NEWS & ANALYSIS

Mr Fearfokkol plays chicken with Ramaphosa

William Saunderson-Meyer says Fikile Mbalula has performed a truly remarkable flip-flop since NDZ’s defeat

JAUNDICED EYE

Any nursery school kid will tell you that a chicken goes, “Puk-puk-puk”. And a rooster goes, “Cock-a-doodle-doo”. 

And, if the African National Congress is anything to go by, the sound of a chicken coming home to roost, is “Flip-flop, flip-flop”. 

With the election of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to head the party, there has been a flurry of ingratiating sounds from the ANC barnyard, as its top leaders scramble to back away from the feeding trough and the toxic fallout of too close an association with President Jacob Zuma.

It is all part of the sudden realisation that Zupta (Pty) Ltd is inexorably heading for liquidation. The only alternative to exile in #shithole Dubai, is coming to terms with the objectives and values of the incoming administration.

Many of the good men and true who, until a month ago, were happy to be the biddable flunkeys of President Zuma are belatedly exercising their spinal tissue. They are shedding their obsequiousness, emphasising what independent minds they have, how they love their country and hate corruption. Hallelujah! Yes we do, Chief.

This week former cabinet minister Derek Hanekom railed against the “outrageousness” of R217m of the R220m allocated to the Free State dairy farm project being “stolen by the Guptas and their friends”. “No mercy to anyone who steals money from the poor,” declared Hanekom.

Aside from the implication, which indeed may by now be ANC policy, that it is okay to steal from the rich, there is the hypocrisy of Hanekom’s outrage. This is the man who sat in cabinet, tjoepstil, never once publicly remarking on the pillage that had been exposed by the Mail&Guardian as far back as 2013. It is only since Zuma gave him the boot, that he has managed a reedy warble.

But it is Police Minister Fikile Mbalula who is perhaps the most egregious example of the flip-flop affliction. In the weeks before the December leadership conference, Mbabula — who, in a moment of supreme self-delusion chose the social media handle of his official Police minister account to be “Mr Fearfokkol” — was warning that the defeat of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could only happen through bribery and corruption.

Prior to the election he on several occasions published pictures of bales of money, intimating that these had been seized by the police from a cabal intent on bribing the ANC delegates supporting Dlamini-Zuma into instead voting for Ramaphosa. An amount of R2.5m had been intercepted, he tweeted under the hashtag #VotesForCash, but warned that he would “crush them decisively”. 

Dlamini-Zuma supporters took up the meme against the “bloody criminal” Ramaphosa, despite it soon enough coming to light that the picture dated back to a Cape Town drugs' bust in 2016. Mbalula’s unabashed response was that he was merely using the photograph for illustrative purposes, not to suggest it was the actual money that Ramaphosa supporters had been going to use to subvert the democratic will of ANC members. 

It was all simply anti-Ramaphosa propaganda, entirely bereft of truth, all carried under the official imprimatur of the SA Police minister’s Twitter account. There was no seizure of millions of rand. No arrests had been made or will be made. There will be no prosecution.

Well, certainly that is the case, not now that Mr Fearfokkol has realised where his best interests lie. Within days of the defeat of Dlamini-Zuma, the Police minister was gleefully circulating a photograph of President Zuma, clutching his face with both hands and looking dazed and unhappy, with the caption: “When you look around at a family function and realise that you’ve graduated to being the drunk uncle of the family.”

Since then, Mbalula has written warmly of Ramaphosa’s leadership abilities, as well as retweeting pictures of CR being welcomed by fans when he went for a jog on the East London beachfront. 

Such instinctual fawning by the submissive before the dominant can be observed in many animal species, for example dogs, lions and politicians. The pattern between contesting canines is one of an initial faux confrontation, with much tooth-baring, snarling and hackles-raised posturing. 

This rarely ends in a fight to the death. A couple of quick nips by the alpha of the group, drawing the minimum of blood, is usually enough to establish the pecking order.

The zoological certainties of subservience behaviour in pack animals, will be of some consolation to Ramaphosa. It negates the razor-thin numerical majority by which he won the leadership contest and that minority that his supporters achieved in the ANC’s national executive committee.

On the other hand, among politicians, the most vicious and unpredictable of predatory species, the situation is slightly different. As many a ruler has found out too late, a few nips and growls is often not enough to dampen the human appetite for subversion and rebellion.

There’s nothing like a clear line in the sand. A few ritual sacrifices, metaphorically speaking, may be helpful in establishing appropriate boundaries.

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