As pressure mounts on South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, he blames an old enemy: Western intelligence agencies

by Dr Martin Plaut, ICWS Senior Research Fellow 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa at the Opening Plenary on Africa and the New Global Economy at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa, June 10, 2009. Copyright World Economic Forum / Matthew Jordaan Wikimedia Commons

Jacob Zuma, 2009. Copyright World Economic Forum / Matthew Jordaan, via Wikimedia Commons

South African President Jacob Zuma has had his back to the wall. The National Executive of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) met at a hotel in Pretoria over the weekend of November 26-27. The discussions – so intense that delegates almost came to blows – were over whether to remove the president from his post.

For the journalists who hung around outside the ANC meeting to decide the fate of their president, it was a long and dreary wait, which continued into the Monday. The president was facing numerous allegations, ranging from corruption and bringing the ANC into disrepute to – perhaps most telling of all – charges of allowing the opposition to take key cities during municipal elections earlier this year.

A number of cabinet ministers got up to call for his resignation, but in the end attempts to remove Zuma as president failed. The ANC rallied round, declaring that his detractors would not be punished for their opposition.

A familiar scapegoat

On the face of it, this was a bruising victory for the president, but nothing more. But there was one really worrying development. According to Bloomberg, Zuma used a particularly toxic argument to face down his critics: he blamed Western intelligence agencies for the criticism he was facing, saying he would not hand himself over to his enemies.

If this had been a one-off it might be possible to dismiss it as the bluster of a man fighting for his political life. But it is not. Blaming Western intelligence agencies, and their local lackeys, for all of South Africa’s troubles has been the hallmark of politics whenever the ANC leadership hits a sticky patch.

In May this year, one of the country’s best known commentators, Gareth van Onselen, wrote in financial newspaper Business Day that he was aware of at least ten recent examples of this behaviour.

Under pressure the African National Congress (ANC) has historically relied on one red herring above all others to negate responsibility and divert attention from dissatisfaction with its own performance: a “third force”, be it the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or white supremacists, is supposedly the root cause of its many and varied problems. Always unseen, never proven and yet constantly alluded to, its claims to this effect are the ultimate abdication of agency.

Some of these conspiracies were truly bizarre. They include an allegation that former President Thabo Mbeki made at an ANC caucus meeting in October 2000 accusing the CIA of being part of a “conspiracy” to promote the view that HIV causes AIDS.

If Mbeki occasionally used the CIA as a scapegoat, Zuma has perfected the technique. It should not be forgotten that Zuma was a leading member of the ANC’s military intelligence while in exile. The organisation he ran, iMbokodo, was known as “The Grindstone”. The ANC’s internal inquiry into the atrocities committed against its own members in guerrilla camps in Angola in 1983, described iMbokodo as “the most notorious and infamous department in the camps and perhaps in the whole movement”.

Turning to old friends

In his book, External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960-1990, the historian Stephen Ellis said Zuma’s time in iMbokodo shaped the rest of his life. “For the remainder of his political career, this experience in charge of intelligence was to be Zuma’s key institutional base,” Ellis wrote.

According to Ronnie Kasrils, intelligence minister under Mbeki who spent years in the ANC underground with Zuma, the president drew extensively on his former security colleagues when he came to power. “The first people he appointed were in his security team,” said Kasrils in an interview in The Sunday Times newspaper earlier this year.

It is this reliance on the intelligence community and their penance for conspiracies that is the hallmark of the Zuma presidency. He is now in his second – and final – presidential term. As his power gradually wanes, Zuma faces the looming possibility of imprisonment once he loses office.

As the South African journalist Stephen Grootes concluded in his analysisof the NEC’s decision not to oust Zuma, the president may well turn to various arms of the security services to counter his critics.

Zuma may try to use the security cluster, the Hawks, the spooks, the Nhlekos, Ntlemezas and the Mahlobos against them. Phones will be re-tapped, contacts re-monitored, charges laid again. It will become even harder to determine fact from fiction.

South Africa will be in for a very bumpy ride if Zuma seriously looks for traitors in his midst who “serve foreign masters” to head off the rising tide of criticism of his tarnished presidency.

Reparations, liberation, and the legacies of colonialism

by Adam Elliott-Cooper

The BBC documentary, ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners: Profit and Loss’, broadcast in July 2015, shed light on the vast resources appropriated by Britain through the enslavement of African peoples in the Anglophone Caribbean. In addition to the financial impact this genocidal period of world history had on Britain, the documentary also talked about the dehumanisation of African peoples, through discourses, popular culture and European intellectual thought. The legacies of this dehumanisation endure to this day, with people of African heritage in Britain facing racial injustice in many spheres of life. It is in this context that a coalition of Civil Society Organizations in Europe and the Americas Representing People of African Descent have made a number of key demands of the British state.

The Codrington Plantations, like many others in Barbados, relied on slave labour.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Codrington Plantations, like many others in Barbados, relied on enslaved labour. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Legacies of Mandela – Myth and Reality

By Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

It is a year since Nelson Mandela was laid to rest. His death was mourned around the world – and rightly so. Few could hold a candle to Mandela and we all felt our collective loss. But the world moves on and the time has come for a cooler, more careful and nuanced assessment of the man and his legacy.

Mandela poster

South Africa continues to fascinate, astonish and appall. Who would have believed that riot police would be ordered into Parliament to eject awkward politicians? Why is the cancer of corruption now so deeply embedded that few government contracts now escape it? What led the ANC government to bolster repressive regimes around the world, when the movement benefitted from international solidarity during its exile?

As Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary  of the COSATU trade unions said recently, what is taking place “seems to be destroying everything our movement is about.” Vavi concluded that it was “lucky” that former Mandela was too old to “appreciate the depth of our crisis” before he died.

At the same time the country remains a bastion of democracy in a continent in which it is in short supply; a major engine of economic growth and a player on the world stage as a member of the BRICS.

Nelson Mandela always insisted that he was no saint, but rather a disciplined member of a wider movement: the African National Congress. A year on, it is now appropriate to consider what Mandela did for his party, his country and the wider world.

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies has brought together a diverse range of internationally recognised scholars to consider the Mandela legacy. It will assess his historic role in the ending of apartheid and his contribution as the first president of a fully democratic country, as well as Mandela’s wider impact on southern Africa, the African Union and the international community.

The day-long conference will be an opportunity to debate, discuss and assess one of the greatest figures in modern history.

Modi-fying India? A presidential campaign and the challenge of parliamentary governance

By Dr James Chiriyankandath Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Co-Editor of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics.

India - Elections

With the din of the Indian election campaign dying away and the refrain of the BJP – “Abki baar, Modi sarkar” (This time, Modi government) – about to be realised, the implications of this momentous result can be assessed. Continue reading

Can Malta rescue the Commonwealth?

SirRonaldSanders02Transcript of an after-dinner presentation given by Sir Ronald Sanders on 9 January 2014 at the Round Table Post-CHOGM Conference, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

All but those in denial admit that the Commonwealth is now a wounded organisation. It is facing questions related not only to its meaning, but also to its existence.

Over the next two years, the Commonwealth can mark time sleepwalking into irrelevance or it can make use of the present existential threat to prepare the ground for a substantial and meaningful re-launch at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta. Continue reading

The EPG wanted Ireland back in the Commonwealth

By Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM

Sir Ronald Sanders is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He was a member and Rapporteur of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (2010-2011) and a former Caribbean Diplomat.

“Get Ireland back in the Commonwealth” – that might well have been the most prominent headline in relation to a report submitted to the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia.

At its very last meeting in June 2011, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), mandated by the 2009 Commonwealth Summit to make recommendations for reform of the Commonwealth, removed from its report a proposal encouraging Ireland to re-join the association.[i] Continue reading

Lessons from the Past?

By Dr Sue Onslow, Senior Research Fellow, ICwS

As an integral part of the oral history project on the Commonwealth, last week we organised a key note lecture by former Secretary General Sir Sonny Ramphal (1975-1990). This was deliberately scheduled for the eve of the controversial Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka, and was entitled ‘Managing Commonwealth Controversies: Lessons from the Past?’ The question mark was also highly deliberate – what lessons, short lived or long term, can be drawn from looking at management of past CHOGMS, when the Commonwealth itself was a smaller organisation, in a different time of international relations, , and at a different point in the international political economy? Continue reading

Are South Africa’s ‘Born Free’ Generation Scaring Zuma?

By Keith Somerville

President Jacob Zuma has reacted angrily to the use of the term ‘born frees’ for the generation of young South Africans who will get their first chance to vote in next year’s elections. Speaking at a voter registration drive in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, on 8th November, he said that the term was propaganda and makes young people out to be idiots. Quite how he came to the conclusion that ‘born free’ was being equated with idiocy is not clear, but his nervousness about this generation is. His irritated retort is not just redolent of the president’s and the ANC’s sensitivity to real or implied criticism; it is also a measure of the concern within the ANC about the voting intentions of the million plus new voters who may appear on the electoral roll. Continue reading

Time to listen to the Commonwealth’s First Nations

By Richard Bourne and Helena Whall

The Commonwealth’s First Nations: Rights, Status and Struggles in the run up to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 2014 – Conference Programme

Photo: Toronto Sun

Not since Idi Amin’s threat to attend the London Commonwealth summit in 1977, which led to the first statement by leaders denouncing human rights abuse in a member state, has there been such a focus on rights issues in advance of a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government. But the forthcoming Sri Lankan summit will also be a chance for governments to comment on the human rights of an often invisible group of Commonwealth citizens – its indigenous peoples.

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