‘Psychological coups’ confront ruling party

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Jan 10, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

A festive season is meant to be an interlude dedicated to one's family, so the country was disturbed and taken aback by a video clip of former SA National Defence Force senior naval officer Sylvester Mangolele ordering President Cyril Ramaphosa to relinquish power.

It is cheering to note the SANDF has distanced itself from Mangolele's pathological utterances. Most people believe our constitutional democracy is firmly entrenched and that there is no room for a coup d’état.

We have learnt that a coup d’état can be either functional or dysfunctional. For example, former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah was deposed while he was on a state visit to China. I call Nkrumah's coup a “cowardice coup” because he had to leave the country before the coup took place. In his book Dark Days in Ghana, Nkrumah chronicles how retrogressive and disturbing the coup was towards the unity of the African continent.

That dream had hitherto been deferred. On the other side of the coin, the coups in Mali, Niger and Burkino Fasi were functional in rewriting the script of decolonisation and moving the continent towards the trajectory of African unity. I call these coups “functional coups” because they are for the collective good of a society.

Given the above background, is any society hermetically sealed from a coup d’état? More often than not, social change – the knifing pain of poverty, the global weak economic climate and rudderless leadership – may force a country to be ruled by martial law. For example, in the former TBVC states we saw a spate of coup d’états before the dawn of democracy in South Africa. We saw leaders such as General Bantu Holomisa, Oupa Qgozo, Rocky Malebane-Metsing and Gabriel Ramushwana ascending the TBVC thrones. I call these “opportunistic coups”.

I define a coup d’état as a situation where power is forcefully taken away from a ruler, either physically or psychologically. This could be through the ballot box or through the barrel of a gun. Let us take the uMkhonto weSizwe party for example.

The aim of the party is appeal to the masses, to sway their loyalty away from the "ANC of Ramaphosa". This is what I call a “psychological coup”. It will inevitably create jealously within the ruling party. A Harvard professor once defined jealousy as the fear that something will be taken away from you. I would be interested to see how the ruling party will stop this time bomb from exploding.

A psychological coup is very painful in that it stretches one to the limit. When former president Thabo Mbeki asked how he could campaign for the ANC when he knew the local leader was a criminal, this is quintessentially a psychological coup, one that will sway some members away from the ruling party.

The ANC’s coming January 8 Statement must address these concerns. I think Winston Churchill's words are worth recalling: "Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others change their principles for the sake of the party."

If political parties club together to unseat the ruling party, that would be psychological coup d’état. Mangolele spoke the right words, but to the wrong tune. He will eternally be punished for his temerity.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in Construction Management

The Star