A famous quote from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”. The same logic applies to the insistence by the ANC and its allies that they are united and that any reports about internal divisions are fabricated by the media. If there are genuinely no divisions, why should there have to be constant denials of conflict?
The default position in the alliance is to blame the media for reporting on the divisions, even though the source of information about internal strife is almost always from within the organisations in question. The ANC, SACP and Cosatu create the impression that the media goes out to actively seek information about their internal turmoil. But over the years, a tactic of the political warfare is to leak information in order to damage political foes and shore up support from sympathisers.
The Mail & Guardian reported last week that ANC members across the country who did not support President Jacob Zuma’s re-election at the party’s Mangaung national conference were claiming they were being purged from party structures. While the sidelining of those who campaigned against the president’s second term in Limpopo and the North West provinces, as well as the ANC Youth League, is quite apparent, the paper cited how anti-Zuma members in other provinces were being marginalised.
The ANC came back with a fierce denial, claiming the paper was “on a campaign of misinformation and distortion”.
“In a desperate attempt to give credence to its ludicrous claims of purging, the paper seeks to draw non-existent linkages between charges brought by a court of law against comrades and so-called battles within the ANC. The African National Congress has consistently maintained that, as per our constitutional prescripts, everyone is innocent until proven guilty by a competent process of the law. The ANC continues to maintain this stance even in the case of our comrades mentioned in the article who find themselves in conflict with the law. How the Mail & Guardian views this as [a] purge simply baffles the mind and speaks of the ever-diminishing capacity to reason logically and coherently in the quest for sensationalism within the paper,” ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.
“In the run-up to the General Elections in 2014, there shall be all manner of accusations which will be flung between political contenders. The Mail & Guardian is not a known political opponent of the African National Congress and thus manufactured, untrue and baseless articles such as this one, which have become characteristic of the Mail & Guardian, can only lead us to wonder what the real intention may be,” Mthembu said.
The only thing beyond doubt in Mthembu’s blustery statement is that the run-up to the 2014 national and provincial elections will be bloody and brutal. This will be more so in the ANC, as getting onto the ruling party’s candidate list has turned over the years into the fast track to political power and with it financial gain and access to resources.
The ANC announced after its national executive committee (NEC) meeting last month that it had approved former Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo as its national coordinator of the 2014 election campaign. Senior NEC member Manne Dipico was approved as the ANC’s national list coordinator and secretary general Gwede Mantashe will head a list committee.
There will be one national election list for positions in the 400-member Parliament and nine provincial lists for the legislatures. As with the race to be on the ANC’s NEC ahead of the Mangaung conference, there will be fierce jockeying to get on the election lists, and as high up as possible, as the MP (Member of Parliament) and MPL (Member of the Provincial Legislature) seats are determined by the number of votes the party receives. Those hoping to serve in the national Cabinet would want to be as near to the top of the national list as possible, as the president chooses the bulk of his executive from Parliament. (In terms of the Constitution, the president is only allowed to choose two non-MPs to serve in Cabinet.)
Unless the ANC decides otherwise, Zuma will be number one (probably how the alias for name-dropping came up) on the national list, with Cyril Ramaphosa likely to be second. These are about the only certainties on the list.
The ability to get nominated onto the list is dependent on two issues: how popular you are and which faction you belong to. The provincial executive committees also hold tremendous sway in the list process, which is why battles for dominance are being fought in the provinces. The NEC has decided that no provincial elective conference will be held until after the general elections in order to cool down the provincial leadership battles and prevent further fracturing.
While the ANC might be denying it is purging those in the anti-Zuma camp, the factional battles in the provinces are a precursor to the jostling for placement on the list. There is obviously uneasiness from those in the losing faction at Mangaung that their chances of getting onto the list are in danger as pro-Zuma members are in the pound seats and are in favour with the decision makers at Luthuli House.
The list process will be a high-stakes battle, as the lower down on the list a candidate is, the less his or her chance of becoming an MP or MPL. There will therefore be intensive lobbying and the possible re-emergence of factional slates to sway the process.
As much as the ANC is trying to write the turmoil off in the provinces now as an exaggeration by the media, it will not be able to do so in a few months when the battles break out in the open again. The pre-Mangaung factional conflict manifested violence, assassinations and court battles. While the contestations subsided after the conference, many of the factional tensions are still prevalent.
If Mantashe and his list committee want to dispel the notion that there is an anti-Zuma purge, they will try to encourage a mix of candidates from all the factions. But from the branches to the provincial executives is where the decisions will first have to be made, and no amount of media statements preaching ANC unity can change what goes on in these structures.
Like with the battles ahead of the Mangaung conference, ordinary South Africans will have to watch from the sidelines as the fierce battles rage to select the people who will decide South Africa’s future between 2014 and 2019. There is also the option of joining ANC branches to participate in the process, or to make sure an opposition party has enough votes to represent them.
The skirmishes within the ruling party will be the opening rounds of South Africa’s most fiercely fought battle since 1994. Whether it wants to admit it or not, the contestation within the party is as much of a threat to its dominance at the polls as challenges from the opposition.
And the ANC is yet to learn that denial will not make this problem go away. DM
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