Brian Molefe and Lynne Brown. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
On the same page? - Brian Molefe and Lynne Brown. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The Brian Molefe saga represents an important indication of differing approaches to governance in South Africa – and who is largely stacked on either side of the ANC’S increasingly fractious internal divide.

Firstly, let’s give praise where it is due. For the ANC to demand that a Cabinet Minister (Lynne Brown) rescind her decision to send Molefe back to Eskom is a milestone in the nascent creation of a culture of accountability in the governing party.

Although we saw stirrings of this in the Communications portfolio last year, the widespread condemnation of Brown’s move reflects a new muscle in the caucus rank and file.

Clearly, Molefe is seen in some form or other as a proxy battle around the issue of state capture and the ongoing role of the Gupta’s in governance. Tainted as he is by his links to Saxonwold, the Molefe saga represents so much of what has come to dominate the ANC performance ethos – the protection of special vested interests, their linkages to power and the enrichment of a super-connected Elite largely dependent on the coat-tails of President Zuma.

The exposure of this deeply problematic malaise in government which largely became politically endemic during Jacob Zuma’s second term now leaves the ANC caucus with a stark choice. Either remain silent (or defend) on related issues – and defend Molefe in the process – or voice your objections.

The call on Brown from the ANC’s top 6 now indicates just how far the penny has dropped over the deteriorating state of governance emanating from the governing party.

And, the top 6 are particularly sensitive to public opinion in the wake of declining support for a Zuma-led ANC at the polls. Ultimately, every such transgression of good corporate governance now has a consequence – not only in terms of the ratings agencies, but also in the townships of Soweto and Alexandra as 2019 looms.

Whilst Molefe has implications for 2019, so it does for the elective conference in December. Increasingly, ANC members expect this issue to be part of the broader succession race. Those formations of the party who favour the Zuma view of the world and its links to crony capitalism will largely either be silent or supportive of Molefe. Those who argue for an entire re-boot of leadership and its modus operandi will be supportive of raising the ante on Lynne Brown.

Clearly this poses a further problem for the Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma camp. Just what is her position on the Molefe saga? If she wishes to make inroads into Ramaphosa’s increasingly vocal camp, she also needs to distance herself from the excesses of poor governance so prevalent in the administration of her former husband. Ramaphosa is starting to bite into her constituency, but she has little chance of taking his should she remain silent on this type of issue.

The factions that are coalescing around the two major candidates for December will therefore see Molefe as a real proxy war. If nothing is done, the Zuma view of the world will have prevailed. If indeed, Molefe is somehow removed and the Eskom board also disbanded, the Ramaphosa slate will have found a new power base to propel them forward. Molefe is therefore both a catalyst and also a conduit through which the internal power battles within the ANC are playing out.

Finally, there might also be a linkage to the looming no-confidence motion in the national assembly. Despite the debate about a secret ballot, those internal (ANC) detractors of Jacob Zuma may be reluctant to en-masse, vote with the Opposition – even within the context of a secret ballot. No matter the issue, those with the greatest disdain for the current course will still seek an ANC-led solution to the President’s future. And, the elective conference offers just that.

But, the Molefe issue is the type of issue in which the new-found ANC pragmatists can draw a line in the sand. Win the day over the Lynne Brown decision but in return keep Jacob Zuma in place – at least until the end of the year. The ANC will thereby be seen to be both a governing party and an opposition all rolled in one. And it will not fall prey to Opposition forces in an extreme embarrassment on the benches of parliament.

These issues are likely to further exacerbate internal divisions. But at the same time, there is a growing consensus within the top echelons of the ANC over the perilous state of governance in the country. And that is a real positive. Now, the challenge will be to transform that consensus into a voting consensus in December to elect a new leadership team that can action the critical change that the country so desperately needs.

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