The banker who aims to fight for the poor

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / In a turnabout that has got his former underlings – who once respectfully referred to him as uBaba – incensed, former president Jacob Zuma’s latest move is akin to the middle finger he’s known to show when adjusting his spectacles. Except this time it’s less out of mere habit than a pointed ‘stuff you!’ at the ANC which he still calls home, but will not be campaigning or voting for come the 2024 elections.

Not unlike other disgruntled members who left the ANC in a huff before him, the man they call Nxamalala is making sure to bless and back the party which has managed to nick an ANC heirloom. COPE walked away with the treasured term, ‘Congress of the People’. Ace Magashule’s newly formed ACT has drawn on party colours, and now the Zuma-backed startup has taken arguably the most famous name to emerge from the struggle-era ANC.

To wit, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK); paramilitary wing of the organisation, and lauded in toyi-toyi iconography as the revolutionary force that would visit leopard-crawling cadres cradling AK-47s on apartheid Pretoria, telling PW Botha that his days in the Union Building were numbered. As an MK commander during the struggle years, Zuma was at the coalface of strategy. Nowadays, though, he hopes that outfits like MK will topple the very organisation in which he was – for better or worse – Number One for almost two terms of office. Not one to mince his words, Zuma has come out guns blazing, labelling the current government of president Cyril Ramaphosa as one of ‘sell-outs and apartheid collaborators’. Hence his conscience, he pontificates, will not allow him to campaign or vote for it.

Jacob Zuma in his halcyon days as head honcho of South Africa and the ANC, and therefore ‘international statesman’, here at a BRICS summit in 2015  … Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

In September, MK registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, and will seemingly be contesting next year’s ballot. Needless to say, this has ruffled a lot of feathers. ANC supporters have been quick to downplay the outfit as little more than a bunch of bitter factionalists who are struggling to come to terms with how cold it is outside of Khongolose. The ANC in KwaZulu Natal – uBaba’s supposed heartland — has gone into panic mode, ‘sniffing out’ members who have defected or are campaigning for MK. The ruling party has also issued a cease-and-desist letter to the party, demanding that it change its name and logo. Ever the loyal ally, the SA Communist Party’s Blade Nzimande has come out to warn its alliance partner not to focus on ‘diversionary tactics … If [the ANC] were to be bogged down on that, then it means it’s losing the plot,’ said the chairperson.

But it’s not just disgruntled politicians who are throwing their names in the hat to challenge the ANC next year. The latest hopeful comes in the form of FirstRand chairperson Roger Jardine. Although he too waves the the ‘anti-apartheid’ activist card, for at least a decade he’s been swallowed up in the private sector maw that has to some degree chewed up many of his former comrades in arms, the most famous probably being the once revolutionary Tokyo Sexwale. Once the country’s youngest director-general in the early post-apartheid era, Jardine reckons – critics and sceptics notwithstanding – that he has what it takes to run a complex government. He’d have us believe that he can waltz right out of an affluent corporate gig, put on a politician’s cloak, and have the masses chanting his hitherto obscure name into megaphones and at rallies.

Although the pundits are far from convinced, a few well-known people have thrown their weight behind his cause. This includes the activist Mark Heywood (currently employed at Daily Maverick) as well as the executive director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, Nicole Fritz, and the late statesman Nelson Mandela’s doctor, Aslam Dasoo. There have been rumours of ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang also climbing aboard, a move that, according to BizNews, could ‘transform the political landscape’, draw ANC supporters, and challenge the ANC/EFF in the upcoming elections. However, Msimang, has indicated that there were only talks between him and Jardine, nothing concrete.

Banker turned politician Roger Jardine.

As for Jardine, his schtick is seemingly a coalition with like-minded individuals. However, it remains to be seen whether he would be open to partnering with the colloquial Moonshot Pact, brainchild of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Already there are those who aren’t sold on Jardine’s aspirations, likening him to Dr Mamphela Ramphele, the prominent academic who harboured presidential ambitions of her own some ten years ago. The basis for their scepticism is that although individuals like Jardine, Ramphele or Songezo Zibi may be palatable to the middle class, working class people regard them as part of the privileged (black) elite. BEE types who live in gated communities, drive around in German sedans, and could therefore not be relied on to champion the cause of the poor and downtrodden masses living in slums and squalor throughout the beloved country.

For activist Heywood, this is precisely why he believes Jardine is the right man for the top job. ‘This,’ Heywood was quoted as saying on the Cape Talk website, ‘is an attempt to cut a new path, an independent path, and to resonate with people around their basic needs for hope and security and material security.’ Msimang – known within the ANC to be erudite, and a keen polemicist– recently penned a scathing resignation letter from the party. ‘For several years now,’ wrote the deputy president of the Veterans League, ‘the ANC has been wracked by endemic corruption, with devastating consequences for the governance of the country and the lives of poor people, of whom there continue to be so many.’

Barely a week later, following a meeting with the ANC secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, Msimang did a surprising about-turn, withdrawing his resignation. However, in the social media spatter leading up to the meeting, there were insinuations about bribery and how big business was bent on greasing the palms of big figures in the ANC for them to turn their backs on the organisation.

Of course, this is nothing new in our politics, where it’s an open secret that even the ruling party’s elective conferences are often decided with imigodlo – refuse bags brimming with (probably public) money. Even the multi-party coalition is said to be buoyed by big capital. Thus it should come as no surprise that Jardine allegedly already has some R1 billion in the bag (a claim he has refuted) to get his cause, Change Starts Now, off to a smooth start.

Perhaps the perception that money has trumped whatever smidgen of integrity remained in our political systems would explain the apathy that continues to grip the voting public. Thus far, some 13 million eligible people haven’t even registered to vote. During a much-publicised voter registration weekend in November, only 568 374 new voters were added to the voters’ roll. Another such do is forecast for the first weekend of February, but who are we to hold our breath for a better turnout?

These patterns tell a story all on their own: gone are the snaking queues of 1994 where scores of voters who held on to the promise of democracy suffered the elements, often waiting for long hours to cast their votes. Since then, the queues have shortened –also due to improved voting systems, but perhaps also conveying a resurgent sense that voting is a waste of time. That, the more people vote for change, the more things stay the same …

This would be a particularly interesting area for eParkeni to sink its teeth into in the course of shadowing the campaign trail. Outside of the official literature, what might Colesbergians have to say? Once upon a time, registering to vote was a big deal, which played a major role in finding a local job. The tall tales on the street then went something along the lines that if your name could not be found on the voter’s roll, you needn’t even bother to apply for a job. You wouldn’t get it, regardless your big scroll from Wits or wherever. As a result, registering and voting (for guess who) was an appointment not to be missed by many in the township.

So does that spirit still figure nowadays? What are the Gogo Dlaminis saying? The youth? Those who actually threw a rock or a petrol bomb at the manifestations of the previous regime? ‘Your vote is your secret,’ goes the popular mantra, so perhaps we’ll keep our line of questioning on a less revealing, lighter note, as we try to delve into the psyche of the local voter.

In the meantime, though, there are more immediate questions on our hands, such as: will Change Starts Now live up to its name, or will it turn out to be a hopeful name for an otherwise hopeless political situation? It’s a question that cuts across the spectrum, and remains relevant about the new – and old – political players alike.

FEATURED IMAGE: The launch of Change Starts Now in the Riverlea Community Centre in early December 2023. Image: Facebook.

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