Cosatu divorce will end ANC ‘holiday’
Author William Gumede says the ruling party will have to defend itself on two fronts, writes SUE SEGAR
IF NELSON Mandela was aware of political developments in the ANC today, he would be “extremely disappointed in the ANC leadership”. That’s the view of respected writer and political commentator William Gumede, who says the country is back-sliding on Mandela’s values and principles, and “what he wanted to do in creating an inclusive South Africanness, and building an inclusive, caring democracy”.
“This is not the space in which he would have wanted the country to be. We are reversing the gains. Our democracy is really in a crisis,” he said, speaking in Cape Town where he is to launch the republished Nelson Mandela – No Easy Walk to Freedom, a classic collection of articles, speeches, letters from the underground and transcripts from Mandela’s trials, for which Gumede has written a new introduction.
Gumede, author of the highlyacclaimed Restless Nation – Making Sense of Troubled Times, has also recently brought out an e-book, South Africa in BRICS: Salvation or Ruination, which looks at the opportunities and disadvantages for this country as a player in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) association.
Gumede, discussing the road ahead for South Africa to the 2014 elections, said the break-up of Cosatu – if and when it happens – would create the most dramatic change in the country’s politics in recent history.
It would mean that the ANC would be forced to defend itself on two fronts as a party – from the traditional opposition parties to its right, and from the trade unions and workers on the left.
“The ANC has been on holiday, in a sense, as they had only, to date, had to fight their ‘right’ flank,” Gumede said.
“We are about to witness a shift of the tectonic plates in South African politics. The formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters by Julius Malema was an important event which saw the populace moving out of the ANC to defend themselves nationally.
“And now we will have a movement away by the workers,” he predicted, as it appeared that “divorce papers” between Cosatu and Numsa could be on the table.
Gumede said the trade union movement had been a very powerful supporter of the ANC, which had helped the party to reach its big majorities in the 1994 and other elections.
But this was “the first time they really are not very enthusiastic about the ANC”.
“What South African politics really needs is a configuration where you have the ANC, the other opposition political parties, and, in addition, a labour party formed out of the unions. That would create a good, fair balance.
“If and when it happens, it will be the biggest political event … in years.”
Gumede said it had been “all too easy” for the ANC to dismiss parties like the DA as “apartheid apologists”.
“But once you are fighting people from the other side, people who have legitimacy and strong struggle credentials, then, quite simply, you are going to have to be accountable,” he said. Gumede believed that if the Cosatu/Numsa “divorce” did take place, it would probably happen after next year’s elections.
Nevertheless, the forthcoming elections would be a tipping point for the ANC “because, never before in the ANC’s history, have there been so many members and branches of the ANC opposed to a sitting president”. “That hasn’t happened before.” Gumede said he believed many traditional ANC supporters were waiting to see how well Jacob Zuma did in the elections.
“If the ANC drops its support, with Zuma as the face of the party, to below 60 percent, it will be the beginning of huge psychological changes in the organisation.”
What it would mean was that people who were traditionally ANC supporters, and who were becoming increasingly unhappy with the party, but did not want to go for other parties as they thought they were too small and insignificant, would now have – and make use of – other options. Once the ANC dropped under 60 percent, his sense was that “that barrier will psychologically be broken”.
The EFF could capture up to 5 percent of the ANC’s traditional voters.
And the unions had also become very lukewarm about supporting the ANC; “branches like Gauteng don’t even want the president to campaign with them for the elections”.
“So, potentially this coming election may be a tipping point for South Africa’s political system, and we may actually see a reconfiguration of South Africa’s political system.”
Turning to the current political landscape, Gumede said he believed the ANC was fracturing “from the margins”.
“Whereas previously I thought maybe the ANC would break right down the middle with the unions moving away, what we see now is that the ANC alliance is fracturing from the sides.
“Julius Malema and the populist wing have been moving out of the ANC to the EFF. Earlier, from the party centre, we saw people leaving to form Cope.
“Mamphele Ramphele’s party Agang will capture a whole lot of people from the ANC’s middle class, and the DA might also capture people from this sector,” he said.
But for him, the biggest political event ahead would be the break-up of Cosatu.
“Since 1994, all the opposition parties have come from the right or centre right of the ANC.
“That has failed to capture the imagination of ANC members as the ANC’s constituency and membership has been on the left. That has been a problem. We need a political party from the left flank.”
Turning to the prospects of Agang, he predicted that as a party on the right of the ANC, Agang might find itself in a “political wilderness” – and a “very contested space”.
“She (Ramphele) might get some people from the black middle class voting for her – but many of them, if they don’t vote for the ANC, could also opt to vote for Cope, for the DA – or not at all.”
Ramphele, he added, would have been better trying to change the party from within, or targeting the women’s constituency, building a party specifically for women, many of whom were currently feeling marginalised in South African society.
“In terms of Julius Malema, whatever we say about him, he has been a brilliant opportunist by going the populist route and capturing the resentful, disillusioned youth and bringing them into one party.”
Gumede said he believed that none of the political parties in South Africa were relevant to the country’s constitution, however.
“We want to build this democratic project, to create this exemplary society at the southernmost tip of Africa. We want radical economic transformation… but the parties and leaders are simply not relevant to our times.”
UNCERTAIN TIMES: Commentator Willam Gumede says we are reversing the gains of democracy.