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Comrade Joel Netshitenzhe speaks on behalf of a faction, not the whole ANC, writes Carl Niehaus

  • by African Times
  • 3 Years ago
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AN opinion piece by myself that was published last week in the African Times under the heading: ‘Nothing can
destroy the ANC, except the ANC’, has generated considerable debate. Apparently some of those who still consider themselves to be ANC members, but who have seen it fit to use public platforms to attack the democratically elected leadership of the ANC, took umbrage when I called them undisciplined.

An article by comrade Joel Netshitenze, in which he tried to build a rationale for why it is under the circumstances acceptable to criticise the ANC leadership in public, kept on being quoted back at me.

It seems that those who have seen it fit to join the Save South Africa campaigns and marched with the DA and the likes of Afri-forum under some blatantly racist banners, found in this article justification for their poor and undisciplined behaviour.

The said article was published in Business Day quite some time ago under the title: ‘Fighting violations of what the ANC stands for is not sowing disunity’.

Suffice to say that since comrade Joel’s article was already published on the 5th April, that I have been aware of it for quite some time before I wrote my more recent article, and I actually found nothing in it to convince me to change my views about the need for committed ANC members to comply with the internal constitutional and organisational democratic structures and procedures of the ANC.

Former ANC NEC Member Carl Niehaus

However, since this is clearly a critical issue I thought it appropriate to engage with comrade Joel’s arguments about discipline and unity in the ANC.

I am doing so in this public forum, because similarly comrade Joel himself advanced his arguments in the public forum of Business Day.

For those who want to (again) read the full article by comrade Joel, it can be found through this link: https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2017-04-05-fightingviolations-of-what-the-anc-standsfor-
is-not-sowing-disunity/. However, I am addressing his arguments in such a manner, that it will not be essential to read the article in order to understand the issues that I am engaging with.

Let me state upfront that I have the greatest respect for Comrade Joel as one of the most insightful thinkers and writers in the ANC. His contributions to the liberation struggle and many debates are legendary.

As an ANC member I cannot but agree with comrade Joel that the ANC is the strategic centre of power in relation to its members located in the state, and that it should indeed be able to monitor and evaluate whether its policies are being implemented.

In the first three paragraphs of his article comrade Joel lays out solid arguments for this organisational foundation. This is commendable because to my mind it is how an ANC member should think – in terms of policy, structure and organisation rather than about individuals and personalities.

However, in the fourth paragraph, opening it with the question, “How is this relevant to the latest developments?”, comrade Joel makes an uncharacteristically strange jump to the politics of personalities. He refers to some apparent disquiet that was expressed by some members of the Top 6 officials with the President’s proposed changes at Treasury, and the removal of comrades Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas by replacing them with comrades  Malusi Gigaba and Sfiso Buthelezi.

ANC NEC member Joel Netshitenzhe

He does not say at all if there was a policy discussion about the ability of the new appointees to implement policy, and whether the outgoing Minister and Deputy-Minister were accurately and competently implementing ANC economic policy.

I must also ask why is there this glorification of the individual persons of Gordhan and Jonas as if they were the only ones who could implement ANC economic policy at the Treasury?

Surely the implementation of true Radical Economic Transformation is dependent on the implementation of ANC policy – not on particular individuals. Why was it so important to keep comrades Gordhan and Jonas in charge of Treasury, that one would even stoop so low? One cannot but help to wonder what interests were Gordhan and Jonas protecting at Treasury?

Since there are now so many calls for investigations, this should surely become the subject of an in depth investigation. Instead what comrade Joel does is to present us with a particular version of what happened between the Top 6 officials concerning the cabinet reshuffling matter.

He does not contextualise any of the discussions in the context of the basic well-known and accepted fact that it is the President’s constitutional prerogative to appoint cabinet, and that consulting with the Top 6 (of whom the President obviously is one) is in recognition of the fact that the ANC ‘as the strategic centre of power should evaluate whether it’s policies are being implemented’; but that such consultation does not remove his prerogative.

Furthermore, he presents an incorrect narrative that the majority of the Top 6 were in disagreement with the President’s proposed changes at Treasury. This version simply does not ring true. What we know is that although
the Chairperson, Comrade Baleka Mbete, was out of the country the President raised the matter with her before she left, and she did not object to the proposed changes.


There was no majority among the Top 6 that were opposed to the President’s cabinet changes – it was a 50/50 split.There is nothing in the ANC Constitution or any ANC resolutions that states if there is contestation or disagreement when the President informs and/or consults with the Top 6 about intended cabinet changes that the President then cannot – in terms of presidential prerogative – proceed to implement those.

What comrade Joel fails to mention is that of all three presidents since 1994 President Zuma has been the most consultative president in terms of taking the top leadership of the ANC and the Tri-partite Alliance partners into his confidence about cabinet reshuffles.

The question arises what President Zuma was to do when there was a 50/50 stalemate about his proposed cabinet changes? Was he to accept this as a veto that he could not proceed? If he did so, what would that have meant for
his position as President, his ability to govern, and his constitutional presidential prerogative?

Not to have proceeded would in fact have meant that he would have become a lame-duck president. Was the President to give in to this situation in the face of threats by the Deputy-President and the Treasurer General that they would “express their misgivings in public”? (as comrade Joel puts it).

Does that not sound as if they were trying to blackmail the President into doing what they wanted? Surely these
discussions/consultations were held in confidence. The question thus arises, does warning the President that they were going to violate his confidential engagement with them and go public, make such violation any more acceptable?

The manner in which comrade Joel writes about this creates the distinct impression that this is what he is trying to do. It is like saying because I do not like what you are doing I am going to behave in an undisciplined manner, but because I have warned you beforehand that I am going to do it I am less undisciplined.

To my mind this is actually worse, because the lack of discipline is now also accompanied by threats tantamount to blackmail. No leader worth his or her salt could possibly accept such a situation. I have worked closely with former
President Mandela, and I can tell you that he would have been outraged by anyone who tried to pull such a stunt on him!

Former President Thabo Mbeki and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Denvor de Wee/VisualBuzz SA.

Comrade Joel is trying to cast the behaviour of the Deputy-President and the Treasurer General as acceptable, while casting the President as the ill-disciplined one because he apparently presented a cabinet list “cobbled together elsewhere” (as he paraphrased the Secretary General’s words), and did not accept the rejection of his proposals by some of the Top Six.

Now, let us be absolutely clear, there is not a shred of evidence that the President presented a list that he himself (and him alone) had not drawn up. This story is sheer conjecture and empty innuendo, or is comrade Joel (and those who have cast this innuendo) actually saying that the President is not able to draw up such a list himself?

I ask myself if this is the kind of disregard and insults that the President must now be subjected to, even in relation to some of the most senior comrades that he has to work with. In order to justify his narrative comrade Joel then actually goes one step further and claims that what “this demonstrates is a growing divergence of interests and approaches of an individual [read the President] from those of the ANC.”

In reality he is unable to prove anything of the kind. At best he may be able to argue that there is a divergence
between the ANC that the President represents, and the interests that he (Joel) and some the Top 6 officials
(that he supports) present. Once this penny drops it becomes evident that although comrade Joel is trying to dress himself in the cloak of the whole ANC, he is at best only speaking on behalf of a faction.

His justification for the behaviour of this faction, that he is part of, is that they cannot subject themselves to calls for unity, because that will “be unity of the kind where, in a family, a thief or a murderer is caught in the act, and the relatives elect to keep quiet for the sake of family unity.

That, in simple terms, constitutes complicity and is itself a crime.” So, let’s not beat about the bush, he is in effect calling the President a thief, and those associated with him thieves too. The fact that the President has not been found guilty of a single crime in a court of law does not seem to be important any more.

So by hook or by crook this so-called proof of criminality has to be established and made to stick, because then comrades of his faction can be released from the rigours and duty that ought to accompany being a disciplined ANC cadre who accepts the organisation’s internal democratic structures.

Last Sunday I had to listen with pain when the President told congregates at a prayer meeting for him in Durban, “They say all sorts of accusations about this dog, saying I am corrupt, I steal, without a shred of evidence of this theft. They say I am a dog, but I have two legs, not four. I don’t have a tail or a snout.”

Sadly, through this article now even comrade Joel has joined this malicious chorus. It is common knowledge that
comrade Joel was part of those comrades together with former President Thabo Mbeki who lost the democratic vote in Polokwane.

I am prepared to accept that this must have been a most painful experience that left deep wounds not only on former President Mbeki, but also on those comrades in his inner circle.

I fear that with the very dangerous arguments that comrade Joel advances in his article, undermining the unity and the discipline of the ANC, he places himself too in the faction of the bitter and wounded who cannot rise above their own egos, and consequently attack and divide rather than work for unity.

In doing so he does himself – and all of us who have in the past benefited so much from his intellect and contributions – a huge disservice. What our beloved Movement needs now are disciplined unifiers, not factional dividers. I am sorry comrade Joel, no matter how well you try to structure your arguments – ill-discipline is not a virtue.

Carl Niehaus is a former member of the NEC of the ANC and MK veteran. All Carl’s articles can also be found on his blog, Carl’s Corner: www.carlniehaus.co.za

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