Power grab throws ANC off bal­ance

The pre­mier league wields more clout than the eco­nom­i­cally most pow­er­ful prov­inces

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Nathan Du­four & Richard Cal­land

Since 1994, power has shifted dra­mat­i­cally within the ANC. The rul­ing party’s elec­toral col­lege (see graphic be­low), which in De­cem­ber will elect not only Jacob Zuma’s suc­ces­sor as leader of the party but also the all-im­por­tant 80-mem­ber na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC), is no­tably dif­fer­ent from two decades ago.

And, sig­nif­i­cantly for the ANC’s le­git­i­macy and elec­toral prospects in 2019 and be­yond, its own po­lit­i­cal bal­ance may have parted com­pany with that of South Africa. Ar­guably, it no longer rep­re­sents or re­flects the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic land­scape of the coun­try.

As in­ter­nal ANC power has moved to prov­inces such as Mpumalanga and North West, and away from the eco­nomic heart­beat of Gaut­eng and its tra­di­tional heart­land of the Eastern Cape (see ta­ble), in­ter­est­ing ques­tions arise about whether the ANC’s in­ter­nal democ­racy is fit for the pur­pose of lead­ing South Africa.

The po­lit­i­cal weight of the so-called “pre­mier league” of prov­inces (Free State, North West and Mpumalanga, plus the ad­di­tional “founder mem­ber”, KwaZulu-Natal) within the ANC fam­ily has grown ex­po­nen­tially in the 20 years since Thabo Mbeki tri­umphed at the 1997 Mafikeng con­fer­ence. This de­mands scru­tiny as the party heads for what is clearly go­ing to be a wa­ter­shed five-yearly na­tional elec­tive con­fer­ence.

So, the two land­scapes de­serve to be com­pared: the coun­try’s on the one hand, and the ANC’s on the other.

With more than half the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of South Africa and nearly 65% of South Africa’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP), the prov­inces of Gaut­eng, KwaZulu-Natal and the West­ern Cape — with their re­spec­tive met­ros Jo­han­nes­burg, Ekurhu­leni, Tsh­wane, Dur­ban and Cape Town in par­tic­u­lar — to­gether con­sti­tute the eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic epi­cen­tre of the coun­try.

Look­ing at the way the ANC’s NEC at­trib­uted the num­ber of branch del­e­gates per province to at­tend na­tional con­fer­ences (elec­toral col­leges) in the past two decades, one could le­git­i­mately ques­tion whether South Africa’s de­mo­graphic and eco­nomic spread of power is prop­erly con­verted into a po­lit­i­cal one in the ANC’s lead­er­ship elec­toral process.

Al­though the pre­mier league, with or with­out KwaZulu-Natal, re­mains a rel­a­tive out­lier from a de­mo­graphic and eco­nomic per­spec­tive — ac­count­ing for less than half of the big three prov­inces’ con­tri­bu­tion to na­tional GDP and be­tween onethird (with­out KwaZulu-Natal) and two-thirds (with KwaZulu-Natal) of its de­mo­graphic weight — it is now punch­ing way above its po­lit­i­cal weight, rep­re­sent­ing a mas­sive 35% of all vot­ing branch del­e­gates.

KwaZulu-Natal com­pli­cates this anal­y­sis. On the one hand, clearly it is a pow­er­ful province from an eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic point of view. Thus, the sig­nif­i­cant power it en­joys within the ANC elec­toral col­lege (hav­ing in­creased its 15.6% share of the ANC’s elec­toral col­lege in 1997 to 18.4% now), is in fact a bet­ter re­flec­tion of the province’s place in the coun­try as a whole. But it is also a founder mem­ber of the pre­mier league and a part, there­fore, of the pro­ject to shift power away from the “cos­mopoli­tan” dom­i­nance of the so-called “1996 class pro­ject” and the Mbeki years.

In other words, KwaZulu-Natal — es­pe­cially, of course, dur­ing the Zuma era — has claimed greater po­lit­i­cal power within the ANC for very par­tic­u­lar fac­tional and ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons, es­pe­cially when it is seen as po­lit­i­cally joined at the hip with the core pre­mier league fac­tion of the North West, Free State and Mpumalanga.

Since 1994, the big three’s po­lit­i­cal power within the ANC has seen a sharp over­all de­crease in vot­ing power within the ANC elec­toral col­lege, with Gaut­eng and the West­ern Cape hav­ing lost re­spec­tively 25% and 50% of their re­spec­tive shares of the ANC elec­toral col­lege since the 1997 Mafikeng na­tional con­fer­ence.

Mean­while, the share of the pre­mier league has in­creased from 27% in 1997 to 35% in 2017 (with­out KwaZulu-Natal), and from 42.9% in 1997 to a ma­jor­ity share of 54% in 2017 when KwaZulu-Natal is in­cluded in the equa­tion.

So, al­though the big three’s fall in share of the elec­toral col­lege (from 37.4% to 32.9% over the past 20 years) matches its fall in its col­lec­tive con­tri­bu­tion to GDP (down from around 68% to 63% over the same pe­riod), there is now a re­mark­able dis­par­ity be­tween its con­tri­bu­tion to GDP and its share of the votes in the ANC’s elec­toral col­lege.

This dra­matic in­crease in the power of the pre­mier league has never ap­peared more clearly than dur­ing the cur­rent ANC elec­toral process. Al­though the pre­mier league’s con­tri­bu­tion to GDP is still un­der 20%, even in­clud­ing KwaZu­luNatal, and has only in­creased by about 2% in the past 20 years, its share of the elec­toral col­lege is now over 50%.

But if data col­lec­tion al­lows one to clearly iden­tify and quan­tify th­ese trends, what are the im­pli­ca­tions for South Africa’s democ­racy and its po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion?

In spite of the ANC’s record de­cline in sup­port at the 2016 lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions (see our anal­y­sis at http://thep­a­ter­nos­ter­group. com/a-three-layer-ex­trap­o­la­tion-for2019-min­ing-the-depth-and-scope-ofthe-anc-de­cline/), it has been in the driv­ing seat of the coun­try for more than two decades. Ques­tions about the demo­cratic le­git­i­macy of its lead­er­ship de­serve careful scru­tiny, not least be­cause of this lead­er­ship’s con­trol of the se­lec­tion process of those who sit in Luthuli House or oc­cupy key func­tions in the pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion and, to a lesser ex­tent, in the ju­di­ciary.

In other words, the rul­ing party’s dom­i­nance of elec­toral pol­i­tics and there­fore govern­ment means that the process by which it elects its lead­ers de­serves to be in the spot­light — not least be­cause, as we have seen dur­ing the Zuma years, the po­lit­i­cal char­ac­ter and com­po­si­tion of the NEC has a huge im­pact on the power of the pres­i­dent of the ANC and, thereby, the pres­i­dent of the coun­try. Zuma has sur­vived sev­eral at­tempts to re­call him as pres­i­dent of South Africa be­cause he re­tains the sup­port of a ma­jor­ity in the NEC, who owe their power to Zuma’s pa­tron­age.

Put even more clearly: who­ever con­trols the ANC’s elec­toral col­lege con­trols South Africa, es­pe­cially with­out a vi­able elec­toral al­ter­na­tive in na­tional elec­tions, or at least in the five na­tional elec­tions held since 1994.

At least those who run Luthuli House seem to have recog­nised the sig­nif­i­cance of this in­ter­nal trend and the ef­fect of the grow­ing in­flu­ence of some prov­inces within the ANC’s elec­toral col­lege.

And, in­deed, the ANC has been mov­ing quickly in re­cent weeks to em­power its branches to with­stand in­ter­fer­ence from the pro­vin­cial and, to a lesser ex­tent, re­gional lead­er­ships. In pre­vi­ous ANC elec­tions, it was clear that the pro­vin­cial struc­tures re­mained pow­er­ful gate­keep­ers and in­ter­me­di­aries be­tween the branch gen­eral meet­ings and the ac­tual na­tional con­fer­ence. That is why there has been such a fierce — and at times, deadly — con­test for pro­vin­cial power in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, in par­tic­u­lar.

Based on the cur­rent trends at the branch, sub­re­gional and re­gional lev­els, it seems that the branches are try­ing to make the best use of this new win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to play their role as the ba­sic unit of the ANC’s huge ma­chin­ery, with some openly disobey­ing the choices ex­pressed by the pro­vin­cial lead­er­ship. But the potential back­lash from this could well be a dan­ger­ous rise in po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity at this late stage of the nom­i­na­tion process.

On the other hand, pro­vin­cial and re­gional lead­er­ships have re­tal­i­ated by ex­press­ing their in­tent to pro­ceed with their pro­vin­cial ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil, re­gional ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil and other pro­vin­cial gen­eral coun­cil meet­ings de­spite the NEC or­der not to hold such meet­ings less than two months before the na­tional con­fer­ence.

This trend of ever-grow­ing po­lit­i­cal con­trol at the pe­riph­ery over the eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic core of the coun­try seems to be coun­ter­in­tu­itive, par­tic­u­larly when one looks at coun­tries such as France, where poorer re­gions strug­gle for at­ten­tion against af­flu­ent ur­ban cen­tres, with huge po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences, such as the Brexit vote in the United King­dom and the vic­tory of Don­ald Trump in the United States.

In­deed, the suc­cess of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in con­vinc­ing those at the pe­riph­ery that Washington had over­looked them for too long bears a cer­tain re­sem­blance to what is hap­pen­ing in South Africa: a par­a­sitic, pop­ulist fac­tion ap­pears to have eaten its way into the very core of the ANC, with pro­found con­se­quences for South Africa and the rul­ing party.

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