ANC’s continuing fight against its very own centrifugal forces

By Stephen Grootes 31 May 2018

President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the signing of the pledge at the Constitution Square during the commemoration of the 20th Unniverasy of the constitution of the Republic of South Africa in Sharpville, Gauteng. 10/12/2016 Kopano Tlape GCIS

With roughly a year to go until national elections, predictions of how the various parties will do are often centred on how a new leader will help the ANC, or how the current DA problems will affect their performance, and how the disappearance of Jacob Zuma from the presidency will impact on the EFF’s prospects. However, there are many indications that the ANC may well go into the 2019 elections less unified than it has ever been before such an important poll.

On Wednesday afternoon, EWN reported on an announcement by a group of activists starting a new party in KwaZulu-Natal. The group, called Mazibuyele Emasisweni, says that it wants to split some votes from the ANC next year.

But the real intent, it appears, is to provide former President Jacob Zuma with a vehicle for staying in formal politics. While the party claims that it has no formal relationship with him, it says that they are sure he is aware of what they are doing and that he supports them. They also believe that because he did not finish his term as president, he could actually return to the position.

As per their idea of a political programme, the party is calling for land expropriation, but for any land that is expropriated to be put under the control of traditional leaders. And at the same time it wants the Reserve Bank to be nationalised and for the taxi industry to be subsidised.

The stated aims of Mazibuyele Emasisweni reveal its real intent, and point in the direction of the backers. It is all from the Zuma playbook: traditional leaders and parts of the taxi industry. Their rhetoric against President Cyril Ramaphosa, a “pseudo-revolutionary”, is an indication that they are going to continue the fight against “his” part of the ANC.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule announced that the party in KZN will go ahead and have its provincial conference next weekend. While he, and the faction that supports him, may well want to go ahead and get the conference over and done with, there are several indications that this may not be the safest course. The province appears to be suffering from a spate of killings all linked to politics. Certain meetings have seen guns drawn and claims of intimidation. Magashule has appeared to refuse to accept that these are “political killings”, saying they are merely “criminal” acts. Considering that so many people who are involved in politics in that province have been killed recently, his statements could be seen as a wilful disregard of the truth.

This is also incredibly dangerous. Conferences in KZN have been cancelled and annulled in the past because of sharp disagreements. The stakes do not appear to have lessened in any way since Nasrec. And it is obvious that whoever loses this conference could well decide, again, to take the legal route. In short, it appears unlikely that this conference will provide the political solution that is needed for long-term peace and stability. As a result, the tensions will continue.

Add that dynamic to the new political formation, Mazibuyele Emasisweni, which may well indicate that Zuma could be prepared to actually campaign against the ANC (despite his repeated denials that he would ever do such a thing) and there’s a distinct possibility of a very complicated election scenario in the province with the second biggest population in the country.

The situation in North West does not appear to be much easier. On Monday Magashule confirmed that despite what must have been immense political efforts to resolve the crisis around current Premier Supra Mahumapelo, there is still no agreement on who should replace him. This surely suggests that not only does Mahumapelo have the strong backing of the ANC in that province, but that he has enough support in the ANC’s national executive committee to stop Ramaphosa’s faction from having their way.

This situation may well have a knock-on effect in that province in 2019. If the party cannot agree on a new premier now, it may well find it even harder to campaign there. While the ANC does not nominate people to be premiers before the election, it will still need local figureheads in that province. It will also surely be virtually impossible to claim to voters that it is united, when it is so obviously not.

Then there is the Free State. It now appears that Luthuli House is going to call a special meeting of the NEC to discuss both North West and the Free State. The Free State recently held a provincial conference, despite the fact that the grouping there that is opposed to Magashule had complained about irregularities, leading up to it. This means that once again it is possible that the losing side will go to court to challenge that result, or that the NEC itself just annuls the result entirely. This means, once again, there will be a province of the ANC that is not able to properly run itself.

All of these dynamics, taken together, could suggest that in 2019 the ANC might actually be in bigger trouble than it currently looks.

However, it could also be that an election is exactly what the ANC needs. If it is true that the biggest enemy that the ANC sometimes faces is actually itself (as some now say about the DA), then it could do with another series of enemies. And this is exactly what the election will produce. It will be the perfect opportunity to unify the party, for everyone to pull together, for people who appear to be sworn enemies to travel together around their provinces and around the country, while sharing battery packs, phone chargers, bottles of water, and perhaps bottles of something stronger.

When he was secretary-general current Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe once said the main reason he opposed a plan to unify the elections cycle, and have only one election every five years, is that having polls every two or three years helped the ANC to retain its unity. It forced people to work together, and thus forge unity. That particular dynamic may well be more important now than ever before. DM


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