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That the administration of Jacob Zuma has had flaws is no longer in dispute. But – having masterminded his accidental elevation to power – the last people to preach to Msholozi about values and principles should be Thabo Mbeki and Cheryl Carolus, writes Khaya Sithole.

The Winnie Fix And Accidental Elevations

Having essentially dispatched Bantu Holomisa and Sifiso Nkabinde from the ANC, Nelson Mandela’s government still had one burning issue – the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela outbursts. As the party meandered towards the 1997 Conference, Winn Madikizela-Mandela remained far more popular than the ANC desired. As the leader of the Women’s League, she retained a strong support base in the party. Her other key ally, was Peter Mokaba who commanded the ANC Youth League at that stage.

Mandela had already stated that he had no desire of running for the Presidency in 1997 and essentially, Mbeki’s coronation was complete long before the conference started – without a single vote being cast. But the conference remained key in the history of the ANC – specifically its second day. Because of all of Mbeki and Carolus’ political crimes, the public humiliation of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela must reign supreme in their consciences.

It was carefully planned; viciously executed and dramatically staged. In the planning, there was a need to isolate Winnie from the party and her core supporters. So long before the Conference, Mandela advised various constituencies against nominating Winnie. Having won a landslide in the Women’s League elections; it was inconceivable that Winnie would fail to get a nomination from the branches – and yet it happened.

Read more: The reluctant secretariat – between 1994 and 1997

And then, in the submissions to the TRC, the ANC had an interesting strategy. Essentially, one blanket submission was made on behalf of the party to solicit amnesty. Madikizela-Mandela however, had to make her submission independently from the rest of the party – because that made it much easier to then use her own submission to the TRC to explain to the branches that she could not run for a senior position in the December conference.

Around this time, Mbeki’s paranoia had reached record levels. Mandela had remained convinced that having another Xhosa leader taking over the ANC after Mbeki would make it a Xhosa party and alienate the Zulu faction. So Mbeki committed to finding a candidate whose primary features had to be simple – don’t be Xhosa and don’t threaten Mbeki.

And Jacob Zuma was regarded as the one who fitted such a profile. So he was earmarked to run as the Deputy President in the December 1997 conference. But this did not stop Madikizela-Mandela from entertaining a campaign of her own. Failing to secure a branch nomination in the run up to the conference was not a disaster, because one could always be nominated from the floor.

And then the conference happened. As the acting Secretary-General of the party, Carolus chaired the session alongside the President-elect Mbeki. But the main agenda item – masterminded by Mbeki of course – was the amendment of the rules of congress. Historically, any nomination from the floor had to be backed by 10% of the delegates in order for it to be voted on. And the first agenda item at the conference was the amendment of the rules so that 10% was no longer the number but 25% would now be required.

Mbeki and Carolus managed to get this amendment passed. And then the nominations were opened – and Winnie failed to pass the new 25% mark. In an attempt to save the situation, Winnie asked for a delay in proceedings so she could consult her constituency – and Mbeki stood up and told her in front of all the delegates that there would be no such thing. Mbeki’s reasoning was simple semantics. Winnie actually said “I want to consult with the structures so that I do not appear divisive.” Mbeki famously answered, “Nominations from the conference floor are from individuals and not from party structures.”

So Winnie could not consult anyone and walked off stage to total humiliation and the only person who offered her support as she walked off was Peter Mokaba of the Youth League. Ironically, another conference in 2015 was conducted under the 25% rule that Mbeki and Carolus had authored. That conference delivered Collen Maine as the ANC Youth League president when Ronald Lamola missed the 25% mark by 2 votes.

As Winnie left the stage, it then turned out that there was now just one name on the ballot for the Deputy Presidency of the ANC. And that is how Mbeki, Mandela and Carolus delivered Jacob Zuma to us – not a single vote was necessary. A week ago, Mbeki advised ANC MPs to vote with their consciences on the matter of no-confidence on the President. It is a wonderful thing to take advice from elders and if I was an ANC MP I would no doubt be open to advice from the elders.

But given his record of crushing dissenting voices at every possible opportunity, it appears that Mbeki has a less-than-credible right to make such recommendations. Mbeki understands the distinction between party structures and individuals today as well as he understood it in 1997. And yet he now he acts as if no such thing exists and the ANC MPs are driven by a conscience. Had such a thing existed in Mbeki’s ANC, surely his AIDS denialism would have been defeated much sooner in the ANC?

It is also quite surprising that Mbeki managed to plot his way to the top of the political tree without ever exposing himself to the democratic process of a vote at a conference. In the 1997 coronation – no one stood up against Mbeki because Mandela had decided Mbeki was the crown prince of the ANC.

In 2002, the first breakout of the Schabir Shaik and Zuma links became public knowledge just before the conference – exactly like the Madikizela-Mandela TRC debacles had become a thing just before the 1997 conference. The only time Mbeki ever subjected himself to the indignity of a popular vote within the ANC was in a place called Pokolwane in 2007. And we all know how that turned out.

Read more: An Arsenal fan, the teacher and the pupil. 

Perhaps Mbeki should write to ANC MPs and explain why democracy within the ANC is suddenly a thing when he owes his entire legacy to the fact that such things could always be ignored in elevating him into power?

And that – I suppose – is essentially the problem we have today. Mbeki is for some bizarre reason, regarded as the legitimate statesman – and yet – his was a path built on the singular platform of abusing democratic processes and destroying all dissenting voices in the ANC. He now holds a level of social legitimacy that makes his legacy sound far more majestic than it really was. This is the social legitimacy that Zuma has lost long ago.

Zuma on the other hand – whether we like it or not – enjoys the electoral legitimacy that was won through the Polokwane ballot – something that remains a source of permanent trauma for Mbeki. This political/electoral legitimacy is of course the issue we need to be confronting rather than who owns it. If we have all decided that the political architecture is problematic because it makes it impossible to remove a sitting president – then that is what we ought to discuss. If we feel that what we want is social legitimacy rather than political legitimacy – then we can go ahead and make heroes out of Thabo Mbeki, Pravin Gordhan and Cheryl Carolus.

What I find particularly problematic is the reduction of one debate to the actions or inactions of one man; when the very political architecture we fought so hard to protect delivered him to us. The fact that politicians are full of shit is not unique to Jacob Zuma; ask Mandela what he did to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Ask Cheryl Carolus how she feels about her actions at the 1997 Conference. Ask Thabo Mbeki what happened to Cyril Ramaphosa, Bantu Holomisa, Sifiso Nkabinde and Winnie. Then we can finally understand that we primarily have a political architecture problem, then an ANC problem, then a problem of politicians masquerading as social activists before we end up with a Zuma problem…

And Arsenal continues with their poor performance; as if the memory of poor Harry Gwala didn’t have enough drama to deal with already.

This is the last part of the series of articles.