South Africa

2013: The Year of the Great Splintering

By Stephen Grootes 19 August 2013

2013 AD is a rare year in which there are no major ANC events, conferences or even general elections. Coming just after Mangaung, it was supposed to be a boring year, a year in which President Jacob Zuma simply consolidated his power and got on with running the country. Two-thirds of the way into the year, turns out things have been quite different than expected. We will remember 2013 for a long time because it started a process that could either force the ANC to reform and change or be the final undoing of the movement as the party in power. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

For what was supposed to be a by-the-numbers year for us political pontificators, it’s actually been anything but. Sure, it’s lacked the horror of Marikana, the high-stakes dramatics of a Malema chucking-out, or the wonderful tragedy of anything with the word “recall” in it. And as yet, no one’s even mentioning the ANC and the s-word – you know, split. But if you look back at a series of little dramas you can see they are actually part of a much bigger process, which is only now gaining momentum.

Since Zuma’s re-ascension to power in Bloemfontein, these are just some of the events that have happened: the Workers and Socialism Party was created, Agang formed, Malema and his Pink Beret’s founded the Economic Freedom Fighters (really, can you imagine Che Guevara in pink?), Cosatu is about to formally throw out Zwelinzima Vavi who, in turn, could start and lead a new union movement, and Marikana has become an official no-go area for the ANC and its alliance members.

Of all these events, the Cosatu drama is getting the most headlines, and rightly so. It has all the elements that could really lead to the end of one of the biggest and most powerful organisations in the country, and that would have very real impact on the ANC in the long-term, and possibly even on next year’s elections in the short-term. But in fact it’s the other events that are possibly more significant.

At Marikana on Friday, just metres away from what is really quite a small koppie when you get close to it, and its even smaller sub-koppie, gathered an interesting array of people. There were Bantu Holomisa, Mosiuoa Lekota, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Mamphela Ramphele, all in their funereal finery in the starkly white VIP tent. There was Malema being Malema and one or two others of his posse just hanging around, being his posse.

None of them really mattered. What was interesting was the men, hundreds of them, plastered to the rock of the koppie like barnacles. They were there from early in the morning and spent the entire sun-filled day there, refusing to move, and just about all of them refusing to use any kind of shade whatsoever.

For these people, the ANC is the enemy. There is no ANC branch in Marikana anymore. For them, the only possible leader (and even then only to an extent) is the AMCU’s Joseph Mathunjwa. But even he is not really in charge.

The point is this: it was an event that did not feature the ANC at all. And not in a way that maybe it would have been okay for an ANC leader to attend and sit on a chair between his former colleagues Holomisa, Lekota and Malema. Nope, it was in actively hostile in an anti-ANC way. The CEO of Lonmin, Ben Magara was there, and was actually allowed on to the stage to speak. (Just for that, he is a strong contender for the inaugural Daily Maverick “Bravest Man of the Year Award” when we finally get them going at some point in our hopefully illustrious future.) And the reception he got was, well, respectful. Perhaps it was because he is, in fact, the boss of these men, the person who pays their salaries. Perhaps it was simply respect because he was there and was actually trying to do something. Maybe it was just because Mathunjwa asked them to be quiet while he spoke.

If someone from the ANC or the National Union of Mineworkers had tried to do that, they would have needed every single one of the 37 police vehicles and 12 Nyalas present to get them out. And even then it might not have been out and alive, just out.

The point is that Marikana is now a zone where our current political class has no role to play. It has been rejected, completely and out of hand. And there doesn’t seem to be a way for them to overcome that rejection.

With the plethora of splinters dotting our landscape, trying to overcome this rejection isn’t even going to be on the agenda of the ANC, or anyone else. All that can be done now is to try to contain the splintering, to stop it from gathering too much momentum.

Already over the weekend a branch of the South African Democratic Teachers Union is planning to rebel against their leaders’ decision not to support Vavi at last week’s Cosatu meeting. Recalling that these same leaders suspended their president Thobile Ntola last week for his support of Vavi, it’s clear the union is massively divided on the issue. When push comes to shove, it will split too.

And that’s just one union. Others will be going through exactly the same process. And now that Vavi has upped the stakes by taking legal action, pressure will mount for him to be formally expelled. This will allow him to portray himself as the wronged man, the man pushed out. And if we’ve learnt anything over the years it’s that South Africans like nothing more than a political victim. Especially of political conspiracies, like this “intelligence document” that is really the biggest work of fiction since Zuma’s promise to “fill the upper echelons of the criminal justice system”.

All of this is part of what Helen Zille likes to call “catalytic events”, things that happen that force major changes. Of course, the Mbeki recall is a good example of that.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Because that drama, the ousting of Mbeki and then the formation of Cope, happened in 2008, the year after Polokwane. And it was a reaction to what some in the ANC saw as an overreach by Zuma. As a result Cope was formed. Here, in 2013, we seem to have exactly the same thing. Zuma wins at Mangaung. His allies in Cosatu overreach by attempting to oust Vavi. And this is the result, a split and a splintering process.

As tempting as it is to always blame everything on Zuma (there, there Mac, you’ll agree with this bit) it’s really not his fault. The fact is this is a long term dynamic that has its roots in the ANC of 1994. There and then a decision was made to try to govern for the whole country. It did kind of make sense. After all, there was a country to heal. The last thing anyone needed was any more political instability. But it went against one of the iron laws of politics – you cannot govern for all the people, all of the time. You can only govern for some of the people, some of the time. Because if you try to cater to everyone, your church becomes too broad. And once it’s too broad, it doesn’t take a political Samson to bring it down. Just Zwelinzima Vavi. DM

Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He’s been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

Photo: President Jacob Zuma dances with Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi at its central committee meeting in Midrand on Monday, 27 June 2011. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA


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