The party’s OVER

Lib­er­a­tion move­ment that’s out­grown its util­ity as a ‘broad church’ faces split

Finweek English Edition - - Cover -

IN A WEEK oF un­prece­dented drama that’s seen Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki bow out of of­fice along with a rump of Cab­i­net min­is­ters, a loos­en­ing up of rigid party loy­al­ties was bound to hap­pen. “When a chief falls off his horse all his fol­low­ers fall,” ANC sec­re­tary gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe half jok­ingly told a gath­er­ing of ed­i­tors at ANC head­quar­ters Luthuli House last week – in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to down­play the cri­sis.

But the ac­tual ex­tent of dis­ar­ray in the ANC is po­ten­tially more dam­ag­ing than a few lieu­tenants trail­ing their leader – rais­ing ques­tions whether there is in fact an in­cip­i­ent trend to­wards an or­gan­ised fac­tion in the party and, ul­ti­mately, the for­ma­tion of a new break­away party.

Al­though it’s still too soon to make a de­fin­i­tive pro­nounce­ment (nei­ther a for­mal po­lit­i­cal plat­form nor a ri­val fac­tion has been of­fi­cially de­clared) the lead­er­ship’s ag­gres­sive pos­tur­ing with re­gard to Mbeki’s dis­missal and the cloud of sus­pi­cion hang­ing over ANC party pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma may have al­ready set off alarm bells as mem­bers threat­ened to leave the party.

In a pre-emp­tive move, the party’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC), spooked by ru­mours of a split, moved swiftly to rein in dis­si­dents and sap some of Mbeki’s swag­ger by stress­ing unity and sta­bil­ity. “I don’t think there’s a new­found ANC,” Man­tashe said dis­con­so­lately, adding the party lead­er­ship hoped to quash any or­gan- ised dis­sent by vis­it­ing all prov­inces to re­in­force the twin themes of unity and sta­bil­ity.

There are cer­tainly signs of an early ex­o­dus, ev­i­denced by the res­ig­na­tion of 850 ANC mem­bers in the Port El­iz­a­beth re­gion last Wed­nes­day. Even Mbeki’s 92-year-old mother, Epainette Mbeki, a mem­ber of the party for more than 60 years, has con­firmed she would back any move to split the ANC – no doubt tak­ing a size­able sup­port base with her – as she saw no fu­ture in the or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der Zuma. And with vet­eran ac­tivists sunk in gloom, the bat­tle lines are now be­ing drawn at pro­vi­sional party con­fer­ences ahead of the elec­tions next year.

For a mono­lithic party whose sta­tus as a lib­er­a­tion move­ment has been a sure-fire ve­hi­cle for elec­toral victory, that prospect may have been un­think­able a few years ago. Soon af­ter the 1994 gen­eral elec­tion Mbeki (then deputy pres­i­dent) pre­dicted the ANC’s mo­nop­oly of gov­ern­ment would dis­solve only af­ter the legacy of racial supremacy and divi­sion was erad­i­cated. He did not say, but no doubt as­sumed, that would take at least a gen­er­a­tion or two, dur­ing which the only cred­i­ble chal­lenge to the ANC would be likely to come from a black-led al­ter­na­tive with im­pec­ca­ble “lib­er­a­tion” po­ten­tial.

Lit­tle did Mbeki know then that the great­est mo­men­tum for a split would be his own re­moval from high of­fice. In­deed, since his de­feat by Zuma in Polok­wane last De­cem­ber,

there’s been talk that Mbeki’s back­ers have been se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing the for­ma­tion of a break­away party. For­mer de­fence min­is­ter Mo­siuoa Lekota, his deputy, Mluleki Ge­orge, and Gaut­eng Premier Mb­haz­ima Shilowa are be­lieved to be lead­ing the cam­paign to start a new party.

Whether that ri­val is cur­rently on the hori­zon is a moot ques­tion. An­a­lysts be­lieve that, in the ab­sence of Mbeki’s ex­pul­sion from the party, he’s likely to re­main loyal to the ANC. “In Mbeki’s un­der­stand­ing of the ANC as fam­ily, the power of blood means it’s un­think­able Mbeki or com­rades such as Joel Net­shiten­zhe and Es­sop Pa­had would be part of a new po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tion,” says Mbeki’s bi­og­ra­pher Mark Ge­visser. How­ever, Ge­visser doesn’t dis­miss the like­li­hood that “younger, proMbeki fol­low­ers who face years in the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness would be tempted”.

They al­ready are. In what could be the first sign of an or­gan­ised plat­form and break­away fac­tion, Mbeki sup­port­ers are be­lieved to be plan­ning demon­stra­tions, beginning with one out­side Par­lia­ment in a sym­bolic protest against the swear­ing in cer­e­mony of Kgalema Mot­lanthe as in­terim Pres­i­dent.

The key ques­tion is on what spe­cific ba­sis pro-Mbeki sup­port­ers would mo­bilise sup­port for a break­away party. On one level, the prime chal­lenge in the runup to and af­ter Polok­wane was to re­group a pop­u­lar move­ment around a com­mon set of ob­jec­tives, the most ob­vi­ous one be­ing to un­seat Mbeki from the ANC pres­i­dency and gov­ern­ment.

Man­tashe said: “Our de­ci­sion to re­call Pres­i­dent Mbeki was taken to unite two cen­tres of power in the coun­try and sta­bilise the party.”

But left in such en­velop­ing terms, the very pol­icy de­tails that have come to de­fine Mbeki’s pres­i­dency – and, there­fore, op­po­si­tion to his gov­ern­ment – are dis­guised in a point­less power strug­gle within the rul­ing party.

On a more pro­found level, says Cen­tre for Pol­icy Stud­ies po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ebrahim Fakir, we could be wit­ness­ing a “vin­di­ca­tion of the as­sump­tion that the ANC has out­grown its util­ity as a uni­fied lib­er­a­tion move­ment, ex­em­pli­fied by con­flict­ing class in­ter­ests over the past decade and its in­creas­ing re­liance dur­ing Mbeki’s pres­i­dency on au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism as a means to dif­fuse left­wing op­po­si­tion within the ranks of the tri­par­tite al­liance and pla­cate ex­ter­nal agen­cies”.

As­sump­tions of that kind func­tion as much more than an an­swer to the query: Is there a like­li­hood of the emer­gence of a cred­i­ble black-led op­po­si­tion? It speaks to a more ex­pan­sive ques­tion: Is there an ide­o­log­i­cal agenda? More acutely, are we now wit­ness­ing the re­venge of Mbeki’s legacy – the for­ward march of mar­ket-led poli­cies halted?

For its part the ANC is stead­fast the party re­mains a “broad church” – cer­tainly broad enough to ac­com­mo­date the di­ver­gent in­ter­ests swirling around in its ranks, says Man­tashe. “We re­main a lib­er­a­tion move­ment pulling to­gether peo­ple from dif­fer­ent class back­grounds.”

Ac­cord­ing to that logic, an ac­com­mo­da­tion of in­ter­ests is pos­si­ble without a rad­i­cal over­haul of the ex­ist­ing pol­icy frame­work. “Let me be clear – we’re not talk­ing about a pol­icy change,” says Man­tashe. On the other hand “to in­fer that there will be no sig­nif­i­cant changes to eco­nomic pol­icy is a bland state­ment. Con­ti­nu­ity and change in terms of a va­ri­ety of propoor em­phases is what will de­fine the new pol­icy regime.”

Thus there may well be grounds to con­clude that a clash of two cen­tres of power has so far ef­fec­tively muf­fled ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, with Zuma act­ing as a kind of lev­el­ling in­flu­ence.

Pro­vi­sion­ally, the con­sen­sus in the ANC would ap­pear to be to tone down the rhetoric of Zuma’s vic­tim­i­sa­tion by Mbeki un­til the elec­tions next year to keep the ebb flow­ing and curry favour with dis­af­fected party mem­bers.

But be­neath the ve­neer of rhet- oric is a clear lack of una­nim­ity over con­tin­u­ing the ANC-led tri­par­tite al­liance on the same ar­ray of eco­nomic poli­cies that Mbeki in­tro­duced dur­ing his ten­ure. The fall­out of in­ter­ests oc­cur­ring within the ANC cer­tainly raises ques­tions about its suit­abil­ity for such an ac­com­mo­dat­ing role. To put that in per­spec­tive, the cus­tom­ary in­junc­tion in the al­liance since 1994 has al­ways been to “win the ANC gov­ern­ment over to a more rad­i­cal per­spec­tive by strug­gling to re­vive its pu­ta­tive work­ing class bias”, a well-worn pre­cept of the SA Com­mu­nist Party (SACP) and Cosatu.

A 1997 cri­tique of the ANC’s 1996 The State and So­cial Trans­for­ma­tion strat­egy by the SACP’s Jeremy Cronin and Blade Nz­i­mande is em­blem­atic. They noted in an­guished tones “a rad­i­cal and cu­ri­ous shift” from ear­lier ANC po­si­tions, be­moan­ing the ANC’s “slide into a tech­no­cratic, class­neu­tral ap­proach to pol­i­tics” and ac­cus­ing the then Gov­ern­ment of “aban­don­ing trans­for­ma­tion of ex­ist­ing power re­al­i­ties and con­fin­ing our demo­cratic State to a reg­u­la­tory role”.

Those per­spec­tives weren’t pe­ri­odic aber­ra­tions. They lay at the very heart of Mbeki’s at­tempt to in­su­late Gov­ern­ment’s re­form agenda from the dis­rup­tive in­flu­ences of labour, start­ing in 1990 when the ANC set about dis­sem­bling and in­cor­po­rat­ing many or­gan­i­sa­tions that had driven the protests of the pre­vi­ous decade. Typ­i­cally, that per­spec­tive dis­played a dis­trust of pop­u­lar ini­tia­tives and grass­roots democ­racy and a com­pa­ra­ble ven­er­a­tion of the State.

That was glar­ingly ev­i­dent, first in the Growth, Em­ploy­ment and Re­dis­tri­bu­tion (Gear) macroe­co­nomic plan, a strat­egy drawn up by a pur­port­edly ide­o­log­i­cally neu­tral team of economists and po­lit­i­cally pro­pelled by tech­nocrats within the ANC Gov­ern­ment and, by the late Nineties, in Mbeki’s push to trans­form the ANC from a lib­er­a­tion move­ment into a mod­ern po­lit­i­cal party.

But while the post-1990 plethora of ne­go­ti­at­ing fo­rums and the huge de­mand for pol­icy pro­pos­als and action pushed to the fore those or­gan­i­sa­tions ca­pa­ble of ren­der­ing tech­ni­cal ser­vices and en­abling them to in­flu­ence poli­cies it also in­tro­duced new dif­fi­cul­ties. One was the marginal­i­sa­tion of the con­stituen­cies those pro­cesses were sup­posed to serve.

By 2000 the party was al­ready im­plod­ing. Mbeki was ever con­fi­dent that the ANC had ef­fec­tively quashed dis­sent. In fact, a new cult of cadres emerged as or­gans of State sub­sumed the party ma­chin­ery. De­ploy­ments by Mbeki of ANC cadres into pro­vi­sional and cen­tral gov­ern­ment, in­sti­tu­tions of the State and busi­ness au­to­mat­i­cally meant lead­er­ship by de­cree. For ex­am­ple, al­le­giance to the ANC “en­tailed the adop­tion of a sin­gu­larised world view and po­lit­i­cal iden­tity, purged of para­dox­i­cal or con­tra­dic­tory in­ter­ests in its rank and file”, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Hein Marais as­tutely ob­served in an ear­lier es­ti­ma­tion of the trend to­wards what was later com­monly known as an im­pe­rial pres­i­dency.

Other lay­ers of dif­fer­ence – notably, class – were played down in less am­bigu­ous ways in a de­vel­op­men­tal agenda built on the cen­tral theme of na­tion­al­ism.

It was into that blind spot that Mbeki ap­pears to have slid. The irony, as most lib­er­a­tion move­ments in other so­ci­eties have dis­cov­ered, is that a propen­sity for strictly tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions both de­politi­cised and re­politi­cises the prob­lem at hand. Once de­coded into purely ra­tio­nal terms, the re­sul­tant de­ci­sions, by over­look­ing those dy­nam­ics, re­in­force and le­git­imise them. Dif­fer­ences – which Mbeki warned in his 1999 in­au­gu­ral ad­dress to Par­lia­ment would “ex­plode” if left un­re­solved – did in­deed erupt to the sur­face in 2004 as com­mu­nity protests about ser­vice de­liv­ery gained ground.

In the years that fol­lowed there were cer­tainly grounds for labour’s as­ser­tion that the tra­di­tional vi­sion of the ANC had been lost to a newly emerg­ing group of well-heeled busi­ness­men and -women.

The ques­tion whether Mbeki’s re­moval was a re­sult of a press­ing need to “unite two poles in the ANC” – as Man­tashe puts it – there­fore be­trays the mis­con­cep­tion of two camps cen­tred on the in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties of Mbeki and Zuma.

Fact is, the mo­tive be­hind Mbeki’s re­moval and talk of a break­away party isn’t sim­ply to cal­cu­late a for­mula that can re­vive a ubiq­ui­tous “na­tional demo­cratic revo­lu­tion”, as Man­tashe clum­sily puts it. It’s more likely a fun­da­men­tal re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of a pop­u­lar move­ment on the ba­sis of an ex­plic­itly pro-poor per­spec­tive.

As Cosatu na­tional spokesman Pa­trick Craven says: “Since the adop­tion of Gear in 1996 there’s been far too much re­liance on mar­ket forces that have seen the wealthy get wealth­ier and the poor get poorer. We’d like to see a far greater role for the State and a re­duc­tion of mar­ket forces in the dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth.”

Fakir says if Cosatu is in­deed an as­cend­ing force in the new ANC gov­ern­ment, then talk of unity and the prom­ise of macroe­co­nomic con­ti­nu­ity surely be­lie a party whose dou­ble-edged char­ac­ter raises a num­ber of per­plex­ing is­sues. “If events of the past week are es­sen­tially an at­tempt by Cosatu and the SACP to throw down the gaunt­let to re­claim own­er­ship of a party of the poor and his­tor­i­cally disen­fran­chised, how and un­der what con­di­tions will the new gov­ern­ment main­tain a rel­a­tively sta­ble mix of mar­ket­friendly and pro-poor poli­cies?”

Those ap­par­ent dilem­mas prompt con­tro­ver­sial but chal­leng­ing prog­noses, one of which is an op­po­si­tional party with a pro-mar­ket agenda. In­deed, while the tim­ing of Mbeki’s 1995 prog­no­sis of the ANC’s dis­so­lu­tion may be off the mark, could there be a more pro­pi­tious op­por­tu­nity?

In­side the tri­par­tite al­liance is a rul­ing party as­sailed by in­ter­nal dis­quiet: power strug­gles, ide­o­log­i­cal rifts, per­sonal spats and a propen­sity to cor­rupt prac­tices by party leaders. Out­side the party’s perime­ters, an in­cip­i­ent so­cial move­ment: ac­tivist group­ings that have op­posed Mbeki’s stance on HIV/Aids to anti-pri­vati­sa­tion and anti-evic­tion fo­rums have threat­ened the le­git­i­macy of the ANC’s pol­icy po­si­tion on a wide range of is­sues.

Cours­ing through the ANC’s ranks are bur­geon­ing anti-mar­ket sen­ti­ments that, in­creas­ingly, are al­lied to an aver­sion to­wards dis­sent and het­ero­doxy, an an­tipa­thy now ra­tio­nalised un­der the rhetoric of “sta­bil­ity” and “unity”.

“The dif­fer­ence un­der the new lead­er­ship,” says Fakir, “is that the party’s ide­o­log­i­cal agenda will shift to­wards the poor, with those sup­port­ing Mbeki on the mar­gins – a com­plete re­ver­sal to what we saw dur­ing Mbeki’s pres­i­dency.”

Therein lies the ra­tio­nale for a new party.

The im­pli­ca­tions, some com­men­ta­tors main­tain, are se­ri­ous. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst William Gumede says if sup­port for Mbeki at the party’s Polok­wane con­fer­ence was any­thing to go by, roughly 40% of the ANC’s sup­port base could (in the­ory) con­sti­tute the axis of a vi­able op­po­si­tion.

Yet, like the ebb and flow of tides, it’s not easy to dis­cern where one ends and the other be­gins.

What’s clear is that the ANC it­self is at a cross­road: not one that will nec­es­sar­ily oc­ca­sion its sud­den dis­in­te­gra­tion, as some main­stream pun­dits tire­lessly pre­dict, but one that will most cer­tainly force it to ac­knowl­edge and re­spond to the over­lap­ping in­ter­ests and ten­den­cies that co­hab­i­tate within it in the run-up to next year’s elec­tion.

For ex­am­ple, over the past nine months Zuma has stri­dently re­as­sured busi­ness leaders he would fol­low in the mar­ket-friendly foot­steps of his pre­de­ces­sors, de­spite his close ties to his left­wing al­lies in the ANC coali­tion.

How­ever, it’s un­likely that Cosatu and the SACP will tol­er­ate any­thing less than a dra­matic pol­icy shift. “We have a set of pro-poor de­mands that we’ll take to the next al­liance sum­mit in Oc­to­ber – and we’ll set­tle for noth­ing less,” in­sists Craven.

Just how de­ter­mined labour is to get its way was writ large ear­lier this year when Zuma was rapped over the knuck­les by Cosatu chief Zwelinz­ima Vavi for his pub­lic gaffe in ad­vo­cat­ing labour mar­ket flex­i­bil­ity. Zuma backed off, promis­ing never to ad­vo­cate poli­cies that harmed work­ers.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture of the un­fold­ing drama is that it might well in­evitably her­ald a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion be­yond an ac­com­mo­da­tion of in­ter­ests. The para­dox is ob­vi­ous: The ANC is both the sub­ject and ob­ject of change.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.