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Congratulations to Alex Smith (@africa_alex), whose Devilskein & Dearlove has been nominated for a Carnegie Medal! fb.me/3iD79TzOa

Mangaung: A Crash Course from Kgalema Motlanthe to Zuma Exposed

By S’thembiso Msomi and Tymon Smith for the Sunday Times

Forget goodwill, ’tis the season to be Machiavellian in Mangaung. S’thembiso Msomi and Tymon Smith review a crop of books that provide instant insights into who’s who and what’s what as the ANC holds its watershed conference

Kgalema MotlantheKgalema Motlanthe: A Political Biography, by Ebrahim Harvey

This is by far the most important contemporary politics book of the year. Not only is Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe the second-most powerful political figure in the country, he remains the most likely candidate to succeed President Jacob Zuma as head of state.

That is, if Motlanthe does not end up being replaced by businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC deputy president at the ruling party’s national conference in Mangaung later this month.

But even if Motlanthe’s illustrious political career comes to an abrupt end at the Mangaung conference, Harvey’s book will remain relevant for years to come.

This is because the biography does not only attempt to give us a rare insight into one of the people who has been at the centre of the country’s socio-political transformation over the past 12 years, but it is also a commentary on the internal ANC upheaval which has often threatened the political stability of the entire country for most of the past decade.

For someone who spent 10 years as ANC secretary-general – an influential post once described by the late struggle icon Walter Sisulu as the “engine of the organisation” – and eight months as head of state, very little is known about Motlanthe.

Harvey does a sterling job of telling the story of this extremely private political figure: his upbringing as an Anglican in Alexandra and Meadowlands townships; his politicisation and participation in the ANC underground in the 1970s; his imprisonment on Robben Island; and his rise up the ranks as a trade unionist.

As a leftist intellectual and activist, Harvey is highly critical of the centrist policies Motlanthe and the ANC have pursued since the party came to power.

But his ideological differences with the ANC do not prevent him from giving us an honest, balanced and even sympathetic account of Motlanthe’s life.

The timing of the publication of the book, just months before the Mangaung conference, has led to much speculation within and outside the ANC that it was deliberate and aimed at influencing party branches as they decided on who they want to lead the party for the next five years.

But do not buy the book in expectation of finding Motlanthe’s election manifesto. While it leaves the reader in no doubt that Motlanthe is as disappointed as millions of other South Africans are about the state of both the ANC and the government under Zuma, there is very little detail about how he would do things differently were he to become president. – S’thembiso Msomi

  • Kgalema Motlanthe: A Political Biography is published by Jacana

* * * * * * * *

A Piece of the PieA Piece of the Pie: The Battle Over Nationalisation by Tim Cohen

Former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and other self-styled economic freedom fighters would probably not bother to read this book.

Written by a journalist of liberal persuasion, who works for a pro-business publication, it has little to offer this army of crusaders against “white monopoly capital”.

But for an ordinary citizen seeking a comprehensive analysis of various policy positions to this complex – and, at times, confusing – debate, Cohen’s book would definitely be a great start.

Although Malema has been jettisoned from the ANC, it would be short-sighted to think that the nationalisation debate ended with his expulsion. There are still many other supporters of the idea within the ANC and the issue is likely to be one of the main topics at this month’s party national conference, where a final policy decision will have to be taken.

Although fiercely opposed to the idea, Cohen gives a fairly useful overview of the fundamental causes of the ANC Youth League’s call for state ownership of the mines as well as business and government’s reaction to it.

Unlike many other commentators who often treat the debate as a uniquely South African phenomenon brought about by the rise of populism in the post-Polokwane ANC, Cohen locates the debate within a global context of economic instability and the resultant rise of resource-nationalism in mineral-rich countries.

Cohen’s opposition to state ownership of the mines does not prevent him from seeing the economic realities that may have led to the idea’s popularity, especially among the unemployed youth.

“At the broadest level,” he says, “proponents of nationalisation may be wrong about the prognosis, but they are right about the diagnosis: South Africa’s economic situation is untenable; inequality is too high, people are too poor, and far too many are unemployed.”

In the context of Marikana and a rising number of violent service-delivery protests and strikes, something needs to be done urgently. But if not nationalisation, then what is the alternative to the current economic regime?

“I’m afraid my answer is not something they would relish, or even that I particularly relish myself. I’m afraid it’s simply this: be patient,” Cohen says.

But the economic upheavals in various mining towns over the past five months as well as the increasing frustration among emerging black miners over the slow pace of transformation show that patience is running thin. The status quo cannot be sustained. – S’thembiso Msomi

  • A Piece of the Pie: The Battle Over Nationalisation is published by Jonathan Ball

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Who Rules South Africa?Who Rules South Africa? Pulling The Strings in the Battle for Power by Martin Plaut and Paul Holden

IF you want a detailed analysis of how the broader ANC and its alliance powers have moved from being servants of the people to members of the political elite – and how Jacob Zuma is both a product and a symbol of this progression – this is the book to read.

With thorough research and a wealth of insight into the way power works in the post-apartheid political regime, Holden and Plaut deal well with the complexities of their subject.

There are far too many narrowly selective books available at the moment, of uneven quality and merit, about the ANC, its key players and the road to Mangaung but this book, published earlier this year, is probably the best written and most thoughtful analysis of the many factors, scandals and power relations that characterise the ANC today.

Its authors grasp the current situation of the country and its rampant levels of corruption within the broader historical context of the party and make a persuasive and compelling case for their argument that the ANC that runs South Africa today is different from the ANC that assumed power in 1994 while also being unequivocally affected by its historical makeup and power-sharing arrangements with its alliance partners.

What emerges is a measured but frightening picture of a party that has lost its way to the detriment of the society over which it presides.

No detail is spared, which does not make the book easy to read in the one-sit-down manner of some of the others in this field, but readers who take the time to absorb the whole will be rewarded with a full and carefully painted picture that makes worrying reading for all of us as South Africans living in these troubling and perplexing times. – Tymon Smith

  • Who Rules South Africa? Pulling The Strings in the Battle for Power is published by Jonathan Ball

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The FoundersThe Founders: The Origins Of The ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa by André Odendaal

In a country with as deep a history of racial divisions as ours, the question of who the nation’s founders were is a highly contested one.

For South Africa, are the “founding fathers” the men and women who negotiated the transition from apartheid to majority rule and a constitution that is envied by many across the world? Could it be the participants at the racially-exclusive 1909 National Convention whose deliberations led to the formation of what became known as the Union of South Africa?

The existence of the geographic area known as the Republic of South Africa today has much to do with the South African Act drafted at the 1909 National Convention.

But there is another category of founders whose contribution to the making of modern-day South Africa is often downplayed or ignored.

These are men and women of the same generation as those who met at the National Convention. They were excluded from the important gathering – whose outcome was to affect their lives and those of their communities – due to their skin colour.

These were highly educated African men and women, some of whom had studied in prestigious universities abroad.

Excluded from the National Convention, many of them responded by convening their own South African National Congress in 1912 – hence laying the foundation for a protracted struggle that eventually delivered the 1994 non-racial and democratic political dispensation.

Without their efforts, South Africa’s history could have easily turned out differently. Each of the ethnic groups that were initially excluded as full citizens of the country within whose borders they lived could have turned to narrow nationalism, fighting for the right to break away into smaller countries and kingdoms. But by joining hands under the umbrella of a political entity now known as the ANC, they were not just fostering African nationalism among those excluded, but were also laying an important foundation for the establishment of a truly unified South African nation.

In The Founders: The Origins of the ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa, Odendaal traces the history of some of these men as well as the legacy of African constitutionalism they left us with. The 560-page work, says Odendaal, grew out of his 1984 Master’s dissertation, Vukani Bantu! The Beginnings of Black Protest Politics to 1912.

Our country’s history is incomplete without an appreciation of early African intellectuals such as the ANC’s founding president John Langalibalele Dube, Reverend Tiyo Soga and his editor son AK Soga, Sol Plaatjie, Pixley ka Seme and John Tengo Jabavu.

The importance of the book is not just that it has been published during the year in which the ANC celebrates 100 years of existence. Its greatest contribution is that it comes at a time when people, frustrated by the slow pace of social and economic transformation, are becoming increasingly sceptical of constitutionalism. They see the country’s constitution, and the restrictions it imposes on the exercise of power by the executive and the National Assembly, as alien to the goals of the liberation struggle.

Through the book, Odendaal convincingly demonstrates that constitutional politics among Africans goes as far back as the times of these founding fathers.

“These first generations of activists and intellectuals placed great store by the rule of law and were highly skilled in the procedures of constitutional politics,” he writes in the book. – S’thembiso Msomi

  • The Founders: The Origins Of The ANC and the Struggle for Democracy in South Africa is published by Jacana

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Zuma ExposedZuma Exposed by Adriaan Basson

This book provides an interesting conundrum for people working in the media. We have been following many of the stories contained herein for years, so we’re familiar with the details of many of the stories that its author wrote while working first for the Mail and Guardian and now for City Press.

The publishers, because their job is to sell books, have perhaps slightly sensationalised the content in their blurb beyond the revelatory payoff to be found within its covers. On a technical level, the book could have done with a more thorough edit and its writing, while perfectly adequate, could have been better.

However, these are petty but necessary points to get out of the way before arriving at the matter of the content. Basson’s intent here is to produce a book that provides a reminder to the public of the many failings of President Jacob Zuma in his five years as head of state.

Basson makes no claims to political analysis and this is not a biography but an investigation of the president written by one of the country’s most recognised and awarded investigative journalists.

His publishers have put it out, not coincidentally, just in time both for Christmas and, more importantly – to the chagrin of the president’s bulldog Jessie Duarte – the ANC’s conference later this month in Mangaung.

Whether or not delegates at Mangaung will, as Duarte claimed in a terse, adolescent, snap-response open letter to Basson, be influenced by the book, remains to be seen. History has not proven ANC delegates to be as bothered by what is written about their party as we would sometimes like them to be.

The book is more of a collection of the stories that Basson has followed over the years relating to the president, and these are presented chronologically in three sections titled “Bad Decisions”, “Bad Judgment” and “Bad Leadership”. It takes in everything from Schabir Shaik to the spy tapes to Bheki Cele, the Richard Mdluli saga and the debacle over The Spear.

As someone who has vehemently argued for years at dinner parties against the decision to drop corruption charges against Zuma, and who believes, as Justice Malala quipped at the launch of this book, that the president’s main policy platform is to keep himself out of jail, I am heartened to see the generally positive public response to this book. One can only hope that it will jog South Africans’ all-too-often short memories and remind us that our president has more for which to answer than just his many bad decisions while in office.

It is also a heartening reaffirmation of our democracy that this book exists and that those who read it are free to make of it what they will. It is a uniquely South African and much needed Christmas present for our politically obsessed country at a time when everything hangs in the balance.

Basson has provided a concise, easily accessible litany of woes that can be returned to whenever the powers-that-be pretend not to remember what they need to account for. – Tymon Smith

  • Zuma Exposed is published by Jonathan Ball

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