Ngcuka the Loser in Political War of Attrition is Zuma Next?
Political parties and political analysts have been falling over each other trying to explain the resignation of national prosecution chief Bulelani Ngcuka.
Almost without exception they have attributed Ngcuka's resignation to pressures from within the African National Congress (ANC).
I have a somewhat different take.
I do not imagine that there is anyone who asked Ngcuka to step down, and make way for someone else, perhaps Ngoako Ramatlhodi. If Ngcuka's enemies prevailed in the end, they did so by a process of attrition.
This is a subtle but qualitatively significant distinction, to the extent that it underlies that Ngcuka was not pushed out, but that he quit.
He quit because of a fairly basic human reaction which is common to almost all of us when we find ourselves in such situations. That reaction is often expressed in the expression: "I don't need this in my life." In Xhosa it is referred to as "ukukhalala".
It may well be that Ngcuka had been planning to leave because he had achieved his goal of building the National Prosecutions Authority into a formidable crime and corruption- busting agency.
However, that cannot be the full explanation for his decision to leave at this particular juncture. The reprimand from Parliament following Lawrence Mushwana's report is the proverbial load that broke the camel's back.
The distinction between Ngcuka being pushed out and quitting is important for yet another set of reasons.
Political pressures are easier to fend off because they are fairly identifiable, and the battle lines are fairly well delineated.
Attrition, on the other hand, is an excruciating psychological gamesmanship that can be quite unbearable to the individual and his family. At that point, personal considerations have a relative autonomy from politics, leading to people giving up on their ideals.
Attrition has been the instrument of the political machine since the invention of political parties. Party bosses can then conveniently defend themselves by saying the person left of his or her own accord.
If a seasoned activist and ANC loyalist like Ngcuka can get to that point of exasperation with his own comrades over corruption, then what of lesser mortals who might have been thinking of joining public life?
From now on it is a rather slippery slope, and the resignation is likely to have a chilling effect on the country's prosecuting agencies.
Whoever comes hereafter is going to think twice before going after corrupt public officials constantly looking over their shoulders to see who has their daggers drawn within the party.
Ngcuka's resignation is a demonstration of why governments often never get what David Halberstam called "the best and the brightest". The reason is not only that the public sector does not pay well enough. It also takes a certain kind of mettle to stay in politics.
In the end the bad guys survive precisely because they are the bad guys, and the good guys leave precisely because they are the good guys. Or as my daughters often say to demonstrate an obvious tautology: "Daaa!".
In a previous column on this matter I used yet another Xhosa expression to predict the endgame.
This is what I said: "What is happening to director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka is quite sad. His investigation of bribery charges against Deputy President Jacob Zuma has left him a lonely figure.
"On the one side he has come under fire from his ANC comrades, by suggesting that the Scorpions might have to fold into the police service, despite the organisation's sterling record in the fight against corruption.
"On the other side he has come under fire from Zuma's allies, who accuse him of being motivated by a political agenda (which) they have not defined."
I then concluded: "The reality is that both Zuma and Ngcuka's fortunes have waned among ANC power brokers. These brokers are probably saying sizawutya efileyo', meaning they will feast on the vanquished, in this case both of them. I suppose this is yet another case of the revolution devouring its own children."
Bulelani Ngcuka has now become the first casualty, and Zuma may well be the next.
Some have gone on to suggest Ngcuka's departure is to make way for a person less personally invested in the matter to prosecute Zuma, and thus give the whole an element of objectivity which the verbal war between Ngcuka and Zuma has clouded.
I don't like conspiracy theories, but I am tempted to fall for this one.
The line of reasoning here is that if Schabir Shaik is found guilty then Zuma is likely to be charged. As legal analyst Shadrack Gutto so elegantly put it: "Where there is a corruptor there is also a corruptee."
The question now is: with Ngcuka having left, is the endgame also nigh for the deputy president, making way for someone else to occupy the deputy presidency?
Mangcu is executive director of the Steve Biko Foundation.
With acknowledgements to Mr. Mangcu and the Business Day.