South Africa

South Africa

Analysis: The ANC and its muddle-through tendencies

Analysis: The ANC and its muddle-through tendencies

As the ANC’s elective conference in December gets closer and closer it appears, surprisingly, that some of the heat is leaving the party. That instead of the two factions getting more and more intense in their competition with each other, there is an easing of hostilities. This may be because it’s been a long year, and they’re saving up for the final sprint. But it may also be because the chance of some kind of compromise is in the works. Or that everyone in the party now realises that the major aim should be simply to keep the party going. Either way, the ANC may be preparing to muddle through rather than deal outright with the tensions plaguing it. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

For much of 2017 the expectation has been that the ANC’s leadership contest would result in a shootout. At some point in the days after 16 December (yes, a public holiday, the Day of Reconciliation as it happens), there would be a voting process, and there would be a tense moment when someone stands up in a hall and makes an announcement. To listen to some people speak, that moment would either see the ANC begin to “correct” itself, and set it on a path to win in 2019, or it would mark the beginning of a new stage of decline.

But the last few weeks have seen a scenario of a compromise becoming more likely. This last weekend there was the sight of five ANC provincial leaders pushing for unity in Mpumalanga. The court decision to annul the results of the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal leadership has shaken leaders across the country, as they realise that the chances of a legally disputed outcome in December are reasonably high. And of course, all through the year, there have been warnings that if the party goes to a contested election, the losers will have no other option than to leave.

Let’s consider the possible compromises. First, there is an idea of a single slate in which a group of leaders who represent different factions are all included. In perhaps a simplified way, this could be, say, Cyril Ramaphosa as leader with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his deputy, and David Mabuza as Secretary-General. Another method would be to put forward someone like Zweli Mkhize as the figurehead, as he may be acceptable to all factions.

This leads us then to the question of what would happen in our broader politics, should such a compromise be reached.

The first and most obvious point is that the chances of the ANC not splitting before 2019 are substantially higher. The party would still have functioning election machinery, and be able to contest the polls in a way the DA and the EFF would not appreciate. In government, the kind of policy paralysis that we have seen for perhaps the last decade would continue. If economics is, as Gwede Mantashe once put it, “the essence of politics”, one should not expect any change to any kind of policy. Ever. This means that the economy will continue to contract at its own pace.

But one of the biggest issues facing us at the moment is corruption. And this is where things get more complicated.

One of the reasons that the stakes are so high in the ANC at the moment is, according to the party’s critics, the scale of patronage that is extracted. It was former President Kgalema Motlanthe who said, in 2007, that the “rot is across the board”. If someone wins power in the ANC, whether in a branch, a region, a province or nationally, they may be able to use that position to extract this patronage. And this makes any kind of compromise more difficult. In the end, the spoils have to be divided, and while there may be no honour among thieves, there isn’t much more among politicians, no matter where they are in the world.

But the biggest problem with any kind of compromise comes down to one person – President Jacob Zuma – and what to do with him. When it comes to ideology, differences can be managed, there is room to fudge. When it comes to patronage, the spoils can be shared. But when it comes to whether or not Zuma should go to jail, there is really only a yes or no answer. The only fudge that might be available is for him to leave the country and go to some sunny place where the tax rules are lax, and the company around him is congenial. This means that it could simply be impossible to have any longer-lasting compromise in the party at all.

Then there is a much bigger problem, which is that some of the dynamics here have very little to do with personalities, and everything to do with structural issues. The structural reasons why Gauteng has supported Ramaphosa up until now, and the more rural provinces have backed Dlamini-Zuma. They have much to do with the differences around voting patterns in those provinces, and the political behaviour of constituencies in those provinces. It goes back to the “broad church” nature of the ANC. It’s easy to form a coalition of forces to take on apartheid, it was relatively easy to decide that apartheid was evil. But in that fight you had middle-class black capitalists and relatively poor rural people and socialists. At each step of governance you isolate some and allow others to be victors. This is surely a problem from which there is no escape.

To consider how the ANC would look after a compromise such as this, we need look no further than Cosatu. It purged Zwelinzima Vavi from its ranks for political reasons that had everything to do with Zuma and the balance of force in the ANC. Since then, Cosatu has lost its impact. And it seems to be losing members incredibly quickly. One of the results of a compromise in the ANC, where nobody gets what they really want, may be a similar result, where people leave the party.

All of that said, there may be a silver lining to this ominous cloud. If the ANC does compromise, you may end up with something similar to a coalition in government. If both factions are represented in a government department, for example, you may find that they leak on each other all the time. This could, in a perfect world, make it harder to engage in corruption, much in the same way that a proper coalition government would have the same affect.

So, for example, if both sides were represented on the board of the Strategic Fuel Fund, and the fund were to literally sell SA’s oil reserves in a way in which someone has made a fortune, then both sides would know who it was. There would be a possible incentive to blow the whistle on the other. There is in fact some evidence to suggest that this is already happening, when you consider the DA has been receiving documents that normally would be kept hidden.

There is enough time for several shocks between now and December. There is time for someone to create an overwhelming lead over the others. The fact that Mkhize is suddenly seen as a very serious contender whereas 10 days ago he was not is proof of that. But in the end, it may be that the various interests involved could all live with a compromise, because the alternative is to lose, or to win and split the ANC. A compromise solution would be good – for them, but not necessarily for the rest of us – because it is unlikely to lead to any of the country’s problems being solved. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma (R) greets the crowd at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, 10 January 2015 during the ANC’s 103rd anniversary celebrations. Zuma is accompanied by ANC stalwart Cyril Ramaphosa (L). Picture: Department of Communications (DoC)/SAPA

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