Lo­cal elec­tions fill ANC with dread

The more the rul­ing party tries to dis­tance it­self from its vot­ers, the an­grier they be­come, writes Richard Pit­house

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

JA­COB Zuma’s as­cent to the pres­i­dency in May last year was an ugly busi­ness, a re­ally ugly busi­ness. And Zuma was hardly a can­di­date with the grav­i­tas to rise above the mess.

He was the for mer head of iMbokodo, a so­cial con­ser­va­tive in whose name sex­ism and eth­nic chau­vin­ism were openly mo­bilised, the for­mer deputy pres­i­dent who had never stood up to Thabo Mbeki on any ques­tion of prin­ci­ple and a man who had sur­ren­dered his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy to some of the shadi­est el­e­ments in a preda­tory and cor­rupt crony cap­i­tal­ist elite.

Some peo­ple fled the ANC in horror. Oth­ers rushed into the party from the IFP. But with Cosatu, the SACP and var­i­ous spin-doc­tors pre­sent­ing Zuma as a ge­nial man of the peo­ple, ex­pec­ta­tions were raised in some quar­ters. We were even told, in all se­ri­ous­ness, and by all kinds of peo­ple who re­ally should have known a lot bet­ter, that Zuma was a man of the left.

But pop­u­lar con­fi­dence in Zuma had clearly been over­stated and within months pop­u­lar protest rose to new lev­els of in­ten­sity. In­stead of a jump to the left we got the coop­tion of the SACP via the dis­tri­bu­tion of cabi­net posts to its lead­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als, paral­y­sis in the Pres­i­dency, a rapid wors­en­ing of the al­ready dodgy links be­tween the party and busi­ness and the emer­gence of an in­creas­ingly bel­liger­ent de­bate be­tween the au­thor­i­tar­ian crony cap­i­tal­ists of the ANC Youth League and the so­cial democrats in Cosatu.

The SACP has at times been some­thing of a brake on some of the ex­cesses of the ANC. But any as­sump­tion that an in­crease in the in­flu­ence of a party with the Stal­in­ist his­tory of the SACP would be in the in­ter­ests of the work­ing class and the poor is, to de­ploy an un­de­servedly po­lite phrase, as du­bi­ous as all hell.

Given the deeply au­thor­i­tar­ian cur­rents that con­tinue to run through the SACP, Zuma’s easy coop­tion of the party and the con­se­quent shift in the cen­tre of grav­ity of the al­liance left to Cosatu may well be a good thing.

Cosatu has not taken a po­si­tion against the re­pres­sion of pop­u­lar or­gan­i­sa­tions out­side of the al­liance but it re­mains, clearly, the most demo­cratic part of the tri­par­tite al­liance. And while it does not rep­re­sent the poor and is much more com­fort­able in align­ing it­self to NGObased civil so­ci­ety rather than pop­u­lar, poor peo­ple’s or­gan­i­sa­tions, it is will­ing to vig­or­ously con­front the in­creas­ingly stri­dent at­tempts in the ANC to cloak au­thor­i­tar­ian crony cap­i­tal­ism in the lan­guage of na­tion­al­ism.

If the el­e­va­tion of Ja­cob Zuma to the Pres­i­dency gave the ANC its fil­lip for 2009, this year was all about the World Cup. But as we move, some of us limp­ing un­der the weight of in­tol­er­a­ble bur­dens and some of us skip­ping on mul­ti­mil­lion-rand pay cheques, through to the con­clu­sion of Ja­cob Zuma’s first full year in of­fice, the ex­pec­ta­tions that were raised around 2010 have shriv­elled and rot­ted away.

We still have Zuma in­eptly try­ing to ref­eree a bout with Cosatu in the left corner, the ANC Youth League in the right and the SACP in­tel­lec­tu­als writ­ing in­creas­ingly tor­tu­ous letters to their mem­bers from the VIP box while bar­ri­cades con­tinue to go up in the streets out­side.

But while the ANC could ex­ploit the spec­ta­cles of the na­tional elec­tions in 2009 and the World Cup this year to rally the nation with empty but well spun vi­sions of new hope, the po­lit­i­cal agenda for next year will be largely set by the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions.

Most South Africans re­tain con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment in na­tional pol­i­tics and there is plenty of en­thu­si­asm for pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. But since at least 2004 there has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary de­gree of hos­til­ity to­wards lo­cal govern­ment in gen­eral and to­wards ward coun­cil­lors in par­tic­u­lar. Among the many rea­sons for this are that lo­cal govern­ment is of­ten blamed for the fail­ures and lim­its of ser­vice de­liv­ery and that lo­cal govern­ment is where re­la­tions of pa­tron­age are most vis­i­bly and at times bru­tally ex­er­cised through lo­cal party struc­tures. Given the de­gree of pop­u­lar hos­til­ity to­wards ward coun­cil­lors it’s no sur­prise that the ANC is keen to re­form the elec­toral sys­tem in a way that would al­low lo­cal elec­tions to be smug­gled in un­der the radar by align­ing them with na­tional elec­tions.

But next year the ANC will have to deal with lo­cal gover nment elec­tions as an event in their own right. They are sure to be frac­tious within and out­side of the party. In the 2006 lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions there was se­vere re­pres­sion, in­clud­ing bans on protest, po­lice vi­o­lence and mys­te­ri­ous as­sas­si­na­tions against in­de­pen­dent groups that had the temer­ity to chal­lenge the ANC by boy­cotting the elec­tion or run­ning their own can­di­date. The ham­mer fell hard­est in Dur­ban from where Zuma has drawn most of the peo­ple that now lead his in­creas­ingly se­cu­ri­tised state.

As the ANC con­fronts Zuma’s third year in of­fice with lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions to con­tend with, and with­out any ma­jor dis­trac­tion from its fail­ures ready at hand, the risk of in­creased re­pres­sion is high.

We need to be clear that it’s not just the ANC with its lu­di­crous but nev­er­the­less dan­ger­ous para­noia about imag­ined sin­is­ter forces an­i­mat­ing pop­u­lar protest that is in the busi­ness of di­vid­ing the peo­ple, and es­pe­cially the poor, into good and bad fac­tions with a view to jus­tify- ing the ex­clu­sion, vil­i­fi­ca­tion and re­pres­sion of the lat­ter. There are plenty of civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions that are equally in­vested in the busi­ness of sep­a­rat­ing the de­serv­ing poor from the un­de­serv­ing poor.

In some cases this is a con­se­quence of their strate­gic al­liances with the party or the state. In other cases this is part of a global project of dis­ci­plin­ing the poor that is a cen­tral func­tion of main­stream civil so­ci­ety around the world.

We usu­ally cel­e­brate the New Year in the hope that it will be bet­ter than the last. That hope is un­likely to be re­alised for the ANC in 2011. For a rul­ing party that has al­ready shown a ca­pac­ity to treat pop­u­lar dis­sent as some­how il­le­git­i­mate and un­de­serv­ing of the shel­ter that must be af­forded to demo­cratic dis­si­dence in any real democ­racy the dangers are ob­vi­ous.

If Cosatu and the civil so­ci­ety are se­ri­ous about democratis­ing this so­ci­ety rather than just ne­go­ti­at­ing con­ces­sions from an in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian and preda­tory elite from within the po­lit­i­cal struc­tures ap­proved and ul­ti­mately con­trolled by that elite they should, in 2011, take a clear and real po­si­tion in sup­port of the right of all peo­ple to, if they so wish, or­gan­ise and protest out­side of the ANC.

Pit­house teaches pol­i­tics at Rhodes Uni­ver­sity. This ar­ti­cle is pub­lished cour­tesy of the South African Civil So­ci­ety In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice (sac­sis.org.za).

BURN NO­TICE: As Ja­cob Zuma in­eptly tries to ref­eree the bout be­tween Cosatu and the ANC Youth League, and SACP in­tel­lec­tu­als write tor­tu­ous notes to the party’s mem­bers, the bar­ri­cades con­tinue to burn, says the writer.

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