Bruce’s List: A guide to informed reads.
Why do people think it was a damp squib? I don’t think it was a damp squib. I think the extended ANC executive meeting in Pretoria which discussed (and ultimately rejected) a proposal to pull President Jacob Zuma out of office last weekend was huge. Confirmation that the party is in disarray is important because once it can’t be hidden, sober people will quickly appreciate that it cannot be fixed without new leadership. That is what leadership is there for. Poor ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe tried, not for the first time, to put the genie back in its bottle yesterday, saying that the Zuma debate was now over and that the party would concentrate on achieving unity. Yeah, right. Not only does Mantashe have no real authority anymore but he has spun himself dry. Unity is the one thing party leadership craves and in the case of the ANC under Jacob Zuma or anyone remotely close to him it is the one thing it cannot have. Zuma, seeing foreign agents and empires and plots everywhere, genuinely seems to believe all his troubles are caused by imperialists and have nothing to do with him. Fortunately it makes it possible to imagine what he must have been like as a young boy. Deny, deny, deny. It is not a strategy. It is not even paranoia. It is just an impulse, perfected in the helpful murk of exile and exposed now that he cannot hide it.
Zuma will limp along for a while, doing damage as he goes. His failure to sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill is hugely reckless. But he may not see out 12 months as head of state. The rebellion inside the ANC is growing and the opposition is growing smarter and bigger too. The longer he stays the harder it becomes for him to secure his succession as party leader at the ANC elective conference in December. And once he is no longer ANC leader, remaining another 18 months in office as head of state looks wildly optimistic.
Of course he may not see things that way. He may believe the party debate about him is indeed settled and he may believe he can bring his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, into the top ANC position. But at some stage Zuma will make the same mistake Thabo Mbeki did, and move too late or not at all. Mbeki lost quite narrowly at Polokwane in 2007. Had he had the foresight and courage to back a credible alternative to Zuma, who knows who might be president of the country today.
Ranjeni Munusamy is very good in Daily Maverick today, I think, and correctly views the events last weekend as not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning of the end. And her colleague Stephen Grootes is equally unimpressed by Mantashe’s new drive for unity (just writing “Mantashe’s new drive for unity” makes me laugh — one of the reasons I write this column every day is to see whether it is possible to genuinely amuse myself), suggesting that as there are no more secrets in the ANC national executive committee about who does or doesn’t support Zuma, the divisions will grow, rather than heal.
And I thought the Business Day editorial on the matter to hand was excellent. The paper says the failure to remove Zuma, and an understanding, emphasised by Mantashe, that the ministers who spoke up and asked for Zuma to go would not face retribution, is the worst possible end to the meeting. It means that at both a party and cabinet level, Zuma must work with people he described to the gathering as his “enemies”. Where will that lead? I can’t wait for 2017 already.
Equally, it is hard to follow the machinations of US politics as Donald Trump pieces together his cabinet. Each time he whittles the names of a few people for a particular job he starts to refer to them as “finalists” as if they were in a game show. Perhaps they are. But I pounced on this wonderfully funny piece of writing for The Washington Post by Garrison Keillor, the humorist (as opposed to comedian) with joy. There is no-one in the world as capable of truly gentle humour as this man. Read it and you’ll keep it. And promise you won’t ask me to explain, when he worries that Trump’s base may be wondering whether he might not be quite who he said he was, that perhaps the president-elect “prefers to row rather than wade” or something like that. Enjoy. And just for your delectation, here’s Keillor a few months before the election. Pure genius, to be read for the sheer pleasure of it.