Behind the Rainbow

I wrote this for commentary, but I feel it’s suitably pop-culturish enough for public consumption.

While waiting for my errant sibling to pick me up, I went to Rosebank mall and watched the new documentary on the ANC Behind the Rainbow. Aside from reminding me just why I love the beautiful complexity of politics so much, the film provided an extremely fascinating extra layer of insight into the party that rules our country.

The most prominent aspect of the movie which stuck in my mind was the history of the ANC’s top leaders, from Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma to Ronnie Kasrils, Mac Maharaj and ‘Terror’ Lekota. Through interviews with these leaders (excluding poor aging Madiba) and others, the different histories and profiles of the ANC’s top dogs are absolutely enthralling. The deep friendship developed between Mbeki and Zuma during their time in the resistance in Swaziland, including a stint in a Swazi jail, highlights just how much history these two folks have.

Overarching this is the amazing resilience the ANC has proven to possess in actually avoiding becoming just like every other generic failed African government. From the Sunset agreements (the compromises during power negotiations at what I assume was CODESA) through to Polokwane, it’s amazing to see just how the party is able to prevent absolute deviation from relative good governance. The documentary showed the difficulty faced by Mbeki in achieving a compromise at the talks with the old apartheid government, as well as the post-1994 abandonment of RDP and adoption of GEAR as proof of his notion of preventing economic collapse while still achieving the tenets laid out by the Freedom Charter. This is ultimately the undercurrent theme of the documentary; the Freedom Charter and trying to achieve its aims while still steering a new South Africa into prosperity.

It’s no secret that Thabo Mbeki was seen as the highly-intelligent man who seemed to repel any dissenting voices to his vision. All through his career, Mbeki has been faced with criticism for what could easily be perceived as turning his back on the people for the sake of the ‘capitalist classes’. His skill in the CODESA negotiations, through to his insistence on moderations between Freedom Charter and national stability has contributed to the growing opposition to his presidency, both at the state and party level. The rise of Zuma is thus partly attributed in no small way to Mbeki’s recalcitrance.

Zuma is actually portrayed in a far more sober and collected light than what the mainstream media have previously done. It’s quite fascinating to see the origins of [i]umshimi wami[/i] and just why and how Zuma has manipulated his supporters so. The documentary further highlights that there exists no fundamentally conflicting policy difference between Zuma and Mbeki, but rather the absolute polar opposite personalities of the two. Odd to think that these two shared a cell in Swaziland and formed a solid brotherhood with one another.

The ANC as a whole is shown to function as this almost otherworldly entity which is capable of purging itself of leaders who might steer the party towards that spiralling doom of other African presidents and dictators. Much like the Mbeki-inspired Sunset Agreements, Polokwane 2007 was necessary to prevent the president from serving a 3rd term; something rather indicative of a leader holding just a little too long onto power. Make no mistake; the ANC is a far more sophisticated entity than what many external detractors portray it as. And regardless of leader, it has so far maintained this self-regulation. Democracy may be a bit of a joke at a national level, but within the ANC, the party acts in what can only be defined as undeniably democratic. The irony would be delicious if it weren’t so bitter a pill to swallow.

The documentary doesn’t say anything any politically-aware South African wouldn’t know anyway, but it does show it in a very interesting light, and in its own right serves as a potent indictment of Mbeki, Zuma, Lekota and the leadership of our country. It also shows the internal workings of the ANC in an amazingly frank and honest depiction through interviews. Now playing at a Cinema Nouveau near you.

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