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The ANC is battling to reconcile reality with the imperative to not tread on the toes of powerful party factions.
This makes for tortuous semantic egg dances.
July saw an orchestrated eruption of violence in which at least 330 people died. But reality, for politicians, is what you describe it to be.
The president initially called it an “insurrection” after much Cabinet pushback – it was maybe a “counterrevolution” but definitely not a “coup attempt” – they settled on “unrest”.
The same desperate search for euphemisms is occurring around the recent events, where 53 former soldiers held for three hours in a barricaded room the minister and deputy minister of defence, a minister in the presidency and 23 other government officials.
The soldiers wanted government to acquiesce to an extensive menu of demands, including R4.2 million for each members of their military association.
The incident was resolved when the elite police Special Task Force, using stun grenades, smashed into the room and rounded up the gang.
In most societies, hostage taking of this kind would be called treason. But in SA the narrative has to be massaged because the ministers and the hostage takers are nominal allies.
Whatever one calls these events, it seems to be working. The presidential task team on military veterans is already promising improved healthcare and pensions, presidential pardons and expungement of criminal records and land for farms and residential settlement.
Of immediate use for those arrested would be the concessions around criminality. Eleven have previous criminal convictions.
The ANC is opening a Pandora’s box. Despite its ideological affinity with Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, it has learnt nothing from history.
The rapid descent of that country into chaos, following land seizures, was hastened by war veterans holding President Robert Mugabe hostage into extract a cash “pension” that crippled the fiscus.
As in Zimbabwe, Ramaphosa’s administration is finding that the further in the past the “struggle”, the more people who claim to have been heroic participants.
The Liberation Struggle War Veterans group that led the hostage-taking says it represent 40 000 veterans.
There is much coyness on how many took up arms against apartheid. The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s O’Malley Archives notes that while about 21 000 people registered as liberation army members in 1994, the actual muster outside SA’s borders was between 9 000 and 12 000.
Even if the benefits bonanza can be restricted to an already inflated figure of 21 000, the law makes no distinction between the liberation forces and SA’s regular army of the time.
The SADF had about 85 000 personnel at amalgamation. They, too, will want goodies bags.
To the Ramaphosa administration, none of this matters. Whether one calls it what it is – treasonous mutiny – or soft soaps it, it is clear that the government is running scared.
It tried to face down the RET forces over Zuma’s arrest and the response was the July insurrection. Ramaphosa folded like soggy cardboard. The RET forces are now pressing their advantage.
Our leader, however, is MIA – missing in action. Or should that be missing, inaction?
He hasn’t even proffered his trademark euphemism: “I am shocked…”