How a deal with pro­vin­cial strong­men is haunt­ing South Africa’s rul­ing party

Steven Fried­man is Pro­fes­sor of Pol­i­tics, Uni­ver­sity of Johannesburg. This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished in the Con­ver­sa­tion

African Times - - News -

Last year South Africa’s gov­ern­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) elected a new lead­er­ship which was the re­sult of a hard boiled deal be­tween the party’s fac­tions. South Africans can now see how the deal which pro­duced a new gov­ern­ing party lead­er­ship last year is meant to work. It may keep the ANC to­gether and is un­likely to worry peo­ple in the ma­jor cities much. But it could make an al­ready se­ri­ous in­equal­ity prob­lem worse.

The na­ture of the deal is re­vealed by events in North West province where Supra Mahumapelo, an un­pop­u­lar pro­vin­cial pre­mier, seems set on re­main­ing in power de­spite voter re­jec­tion and demon­stra­tions call­ing for his head. He has so far been able to do this be­cause he con­trols the pro­vin­cial ANC struc­tures.

The na­tional lead­er­ship has placed the province un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of cen­tral gov­ern­ment. But that is more an ad­mis­sion of de­feat than a so­lu­tion. It’s an ac­knowl­edge­ment that cen­tral gov­ern­ment could not solve the prob­lem po­lit­i­cally and so it’s been forced to use ad­min­is­tra­tive mea­sures.

To un­der­stand these events, we need to go back to the ANC’s De­cem­ber con­fer­ence at which its cur­rent lead­er­ship, with Cyril Ramaphosa as Pres­i­dent, was elected. The choice of lead­ers was the prod­uct of a deal­which saw the lead­er­ship group di­vided equally be­tween sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of for­mer pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma.

It was also a com­pro­mise be­tween two types of pol­i­tics – one which uses the state’s re­sources for en­rich­ment and pa­tron­age and one rooted in the mar­ket which op­poses gov­ern­ment be­hav­iour that might weaken its abil­ity to cre­ate wealth.

The deal

Since the elec­tion, the ANC’s na­tional lead­er­ship has been be­hav­ing largely as if no deal was done and they alone are in charge. It has re­moved Zuma and has ap­pointed an in­quiry into the “state cap­ture” of which his fac­tion is ac­cused. It has also re­placed the boards and se­nior man­agers of state owned en­ter­prises which were seen to aid the cap­ture of pub­lic re­sources by con­nected peo­ple.

Ramaphosa’s first cab­i­net in­cluded mem­bers of the Zuma fac­tion, but the key po­si­tions are held by his group.

This begged an ob­vi­ous ques­tion: what was the pro-Zuma fac­tion get­ting out of the deal? Why were they fall­ing in line with the anti-state cap­ture agenda which pulled the rug from un­der them?

North West pro­vides the an­swer. At the core of the Zuma fac­tion’s cam­paign, which re­lied on elect­ing his ex-wife Nkosazana DlaminiZuma pres­i­dent, were the so-called Pre­mier League, pro­vin­cial pre­miers in three mainly ru­ral provinces.

Mahumapelo was one but he did not as­cend to na­tional of­fice. The other two, David Mabuza and Ace Ma­gashule, are now deputy pres­i­dent (of both the ANC and the coun­try) and ANC sec­re­tary gen­eral re­spec­tively. While there are dif­fer­ences be­tween them – Mabuza struck the deal which got Ramaphosa elected – all three are re­gional strong­men whose power re­lies on con­trol­ling their provinces.

They seem to have de­cided not to chal­lenge Ramaphosa’s fac­tion on na­tional is­sues. But all three are set on re­tain­ing their power base in their provinces; Mabuza and Ma­gashule have been re­placed by pre­miers who are likely to de­fer to them and Mahumapelo is de­ter­mined to hold onto the North West ANC. They seem to re­main strong enough in their pro­vin­cial ANCs to al­low them to do this.

Back to Ban­tus­tans

If they suc­ceed, peo­ple in the cities will be largely un­af­fected. The bat­tle against na­tional state cap­ture will con­tinue. But those in ru­ral ar­eas, most of which were Ban­tus­tans un­der apartheid – ru­ral dump­ing grounds where lo­cal power hold­ers con­trolled res­i­dents on be­half of the apartheid state – will re­main firmly in the grip of the pa­tron­age pol­i­tics and state cap­ture from which the cities will be at least partly free.

This will not only en­trench in­equal­ity. It will keep alive the apartheid pat­terns which democ­racy was meant to end be­cause mil­lions of peo­ple in the for­mer Ban­tus­tans will re­main un­der the con­trol of lead­ers who are not in­ter­ested in serv­ing them. They will be at best partly free and will con­tinue to live in poverty.

Whether this is al­lowed to hap­pen will de­pend less on ANC politi­cians, in­clud­ing Ramaphosa, than on cit­i­zens. The ANC na­tional lead­er­ship is try­ing to in­ter­vene in North West but it has shown no in­ter­est in chang­ing the way Free State and Mpumalanga are gov­erned. It seems to un­der­stand the deal to mean that they can­not be touched. If Zuma’s ally Sihle Zikalala wins con­trol of KwaZulu-Na­tal, he too might gain a free pass to gov­ern that province as he pleases.

The only rea­son the ANC lead­er­ship is in­ter­ven­ing in the North West is that cit­i­zens have made it clear that they want Mahumapelo and his style of gov­ern­ing gone. Be­sides the dam­ag­ing street demon­stra­tions, the ANC may lose North West to the op­po­si­tion in next year’s gen­eral elec­tion.

While it has lost ground at the polls in the other Pre­mier League provinces, the dam­age is not enough to per­suade na­tional lead­ers that they need to do any­thing about these ar­eas. That would no doubt change if the ANC vote in those provinces also started dip­ping un­der 50%.

The ANC deal seems set to con­demn peo­ple liv­ing where apartheid’s Ban­tus­tans once reigned to much the same sort of gover­nance as they en­dured then. But they have a weapon now which they lacked then: a vote, which might yet bring them the same free­doms peo­ple in the cities en­joy.

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