The day the earth moved beneath the party linesSince the advent of our democracy, we have come to know the ANC as a political party and its alliance with the Congress Of South African Trade Unions and South African Communist Party as a united front in the interest of the disenfranchised and formerly oppressed people of South Africa. Nelson Mandela wowed us with his message of hope and forgiveness, while President Mbeki kept everyone placated with his economic “magic” which kept the ANC and Alliance on steady ground, but the ground has moved beneath their feet since then.
It all started the day when the “Pirates of Polokwane” won the ANC nomination from President Mbeki in 2008 and while this is quite normal for any political organisation, the eventual recall of a sitting President in September of that year gave the first indication of “cracks” in the wall. The recall, combined with the breakaway that resulted in the formation of the Congress of the People, was the indication that there were indeed deep seated philosophical divides inside the organisation itself and if we consider the makeup of President Zuma’s cabinet, an assertion that tribalism (in the form of the Xhosa-Zulu rivalry is) alive and kicking as well does not fall oustide the realm of logic.
Since taking power, however, President Zuma is solely responsible for the erosion of the moral high ground that the party once occupied and this has been done through the various corruption scandals that the Zuma family were so blatantly involved in, ultimately culminating in Nkandla and Guptagate. More importantly though, the President (and perhaps Gwede Mantashe) made serious political errors that now have the power to turn the tremors beneath their feet into a full blown political earthquake.
Mount VaviWhen he first came to power, one of the Jacob Zuma administration’s major supporters and campaigners was COSATU Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi, but the man quickly became disillusioned with the vast difference between the more populist policies promised by Zuma and the lack of practical change. Before long, this stalwart was highly outspoken against the increasing amount of corruption and self-enrichment that was starting to take place inside the Zuma Government. We all remember that he was the one who called for “lifestyle audits” to be made mandatory for all Ministers, Members of Parliament and their families and it was Vavi who first likened them to “an elite of political hyenas.” In the eyes of Zuma and Co, Vavi became a thorn in their sides and took such an offense to these statements that the ANC threatened to charge the COSATU man with “ill-discipline.” The rivalry came to a head this year with Vavi’s outright and defiant refusal to let go of the trade federation’s fight against the “privatisation of South Africa’s roads” through the e-Tolling system.
It is common knowledge that Vavi has been suspended by the federation as of 14 August 2013 pending the outcome of an internal disciplinary action surrounding the irregular appointment of a young woman and his eventual sexual relationship with her, but thanks to the mentioned threat of disciplinary action against the Secretary General and Zumantashe’s (I know it’s corny as hell, but it remains fitting) proclivity towards getting rid of political dissidents in an almost Stalinesque fashion, many people inside the federation see the accusations levelled against Vavi and his subsequent suspension as just another way in which the ANC cabal is trying to eliminate a political opponent from the scene.
The major player in the COSATU rift is the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and theirs is another curious case of South African politics. Up until last December’s Mangaung Policy Conference, NUMSA was standing in the “forces for change” camp in opposition to President Zuma’s re-election, but a last minute meeting with former NUMSA President Cedric Gina saw the union switching sides. Gina resigned earlier in the week, however, and now we find NUMSA squarely back on the opposite side of the fence under the leadership of Irvin Jim. This proves problematic for the ANC as it means that they will effectively lose the union structures that has given them easy access to some 320 000 NUMSA members and if NUMSA (the biggest member union following the AMCU split in the NUM) should draw their line in the sand, it could mean losing access to even more potential voters, thus putting a serious dent in the party’s electioneering machinery.
Political Storm MalemaWhat makes the NUMSA sting ever more poignant for the ANC is that NUMSA, in step with NUM breakaway AMCU, now seems to be in support of the far-left policies put forward by the Economic Freedom Fighters of Julius Malema. There is simply no need for me to repeat the story of Julius Malema or the fact that Zumanatashe effectively created his, but the major threat that he poses not only that he understands the inner workings of the party and alliance better than anyone, but that he has managed to effectively hijack the support of the poor and the unemployed by dusting off the ANC’s Freedom Charter. This is actually a master gambit since many of the still disenfranchised people country view the concessions that the ANC made in this regard in the 1990’s as a betrayal of the people of South Africa and the core values of the movement. The threat Malema poses to the ANC and the alliance does not stop there, however, since he is known (and rose to prominence) for his precise ability to make connections, irrespective of their relevance, between the past and the present.
The fact that the EFF as a political party was launched on “Marikana Hill” is no accident, for example, because it paints the ANC in the same light as the erstwhile National Party by virtue of the similarities between the Marikana and Sharpeville massacres, so we can expect that more of these similarities will be drawn by the EFF in the days to come. Ultimately, the ANC has to be extremely careful with regards to its election strategy and actions as Government going forward, because the EFF, and particularly Julius Malema, has absolutely nothing to lose, making them a distinctly dangerous animal.
The unmentioned aspect of the EFF aspect, of course, is the SACP and should the alliance indeed tear in two, it is not hard to imagine where the whipping boy of the Tri-Partite Alliance will find itself, because I think that the "hardline" members of the SACP are simply drooling at the prospect of communism reborn via the EFF.
The AGANG/DA breezeIt is a historical, often publicly lamented fact that the ANC seems to be unable to keep the support of the growing black middle class that it is responsible for creating through its redress policies. Perhaps it is because of the fact that as Government, the ANC is incapable of attending to their revised needs and interests, or maybe it is because the black middle class has clued into the fact that having a certain amount of wealth is not what it is made out to be politically. Whatever the case may be, I think we can safely assume that this fact, coupled with public perception that the DA is too white, gave rise to the birth of AGANG SA led by Dr Mamphela Ramphele and also not to be forgotten in its birth is the fact that this will be the first election in which the “born free” section of our society will vote without the historic allegiance to any of the older political parties in the country. Some people will also refer to AGANG SA as a possible new home for the disgruntled ANC cadres who lost out at Polokwane and Mangaung, as well as those in the ANC who cannot agree with the leftist shift in the party’s policies or do not see an opportunity for them to try to preserve the spirit of Mandela’s ANC from within. The party, as I see it, was formed with the sole purpose of serving as the middle-point between the left-leaning ANC and the right-wing, liberal DA.
The DA on the other hand has apparently (and rather haphazardly) realised that race issues still matter in modern day South Africa and true to all expectation, COSATU has responded by saying that the black caucus inside the DA has finally managed to put Madam Zille in her place, but I have a different point of view. Due to the excessive spending and corruption on all levels of Government, the party that prides itself on “clean governance” wherever it enjoys power, has considered the recent service delivery protests in places like Bekkersdal as a clear sign that the black vote is now more available to them than it had ever been and the change in their policy (to reflect that which they know has historically worked for the ANC) is nothing but an attempt to cash in on the disillusionment that many people feel with the ANC, especially given the developments on that side of the political fence, but it remains nothing but a move from possessive liberalism to developmental liberalism and I doubt that we will ever see the pure leftist policies of the ANC and the EFF coming from the DA.
The ANC on the 55.5% precipiceIndividually, these developments in our political landscape do not mean much, but in combination they could easily see the ANC pushed to, or over, the 55.5% precipice. This is the point in our political system that determines the amount of freedom that the ruling party enjoys and at anything over 55.5%, you can pretty much do anything that will not result in the loss of more than 10% of your support base, anything under that though and a 10% loss in your support base would mean that you would lose your parliamentary majority come the next election.
This is a conundrum that the ANC is more than acutely aware of and that is why Secretary General Mantashe is hard at work inside the COSATU structures to minimize the damage of the NUMSA split that seems to be a foregone conclusion. In the event that other unions follow suit or that a rival federation gains more support than COSATU, the ANC will lose their de facto ownership of the largest segment of the South African voting public and that could very well determine whether they win or lose the 2019 elections. In this worst case scenario it will become necessary for the ANC to step up on pure governance and truly delivering on its election promises of a better life for all. It would seem however, that even the ANC itself has serious reservations on its ability to do that.
I say again, Jacob Zuma; the best thing that’s ever happened to South Africa’s democracy.