Publication: Business Day
Reporter: Karima Brown
Only Special ANC Indaba Will End Politics of Smear
Events in the week since the acquittal of Jacob Zuma on rape charges prove
one thing, if nothing else: the leadership of the African National Congress
(ANC) must convene a special national conference and place the issue of the
succession before the ordinary members of the organisation.
They, the leaders, clearly cannot resolve it themselves.
The Durban High Court will probably not resolve it either, just as the
Johannesburg High Court could not. In fact, courts sitting to decide criminal
matters should never be looked to to provide political guidance to either the
ANC or the nation. That is the job of our elected leaders. And with every
passing day they fail spectacularly.
There was never any question about the fact that the
succession race was going to be a dirty and ugly one. But the battle to
succeed President Thabo Mbeki next year sank to a new low at the weekend when
The Citizen newspaper published excerpts from the suicide
letter written by Kate Mantsho, the late wife of ANC deputy president
While Zuma is "no angel", as he said last week, and is therefore fair game for
the machinations of his opponents, the same cannot be said of his dead wife. The
leaking of the letter was a shameful blow to our body politic, not just to Zuma.
It is also worth noting that the leaking of the document to The Citizen was
especially unfortunate considering the newspaper's own history a history that
gives undeserved credence to charges by Zuma and his supporters that some in the
media are engaged in a conspiracy against him.
At the time the letter was written, Zuma was deputy president of SA.
For six years, the letter never saw the light of day.
The highest offices and most powerful institutions of state protected the
"secret" of Kate Mantsho's "24 years of hell with
JZ". Now that Zuma is out of favour and the number one foe of those who
currently occupy the Union Buildings, it is no longer
desirable for the letter to stay buried. These coincidences make it hard
to counter those who peddle conspiracy as an explanation for Zuma's troubles.
The leaking of the letter seems calculated to underscore the public perception
that Zuma is nothing but a backward misogynist who is incapable of treating
women with respect. Coming on the back of a rape charge where the former accuser
and gender activists insist that the not-guilty verdict was "wrong", Zuma is so
personally compromised he cannot be fit for public office of any kind.
This is a view held by many, some of them very powerful individuals in the ANC.
But it does not appear to be a view held by every ANC member. This can be judged
by the hasty and relatively effortless reinstatement that Zuma won at the
Following the national executive's predictable decision to reintegrate Zuma
unconditionally, his opponents will grow more desperate.
In response, his supporters will go the same route.
We are in for a bumpy ride.
As a tactic, the leaking of damaging personal information about one's
opponents is nothing new. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's letter to Zuma a few years
ago, exhorting him to intervene in a dispute between her and Mbeki, made mention
of indiscreet meetings between the president and
women other than the first lady. This letter found its way into the media, at
great personal embarrassment to the president, the women mentioned and their own
spouses. Madikizela- Mandela's own indiscretions have periodically surfaced in
the media too.
In general, newspapers have been admirably careful about the role they play in
this type of information finding its way into the public domain. There was
widespread condemnation, from within the media itself, when veteran journalist
Max du Preez publicly labelled Mbeki a "womaniser".
This week, however, reaction to The Citizen's foray into the darkest recesses of
the Zuma family's history has been somewhat muted. After all, the subtext of
this silence suggests, Zuma is a condemned man. When he is the target, anything
Many of those who see themselves as potential successors to Mbeki, or even after
him, will be wondering if they too will be subjected to the kind of personal
scrutiny Zuma has been since he was foolish enough to announce his desire to
take over from Mbeki.
More importantly, the political culture of the ANC, which over the years has
been growing less democratic and open, will suffer
a further setback by a resort to the politics of smear and scandal. Personal
vilification of opponents is yet another form of silencing, a powerful weapon
in the hands of tyrants who do not wish to engage
with those who disagree with them.
The final arbiters in the ANC's war must not be the leadership, almost all of
whom are involved in the spat. It will not be the media, nor analysts, nor
opinion pollsters. It must come down to the membership of the ANC. Which is why
both Mbeki and Zuma must lend their support to a call for a special national
Brown is political editor.
With acknowledgements to
Karima Brown and Business Day.