I came across a tweet that cracked me up last week. It was a video meme of a perplexed character rolling his eyes and doing a face-palm. The caption from Patrick Gaspard read: “Me upon hearing that now even Gwede Mantashe is being called a CIA plant in South Africa.” It was funny. Well, kind of. Until December Gaspard was the US ambassador to South Africa.
During his tenure he had to fend off a fair number of accusations from some of the ANC’s most senior leaders who claimed that his embassy had been at the centre of a plot to overthrow our government.
The most memorable of these was in February last year, when ANC secretary-general Mantashe told thousands of supporters in Pretoria that the ANC was aware of meetings held at the American embassy to plot regime change in our country.
Gaspard’s tweet last week was upon hearing news that Mantashe had allegedly received threatening texts, presumably from an opposing ANC faction, also accusing him of being a CIA plant out to tarnish President Jacob Zuma’s name.
Although amusing, the accusations against Mantashe and parliamentary chief whip Jackson Mthembu, reported by the Mail and Guardian, come as no surprise.
If anything, they are typical of the ANC’s all-too-familiar modus operandi.
They are a symptom of its overused narrative designed to discredit perceived enemies of the party or a prevailing faction within it.
This narrative increasingly emerges from the ANC and some government circles to shift our focus away from state failures and to avoid accountability for disastrous political decisions. As a result, it has grown tired. It is stale. It has lost its ability to unsettle and the more it is bandied about, the more laughable it becomes.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all suggesting that our nation is immune to sinister interests of Americans or the English – political or otherwise.
Our history and that of many African nations compels us to be alert to the potentially ominous global political dynamics of the world we live in. But let’s be real.
Much of the current noise about regime change attempts is, frankly, absurd.
Much like it was at the height of the Nkandla investigation, when Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe accused the then public protector, Thuli Madonsela, of being a CIA agent.
Similarly, the accusations that EFF leader Julius Malema, former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and labour union Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa were all American spies planted to destabilise the government.
It was equally laughable when Mantashe accused the Americans of taking young South Africans, training them for six weeks and planting them throughout campuses to implement regime change – in reference to an excellent programme known to you and me as the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
The list of co-conspirators to these regime change attempts as understood in Planet ANC is endless: the media, the judiciary, poor protesting communities, university students demanding free education, you name it.
Many would have us believe that this narrative stems from the ANC’s own paranoia.
It is more than that. It is a purposeful exercise, done mindfully when politically convenient. Just like the so-called intelligence report accusing former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and deputy Mcebisi Jonas of treason, it is a mundane game of distraction.
The kind we witnessed back in 2003 when then prosecutions boss Bulelani Ngcuka was accused of being an apartheid spy – two weeks after announcing a prima facie corruption case against Zuma. It was ridiculous then. It is ridiculous now – even more so because it is currently used to de-legitimise the voice of citizens speaking out against the failures of their government.
Believe what you may about the thousands of people who marched against Zuma last week and those expected to do so today. Indeed they are different people. They have different interests, some more self-serving than others. Some are rich, some are poor. Some are black, some are white. Some spoke out against Marikana, others were never bothered.
Yet even from their different vantage points, here’s what’s common about them: they lack confidence in Zuma’s leadership.
In September 2008, Zuma told South Africans that the ANC had recalled President Thabo Mbeki because it needed a strong and united ruling party capable of galvanising public support for the government’s developmental agenda.
Explaining that historic decision, Zuma wrote: “As the ruling party we need to sustain the confidence of our people in the ANC and its government. Once this level of confidence is weakened, the ANC has no alternative but to take action.”
Almost a decade later, with the ANC in a much weaker position, Zuma’s reaction to an even worse situation is different.
He has unilaterally dismissed these citizens as pawns in an engineered racist plot to overthrow a democratic government.
Not only are his recycled bogeymen theories shortsighted, they undermine the intelligence of the millions who placed the ANC in power, the overwhelming majority of whom are not members.
Nwabisa Makunga is deputy editor of The Herald and Weekend Post.