Cosatu di­vorce will end ANC ‘hol­i­day’

Au­thor Wil­liam Gumede says the rul­ing party will have to de­fend it­self on two fronts, writes SUE SE­GAR

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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.

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