, at least, anti transformation of the sort that the Constitution envisages, based on human dignity and equality as well as freedom, or that of the progressive wing of the ANC.

Theirs, instead, is an agenda of greedy personal enrichment, concerned with transferring resources of the state and the private sector to a ruthless few. They are uncaring of the plight of the poor, arrogantly dismissive of inequality and contemptuous of the democratic institutions that seek to protect the vulnerable by insisting on accountability of the powerful. Lastly, the agenda is dressed up in the language of popular politics (à la Malema).

This game will run now, I believe, until it is fully resolved. There can be no easy compromises, because to procrastinate or to make concessions to the nationalist/conservative right would be to endanger us all and to consign the Constitution to the dustbin. There will simply be too much collateral damage. A new fascism would rule the land.

So, when the little Swiss man and his entourage of Fifa fixers, lawyers and spin doctors take off on July 12, what will South Africa be left with? A hangover, an economy that is doing better than many but which remains deeply structurally flawed and therefore vulnerable to external shifts, and some shiny new airports, buses and roads. But also with a precarious social contract and a ruling party that will resume the process of tearing itself apart, topped by a lame-duck president.

It will be a tough period. The road to the ANC's national general council in September will be messy. The equivalent event, in Pretoria in July 2007, was the beginning of the end for Mbeki; the road beyond, to its 2012 conference, will be bloodier still.

At its best, sport can offer both vivid inspiration and all-consuming escapism. Thus, the World Cup may serve to remind South Africans of how much has been achieved since the days of sporting boycott and crisis in the 1980s and, in so doing, engender a new national sense of purpose and pride. Or it may merely mask the cracks for a short time, obscuring the real fault lines and encouraging those who wish to loot the state to continue to do so, with a dangerous sense of impunity.
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