South Africa

Painting Scenarios: What would happen if the ANC were to disappear?

By Stephen Grootes 12 September 2016

Finding someone talking sense in the ANC these days is a bit like finding Tim Noakes in a bakery. It’s incredibly rare, and if someone does it, they almost look embarrassed and hope no one noticed. It is becoming accepted by many people in the political sphere that the party is at imminent risk of imploding, dividing or just somehow ceasing to exist. Of course, this may not happen. In fact, the smarter money is probably still on the ANC winning the 2019 elections. But it may be time to start considering how different life would be for all of us if something terminal does happen to the organisation that did more than any other to free us from apartheid. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Two weeks ago, in an interview on the Midday Report, the second deputy general secretary of the SACP, Jeremy Cronin, was asked to respond to the point that “many people feel there is almost no hope for the ANC”. His response was illuminating:

“I would like to think that is more about is there hope for us as a country, and as you say it remains easily the majority party in our electoral system, and we know there are many others who didn’t vote, we hope fervently there will be some turnaround.”

He went on to make the crucial point:

“It’s about rescuing the country, and that’s for all of us in the ANC, in the alliance, inside government and outside government. We need to pause and make sure that we don’t mess up what has been, despite some unevenness, a very significant democratisation process coming out of a very difficult situation.”

Cronin is a man who knows the power of words, and how to use them. These comments, perhaps not as poetic as some of his previous literary work, could well be open to several interpretations. It is unlikely in the extreme that the collapse of the ANC is something that he would welcome. But his main point is solid.

It is not about political parties, as important as they may be. It is about the country as a whole.

It is not just that the ANC has been the major player of the last 22 years, it’s that it has been the dominant player. All of the parties, apart from the DA, that have emerged since 1994 and found some success have sprung from it; first the United Democratic Movement, then Cope, and then of course the Economic Freedom Fighters. In a way, the ANC has been a bit like the lid on a pressure cooker, it sat on top of political activity almost to that extent. So, what would happen should the lid be lifted?

The first and most obvious point to be made would be that it would depend on how it was lifted. Does the ANC contest the 2019 elections as a singular body, lose, and then simply drift away? Does it split into two major factions, with urban and rural bases contesting against each other? Or does it splinter into four or five different groupings?

For the ANC to lose in three years’ time would probably require a very low poll. Many, many people may have to simply decide, as they did in the local government elections, just not to vote. As we have seen, a stayaway tends to help the DA, and to an extent the EFF. There is a large touch of tragedy in this. People who were not allowed to vote now deciding not to vote in protest at the behaviour of the party that helped to win them that vote.

South Africa at the moment still seems largely divided in its political choices. It is probably unlikely that while the ANC may fall below 50%, any other party would actually get above 50%. As we have seen in Joburg and Tshwane, this may well require some very disparate people to work together.

There would be pluses and minuses to this. There would of course be uncertainty – how would decisions be made, could decisions be made, who would really be in charge, could we see governments falling on a weekly basis, would we start to resemble the pre-Berlusconi chaotic times of Italian democracy?

But there would be advantages too: it would probably be difficult to engage in large-scale corruption (which would produce a large “corruption dividend” – suddenly government would have enough money for higher education, for example), there would probably be some certainty about financial policy once budgets were passed, and the National Treasury would have to be led by someone acceptable to most of society.

And what would the ANC as an opposition party be like? Would it be constructive, as former Joburg mayor Parks Tau is trying to be? Or as useless as the ANC in the Western Cape has been for the last decade? Or, incredibly, could it be a bit like Julius Malema in the National Assembly at the moment?

Then there is the scenario in which the ANC splits into two, probably into one group concentrating on rural areas, and another on urban areas.

Some people suggest that this would be the “patronage” faction and the “non-corrupt” faction. This would be an interesting situation, in that we could, possibly, maybe perhaps, have four biggish parties contesting for power: two ANC groupings, the DA and the EFF. Again, this would lead to coalitions. It would also lead to unbelievable, awful fights for the “legitimacy” of the former ANC.

To predict election results in that scenario is of course difficult, but it would surely not be unexpected to see the DA and the “urban ANC” getting along quite nicely. They would be contesting in the same market for votes, it would be difficult to tell their policies apart, their ideologies would be incredibly similar, and their interests would be, as they say in the trade, aligned.

This could lead to a very stable coalition, or even a merger, that could lead to also stable, probably fairly corrupt-free, government. Of course, there is no certainty of that – politics, and South African society, is not nearly that simple.

Then there is the possibility that the ANC splinters into several different groups. The consequences of this are much harder to predict, and this is probably the least likely outcome. But this would probably bring in a whole series of coalition governments. Elections could well become similar to those in the Netherlands, where the final results are only the start of the horse-trading that leads to a government with a variety of different parties within it.

This model works well in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. But those societies, until recently, were largely homogenous, there was a set of goals shared by almost everybody, and they were certainly not as unequal as ours is. This might mean our coalitions would be more difficult to control, more unwieldy, with the result that governance again would be chaotic. But there would also be a huge incentive for politicians to be mature and to work together. They would all realise that they were at the mercy of the voters; that real, contestable politics leads to more accountability, and that if they didn’t play nice they would be out at the next election.

There are some other factors that could well upset all of these scenarios. The first is probably the SACP itself. You can be forgiven for forgetting, sometimes, but it is a political party. It has the organisation of a political party, if not necessarily the resources and money. What it also has is a huge number of members. Last year it reported that it had over 230,000 members. That is bound to be more than say, the DA. And the EFF. What could it be planning to do with them all? Could it, perhaps, maybe, be just getting ready in case it does have to go it alone. And if it did, would it be open to alliances with any of the other parties?

It would be difficult to see the SACP teaming up with the DA, and the blood between the party and Malema is worse than bad, it’s toxic. Which means it would have to team with a part of the ANC. Or maybe it would do what some have suggested in the past, run independently, get seats in Parliament, and then vote in favour of laws it liked, and against those it didn’t. In situations where election results are close, or end in coalitions or loose coalitions, it could then have the kind of influence Malema claims to have now in Joburg and Tshwane.

And what happens to Cosatu and the union movement as a whole? It may just get weaker, or, in the event of a split in the ANC, go through another series of splits itself, as different factions in Cosatu try to back their factions in the ANC.

On one level, it may be insulting to consider South African politics without the ANC. But then, whoever thought Kebby Maphatsoe would try to tell Gwede Mantashe what to do, or that the Deputy President would complain about the war in government. Or that the ANC would ever lose control of Joburg?

Our country is changing; it may be unstable for the next little while, but it is surely indisputable that it is becoming more democratic. No matter who will be in power. DM

Photo: The newly elected topmembers of the ANC (L-R) Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Chairperson Baleka Mbethe, President Jacob Zuma  pose for pictures during the third day of a leadership conference in Polokwane December 18, 2007. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko



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