South Africa, Politics

Analysis: Watch the Gauteng ANC – its fate could determine ruling party’s national future

By Stephen Grootes 23 May 2016

We live in a time when corruption is winning, when a defence minister can smuggle a live human being into the country and not suffer any punishment for it (who knows what else must have been smuggled over the years). When the finance minister and the president appear to be in open conflict. The main reason is the lack of incentive to govern well, with no perceived consequence for governing badly. But Gauteng has appeared to be the one province where the ANC is behaving differently, partly because of the perceived risk of losing power. Which is why suggestions that its leaders have been bullied into withdrawing their original condemnation of President Jacob Zuma over the Constitutional Court’s Nkandla ruling are so significant, and disturbing. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Sunday morning both City Press and The Sunday Times carried what looked like very informed reports about the goings-on in last weekend’s Gauteng ANC Provincial General Council. The Sunday Times suggested that Joburg Mayor Parks Tau had said the Joburg region, which he chairs, had decided President Jacob Zuma should “do the right thing” after judges found he had broken his oath to uphold the Constitution. It appears that the Ekhuruleni region disagreed. Both papers say that in the end, the Gauteng ANC leaders were forced to move away from what appeared to be a suggestion that Zuma’s apology should not be accepted and that he should immediately leave his position.

It probably goes without saying by now that it is very difficult to know what did actually happen in this meeting. Anyone who tells you anything about something that happens behind closed doors, from the stokvel to the tennis club to the ANC NEC, is telling you a spun version. But it does seem in this case that this is probably close to reality.

This has huge implications. Not just for the Gauteng ANC, or the ANC, but for all of us.

Until this point it has seemed that the rest of the ANC was simply going to go with the flow. Many of the provincial leaders could afford to – they sit on comfortable majorities. If you are David Mabuza in Mpumalanga, you can allow yourself to be perceived as almost as corrupt as you like, if you are Supra Muhamapelo in North West, you can publicly praise the Gupta family to the skies. There will be no political downside.

But Gauteng of course is different – because of the simple fact that in 2014 the ANC just clung on to power here with 53.59%. That was a huge drop from the 2009 figure, more than 10 percentage points in fact. If 3 August was actually a provincial election, one wonders what that figure would look like.

It is because of this difference, and because of the personalities involved, that the Gauteng ANC has been governing differently. It simply has no choice.

But this was never going to be easy. It is a very hard line to take, the minute gap between campaigning within the boundaries set by a party that insists on having President Jacob Zuma as its leader, and at the same time trying to set yourself apart from the party. It is not so much a tip-toeing exercise as an exercise in breakdancing on eggs.

There are those in the ANC who would probably be quite keen on giving the provincial party a good kicking, but the response from its leaders Paul Mashatile and Premier David Makhura would be quite simple: imagine what the consequences would have been if we had just rolled over like the rest of you? Imagine Tshwane and Joburg being lost. And then imagine the longer-term consequences of that?

Hanging over all of this is what looks like a well-founded fear by some in the Gauteng ANC that at some point Zuma is going to be booed again, by an audience in this province. While it may be claimed that the first incident, during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, was orchestrated, the second, at the same FNB Stadium during a Bafana match, was surely not. Imagine it another way: how many votes do you think Zuma is going to bring from Soweto during a trip around Meadowlands? Possibly not as many as if he simply stayed away.

Of course, there may be those who will suggest that this is all the supposition of an armchair critic of the ANC, and of Zuma. But the party has in effect already conceded that the image of Zuma is a problem in these local government elections. In breaking with precedent, the ANC is going to allow its provinces to announce their candidates for various metros before the elections. This is a break with the previous eerily Stalinist practice of only telling voters who they’d voted for after they voted for them. This could surely be seen as a sign that the party realises it’s important to delink the image of the ANC in these elections from the image of Nkandla.

In many ways, the ultimate fate of the ANC in Gauteng is going to determine the fate of the country. It is the one group of people who appear to be trying to change the party, from the inside. It should not be forgotten how the ANC of Mbeki changed to be the ANC of Zuma. An ANC led by the current Gauteng leaders would be very different again. If they are able to show themselves to be successful in government, to be innovative, and to hold off the political threats of Julius Malema and the DA, then there is a chance that the ANC could change again, that it could actually self-correct. That it could one day elect leaders who are not beholden to people from another country, who do not allow Cabinet ministers to smuggle people in their private planes, who do not appear to be under the thumb of crooks.

But if they are not able to do that, if they fail, if they simply lose power in Gauteng and never regain it, then that chance surely diminishes. There is actually a worse outcome than that. Imagine what would happen if the national ANC leadership decided Gauteng had got too big for its middle-class boots, and needed to be disbanded. While it would be impossible to predict the outcome of an election to reconstitute the leadership, the fact is that would surely mean the chance of any kind of correction from within the ANC virtually vanishes.

There is an upside though. Which is that, should electoral politics play out the way we think it will do, the ANC would then lose Gauteng in 2019. It would be gone. And that would lead to a fundamental reshaping of the party. Because, as previously explained, that would lead to the ANC becoming a party with a more rural character, in a country where just less than two-thirds of the population is urban. And that surely would have further political consequences down the line.

In the end, the answer to the question of what will happen to the ANC may well have a relatively easy answer: Watch the Gauteng ANC. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma accompanied by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, Premier of Gauteng Ms Nomvula Mokonyane, Tshwane Mayor, Mr Kgosientso Ramokgopa and other dignitaries attended Freedom Day celebrations held at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 27 April 2011. (GCIS)



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