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By William Saunderson-Meyer

Journalist


RET faction is gaining traction in the ANC

There are a few credible pro-democracy organisations listed in DOD’s launch statement but the overwhelming impression is of desperation and political naivety.


“Defend Our Democracy” has a stirring ring. And an apparently spontaneous gathering of South Africa’s great and good to confront the forces of darkness must surely be welcomed.

Except that last week’s launch of the Defend Our Democracy (DOD) movement is only peripherally related to any threat against democracy and the constitution.

It’s really about the defence of President Cyril Ramaphosa against his foes within the ANC. The unstated aim is to ensure his political survival. The unstated reasoning is that if Ramaphosa is unseated at next year’s leadership convention, the constitution will be an early casualty of the populism of the radical economic transformation (RET) faction.

In fragile democracies, such as ours, it’s not general elections but party elections. With no existential threat from the opposition, it’s about controlling the machinery that dispenses patronage and decides succession.

Despite three years of Ramaphosa’s soft-shoe shuffling and building “social compacts” with factions, forces are still evenly matched. Arguably, the RET faction is gaining traction.

Last week, the ANC instructed its MPs to vote for a parliamentary inquiry that may see the departure of the RET’s favourite public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Although there was a three-line whip – meaning only the dead, dying or jailed are excused – 60 of the party’s 230 MPs defied the instruction.

That’s an act of political suicide in a party that demands total obedience. Inexplicable, unless they believe that a change of leadership is coming.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, asked about repercussions, shot back: “What repercussions, when they’ve done the right thing?”

The ANC since announced that all 60 ANC MPs had valid excuses for being missing. Magashule’s increasingly brazen and defiant championing of the RET faction is an indication of that group’s growing confidence.

For months he has defied calls to follow party instructions that those criminally charged should stand down. Magashule has also supported Zuma’s nose-thumbing at a Constitutional Court judgment to appear before the state capture inquiry.

His sidekick, deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, in a recent article suggested the constitution itself is counter-revolutionary. This belief in the primacy of the ANC is a significant aspect of the ANC’s DNA.

If DOD wants to defend democracy, it needs to take on the ANC itself, not just the RET part of it. As it stands now, DOD is a cobbled together alliance to give external respectability to an internal battle.

Although DOD includes a veneer of prominent academics, legal figures and civil society leaders, most of the initial 300-plus signatories are from within Ramaphosa’s reformist wing of the tripartite alliance.

There are a few credible pro-democracy organisations listed in DOD’s launch statement but the overwhelming impression is of desperation and political naivety.

Among the five dozen organisations that signed up were three branches of Cosatu and the Greater Mayfair Civic Association.

Not the most impressive credentials for the defence of democracy. But better than my favourite DOD signatory organisation – the Teddy Bear Foundation for Abused Children.

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