South Africa


ANC factions are on a collision course – and not much can stop them

ANC factions are on a collision course – and not much can stop them
Ace Magashule and Cyril Ramaphosa during the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference on December 18, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

On current trends, it looks like the ANC will simply stagger into the last straight of the elections. Divisions, infighting and name-calling do little to convince voters to wholeheartedly back the party, however.

It has been remarked in this publication before that never in the history of the ANC has the party gone into an election in quite so divided a state. And yet, as difficult to believe as it is, it appears that the divisions are deeper by the day.

Last week several incidents demonstrated exactly how far the party appears to have wandered into the wilderness, away from the spirit and moral standards of its former leaders. A group of “ANC elders” respectfully, but still strongly, criticised the party, which led the ANC Women’s League to issue a statement which only points out further to voters just how much the party has lost its way.

Then, no less a person than former president Kgalema Motlanthe emerged to suggest that the ANC will win the elections, but with a “far, far, far reduced majority from what it has had before”.

And all of that was before the weekend’s reporting on ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, all of which were excerpts from the Scorpio’s Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s explosive book, Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s web of capture.

(We do not usually recommend books like this, but Myburgh’s book deserves to be that exception — buy it, read it. — Ed)

In the middle of this are the set of damning claims by the intrepid reporter, the claims that the party is battling to communicate effectively, with suggestions that its campaign machinery is simply not functioning in a coordinated manner.

To add to the bad news, last week a group of ANC elders held a conference at Lilliesleaf Farm before emerging to ask, again, that those ANC members implicated in wrongdoing remove themselves from the ANC’s candidates list for Parliament. So far, and rather predictably, it has fallen on deaf ears.

Not surprisingly, no one who was on the list lodged with the Electoral Commission has asked to be removed from it, though many of them are/were exposed/accused/indicted/already sentenced and could have seen themselves as targets of Elders’ plea. Considering that the politics that saw them being included on the list was probably fairly difficult in the first place, and that they would have fought to get on the list, it was always likely the elders’ call would have fallen on deaf or indifferent ears.

But, the elders’ call had the twin effect of keeping the fight against the faction alive, and second, it would remind the public that there are still people from the Struggle within the ANC. In other words, it might have given wavering ANC supporters a reason to vote again for the party.

However, on Friday, the ANC Women’s League issued a statement condemning some of what had been said by this group. Even by the low standards of the Women’s League, it was heady stuff. It said it was disturbed that former ANC deputy secretary-general Cheryl Carolus and former Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan, had an “uncontrollable hatred to some of our comrades that makes them degenerate into being divisive counter-revolutionary elements”.

Then came the name-calling, saying that they are “two rich patriarchal princesses” and that they do not speak up about violence against women; they only speak “against women leaders to impress patriarchy”.

After that came the phrase, “we would like to reiterate that we are fully behind the leadership of the ANC led by President Cyril Ramaphosa”.

Where to begin with this statement?

First, on the eve of an election, voters may well wonder how it can be that an organisation led by Women’s Minister Bathabile Dlamini, who has been found to have lied to judges, and who has been credibly accused of wrongdoing on a countrywide scale, can call Carolus and Hogan any names.

Hogan spent time in solitary confinement during the Struggle and Carolus played a great role with the UDF in the Western Cape.

Some voters might well contrast this with the behaviour of the person who issued the statement, the ANC Women’s League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba. Matuba was part of a meeting attended by Magashule and former President Jacob Zuma in Durban in 2018.

When a journalist published a report of the meeting, Matuba sent her a picture of a gun, in what was clearly an attempt to intimidate her. This is the person who is making accusations that Hogan and Carolus are “patriarchal princesses”.

And the suggestion that they are “fully behind the leadership of the ANC led by Cyril Ramaphosa” may well invite some to ask a simple question:


Then, came a series of interviews by former President Kgalema Motlanthe. He was discussing the release of a report put together after his foundation hosted a discussion forum in 2018 to provide a way forward for the country. On SAfm on Friday he was asked if he would make any predictions for the election. His answer appeared to almost sum up South African politics in one paragraph:

I think the ANC will still win, there are a number of people who will, despite all these revelations and wrong-doing, still a good number of people who will think to themselves we are giving them the last time, the last chance. So the ANC, I think, will still emerge victorious, though with a far, far, far much-reduced majority than was the case before. I’m saying this because there is no strong viable alternative. You know, the other opposition parties know what the ANC is getting wrong. They’re not telling the electorate what they offer, which is the difference to what the ANC government has been doing.”

In so many ways, this appears to sum up the situation at the moment. The ANC is suffering repeated blows of bad news, from the Zondo Commission testimonies to more reports around Magashule, and ever more evidence of internal divisions cropping up.

And yet, many voters must feel there is simply no viable alternative.

However, all of this does suggest that while the “Magashule faction” (this is a very loose term, and it is far more complicated than that name suggests), may have appeared to win the list process, the fight is not over. The reverberations around that process may go on for some time; the other side is bound to fight back.

This will have important implications for what happens immediately after the elections.

In the past, after the ANC has won a national election, the NEC has met to discuss the composition of Cabinet. While the Constitution says that the appointment of Cabinet ministers is solely up to the president, in political terms, it is the NEC that has a big role in the final decision (it has been reported often in the past that when the president personally tells a person they have been appointed, it is the ANC’s secretary-general who is sitting next to him).

This is important because it suggests that the real difficulty after the election might actually be this meeting. In other words, the tussle over Cabinet could be the greatest contest between the factions. And the result of that discussion could well have lasting ramifications for the Cabinet, the ANC and South Africa.

For the moment, on current trends, it looks like the ANC (and some other parties) will simply stagger into the last straight of the elections. Rather than the joyful sprint that used to mark the final Siyanqoba rallies, there will be a tired jog to the finish ribbon. And then the real action could come in what might be a very important victory lap. DM


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