A political expert has described 2018 as a year of own goals by the country’s main political parties after each of the top three repeatedly tripped and fell flat on their faces, besmirching their organisations’ images and exposing widespread leadership weaknesses.
The year began in euphoria, born from the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president. The winds of change were blowing, with Ramaphosa’s exciting promise of a new dawn.
The spirit was dampened by Jacob Zuma’s reluctance to vacate the presidency.
The situation was exacerbated by the limited power of the president due to his tiny margin of victory. The almost 50/50 split between two party camps bound Ramaphosa to a stalemate in which crucial party decisions could only be made via a consensus – and that is likely to remain the case until the next ANC elective conference in 2022.
Ramaphosa was left with no option but to negotiate Zuma’s exit strategy.
The ANC’s reputation suffered when it entered into a marriage of convenience by passing an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)-initiated motion on land expropriation without compensation.
Similarly, it cooperated with the EFF to oust Nelson Mandela Bay’s Democratic Alliance (DA) mayor Athol Trollip.
Indications were that beyond the 2019 election, the ANC and EFF would form a coalition to get a two-thirds majority and change the constitution at will. This is seen as dangerous by the DA’s leader, Mmusi Maimane.
In another shocking turn, top ANC officials in Limpopo were implicated in the VBS Bank scandal. The party had to fire seven mayors and other party officials for their alleged role in the looting.
This was followed by Ramaphosa confessing that his son had a contract with and was paid R500 000 by a government service provider, Bosasa, also known as African Global Group.
The company also allegedly funded Ramaphosa’s campaign in the run-up to the Nasrec ANC conference, prompting the president to promise to pay back the money.
New ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was accused of undermining Ramaphosa’s efforts to unite the party. He held a secret meeting in Durban and also allegedly told supporters that the Zuma faction would be back in power in five years.
The party’s Gauteng provincial branch was then forced to withdraw disgraced former health executive committee member (MEC) Qedani Mahlangu and discredited former chief whip in the Gauteng legislature, Brian Hlongwa, from the election to chose its provincial executive committee (PEC). Mahlangu had been accused of being a key roleplayer in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, while Hlongwa had been implicated in a R1.2-billion bribery scandal.
Then the Zondo commission on state capture heard the ANC allegedly abetted state capture after it summoned commercial banks to Luthuli House to answer for closing the bank accounts of Gupta-owned companies.
Former ANC secretary-general and now Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe denied any wrongdoing by the party or its leaders at the inquiry.
The DA was also in disarray. At its national congress in April, the party passed a policy aimed at helping it rid itself of its Cape Town metro mayor Patricia de Lille. But the scheme backfired as De Lille fought back legally and won. She later resigned and pledged to establish her own party.
The DA threatened to charge members who leaked party information about a plan for Maimane to stand as Western Cape premier. Senior members, like the Western Cape’s Bonginkosi Madikizela, refused to hand over cellphones and laptops for investigation.
Then the party’s KwaZulu-Natal leadership proposed a rule that those without tertiary qualifications may not hold certain senior positions, leading to the revelation that the party’s national chief whip John Steenhuisen had no degree and would have to stand down. That suggestion was subsequently rejected by the national leadership.
There was further embarrassment when Western Cape premier Helen Zille was accused by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane of being in breach of the executive ethics code. She allegedly facilitated her teacher son to use government tablets to conduct extra maths lessons for disadvantaged matriculants.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga defended her but the ANC called for her to step down. Zille vowed to take the matter on review.
The EFF’s reputation as the country’s corruption buster suffered a setback when its leaders were also implicated in the VBS Bank fiasco.
Both EFF leader Julius Malema and his deputy Floyd Shivambu were unconvincing in denying being beneficiaries after reports claimed they and the party had received cuts via Floyd’s brother, Brian Shivambu.
Party leaders have started a war against journalists they believe wrote negative stories about them, including their role in the VBS heist and the dubious relationship between Malema and Carnilinx director Adriano Mazzotti.
This was preceded earlier in the year by Shivambu assaulting a journalist outside parliament. The politician apologised after receiving negative publicity for disrespecting media freedom.
Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said the fact that the main parties jumped from one scandal to another shows they could not manage their own affairs and none were immune from wrongdoing.
“They could not take advantage of mistakes made by their opponents. It killed their power to criticise, especially on corruption and political infighting.”
Fikeni said the scandals exposed their bad sides and the weaknesses of their leadership.