It is no secret that the main rivals for the ANC presidency have — for a while now — been grooming and breeding vicious bulldogs. How else can one describe the behaviour of both Mbeki and Zuma’s lieutenants in attacking each other in the ongoing mudslinging showdown in the ruling party?
Like ruthless animals they have been trying to break free from the hold of their handlers for months now, only occasionally being released to maul those seen to be throwing mud at their masters.
The ground is now fertile for the unleashing of the bulldogs and they are known to bite with devastating effect.
The so-called ANC culture that discourages open campaigning and political ambition as careerism has, in fact, given rise to the influence of the bulldogs.
The end of speculation about the power and influence of each of the nine ANC provinces, brought about by the finalisation of the membership audit process and the proportionate allocation of delegates to the provinces, has cleared the stage for a new round in the ANC succession race — the round of the bulldogs.
They will viciously swing the vote one way or the other and it could be a messy affair.
If the reported balance of forces at provinces is anything to go by, the race for the ANC presidency is set for a photo finish.
It is clear that the Eastern Cape remains the mother of all provinces and KwaZulu-Natal is hot on its heels. The rest of the provinces are more likely to align themselves along the clearly defined proposals of these powerhouses.
It’s going for a draw, unless comrades explore the third way.
History has proven that if none of the main contenders backs down and the third way (the Cyril Ramaphosa/Kgalema Motlanthe way) is not properly canvassed, then victory will be obtained in the bloodiest manner possible — by the way of the bulldogs.
Previously, party elders laboured to keep the dogfight within the confines of the family traditions and the squabbling siblings could be called to order. The family would then come to some sort of agreement about who would run our lives for another term and the citizenry would give a nod to this behind-closed-door deal. That has changed.
The elders no longer wield such power. Nelson Mandela, the political sage still in our midst, is said to have compromised himself when he supported Mbeki’s decision to fire Zuma. Mbeki’s speech read before Parliament on the occasion of the public sacking of the once-docile Zuma made it clear that the president’s decision relied more on the power given to Mbeki by the presidential prerogative rule and less on the circumstances and the findings of the courts in the Schabir Shaik trial.
While mindful of the fact that a higher court could have nullified the Justice Hillary Squires judgement and set Shaik free, Mbeki was convinced Zuma was no longer adding value to his Cabinet.
Mbeki said: “I am fully conscious of the fact that the accused in the Schabir Shaik case have given notice of their intention to lodge an appeal. I am equally aware that a superior court may overturn the judgement handed down by Justice Squires.
“However, as president of the republic I have come to the conclusion that the circumstances dictate that in the interest of the honourable deputy president, the government, our young democratic system and our country, it would be best to release the honourable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as deputy president of the republic and member of the Cabinet.”
Zuma’s supporters say there was then no need for Mandela, who had promised not to rule from the political grave, to rubber-stamp publicly this government decision. Yet he did. There are even urban legends circulating about who penned the speech.
So, this and other development, have brought us to this juncture where we are now about to witness the war of the bulldogs.
The bulldog strategy is one that appears to have been devised by Mbeki himself ahead of his tussle with slain ANC stalwart Chris Hani for the position of party deputy president.
Then, Hani had his own bulldogs — including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, at the time a powerful kingmaker. Hani’s death catapulted Cyril Ramaphosa to centre stage to face Mbeki for the fight for Mandela’s deputy and successor.
Bulldogs played a major role in dismantling the Ramaphosa camp and the Mbeki-ites triumphed in Mafikeng and sent the message loud and clear to would-be Mbeki detractors.
With Madikizela-Mandela, Mbeki’s “friend of more than 30 years” Jacob Zuma, the late ANC Youth League and firebrand Peter Mokaba, the late KwaZulu-Natal MEC and ANC ideologue scholar Dumisani Makhaye, the late Steve Tshwete, and former Transkei leader Bantu Holomisa, Mbeki commanded a vicious pack indeed.
The tables have been turned. Most of the vicious Mbeki bulldogs have either departed or consolidated to implode the Mbeki camp from within.
Madikizela-Mandela, having been dealt with by the Mbeki-ites following her challenge on Mbeki ally Jacob Zuma for the deputy presidency in 1997, is now betting for anyone else (Zuma or Sexwale) but Mbeki. The position had been reserved for Zuma for his good work in KwaZulu-Natal, which included diluting Harry Gwala’s hold on the ANC in that province.
Zuma is now using the Mbeki strategy of breeding bulldogs — his are more like yuppies than bulldogs, however. He is set to go head to head with Mbeki in the political showdown in Limpopo.
Other behind-the-scenes operators such as former intelligence boss Billy Masetlha and former SANDF commander General Siphiwe Nyanda have been pushed off the Mbeki ship and have thrown their lot with Zuma. The ANC underground security structures seem to be betting for the Zuma camp.
Zuma’s yuppies in the ANCYL and the YCL are young in the game, but their bite can have a devastating effect. They have already threatened to beat the Mbeki dogs so hard that their handlers come out in their defence.
They criticised Mbeki when he clobbered and denunciated Archbishop Desmond Tutu, almost branding him a liar for criticising the Mbeki era of being dominated by yes-men and -women and a stifling of internal debate in the ANC.
The Zuma camp, however, felt it was good and well to unleash Zuma’s friend Elias Khumalo on the archbishop, saying the archbishop suffered from selective amnesia when he called for Zuma to cop out of the race for the love of the country.
Tony Leon recently had a bite from former ANCYL KwaZulu-Natal leader Sifiso Sonjica, a growing puppy in the Zuma camp, who was pulled from political obscurity and set loose on the DA leader for his attack on Zuma and his supporters.
Mbeki’s brother Moeletsi also got a mauling from this new breed when he warned international investors were concerned about the effects of Zuma’s public behaviour, the behaviour of his fans and the effects of a possible Zuma presidency.
ANC heavyweight Mathews Phosa (I am told he is making a political comeback) has lashed out at the elite crime-busting unit, the Scorpions, for its cowboy-style probes on ANC leaders and other controversies that are now threatening to bring the DSO to its Waterloo.
The Friends of Jacob Zuma website is also replete with puppies and yuppies spewing bile in Mbeki’s direction on a daily basis.
Some of these misguided yuppies are, however, shooting the Zuma campaign in the foot by lobbying insults at the president and entrenching the incorrect belief that the Zuma camp is a den of angry Zulu traditionalists.
More barking and biting is still to come from this lot and the Mbeki-ites are indeed in the firing line. It is also not clear whether Zuma has learned enough from Mbeki during his apprenticeship and mustered this strategy well enough to beat Mbeki at his game.
Indications so far are that some bulldog-like attacks from this camp have not been well coordinated and have resulted in a number of own goals.
Part two brings you the Mbeki bulldogs.