Conspiracy Theory Politics Debases Legacy of Madiba and OR Tambo

Cape Times (South Africa), October 11, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Conspiracy Theory Politics Debases Legacy of Madiba and OR Tambo


We are living through uneasy and bewildering political times. Our political culture seems fraught with conspiracy, intrigue and, sadly, very little openness or integrity at the moment.

Clearly the leadership race is on within the ANC. Who will our next president be? The citizens of South Africa are in the dark as we watch the political in-fighting seep through to the highest levels of the state. Ironically, it is President Thabo Mbeki, as head of state, who is, if conspiracy theorists are to be believed, so intent on preventing a Jacob Zuma presidency that he will attempt at every turn to consolidate his power and support base within the party.

Who knows whether this is true or not? After all, "the branches will decide" who our next president will be, as the ANC always says. The state of ANC branches, which seem to fluctuate between dysfunction and bloated membership, do not inspire much confidence that the "branches will decide".

The alternative, that a "deal" about the succession is struck behind closed doors or in whisky-filled smoking rooms, is equally unattractive. Realpolitik will naturally determine a solution which is somewhere in between these two scenarios.

The consolidation of the president's power base ahead of 2009 has many repercussions, and we are living through those, it would seem.

The suspension of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, is an ominous sign. Regrettably, the Presidency's PR on the suspension has been so weak citizens again have been left in the dark as to precisely why the president took the step he did.

Saying Pikoli's relationship with the minister of justice had "irretrievably broken down" is not a sound constitutional reason to suspend him. It leaves one with the uncomfortable feeling Pikoli is being "disciplined" for not discussing the procurement of arrest warrants for National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi with the president.

But again, who would know? Is the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) being run out of the Union Buildings or not, is the salient question. From recent media reports, it would seem as if this is the case.

The NPA is core to the rule of law and our constitutional architecture. It cannot be tampered with at will. For all of former Speaker Frene Ginwala's intellect, how this hastily put together inquiry will determine whether Pikoli is "fit for office" is both a fraught exercise and constitutionally delicate.

The relationship between the NPA and the executive is nuanced, and one doubts an inquiry will provide the answer to any of it. It feels suspiciously like a game of politics or again, as the conspiracy theorists say, "a diversion" by Mbeki. Diversion from what or whom, one might ask.

The true problem with conspiracy theory politics is that it has an accumulatively negative impact on our public life, the way in which government operates and the legitimacy of our democratic institutions. And herein lies the danger for South Africa's young democracy. For it creates an environment of mediocrity and an increasing seeping away of accountability in public life.

Creating democratic societies (not simply the shell of a democratic state) requires leadership at all levels, but such leadership undoubtedly starts within government and the person who heads it.

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