ANALYSIS

ANC walks the tightrope between disintegration and destruction of SA democracy

By Stephen Grootes 25 July 2019

Former president Jacob Zuma, far left and far right, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and Deputy President David Mabuza. (Photos: EPA-EFE / STR / Alet Pretorius) / EPA / Nic Bothma / Felix Dlangamandla)

The ruling party seems to have reached the crossroads. Question is, will it shatter into many pieces, or will the various factions call a last-gasp non-aggression treaty?

There can be moments in the ANC when it looks as if the party is about to explode. This may well be such a point. Tensions have been building up for years, the groups have been circling each other and it appears they can no longer engage in constructive dialogue. It seems the party is about to fall apart – not merely to split, but to properly splinter.

Some talk about a situation in which the ANC breaks into many small groups, like shrapnel. However, this not a certainty. There is another possibility: that those who lead the different groups in the party call a truce. That because of their similar interests, the different people involved sometimes come back together to resolve some of their most dangerous differences.

It seems unarguable that the position the ANC is in now is unique. Never before have we had people sniping at each other using coded language to such an extent. Never before have we had a former ANC leader making claims about spies and assassination attempts. Never before have we had a sitting president having to respond to the Public Protector after findings such as the one President Cyril Ramaphosa is currently facing. And never before have we had a Public Protector accused of having a political agenda the way Busisiwe Mkhwebane is.

The obvious symbol of all of these problems for the party is the relationship between its leader, Ramaphosa, and its secretary-general, Ace Magashule. In its post-liberation history, the ANC has always had people from the same faction working together in these two positions. When they no longer worked together in this way, trouble started (as when Kgalema Motlanthe moved away from Thabo Mbeki in 2005/2006/2007 and Gwede Mantashe’s relationship with Jacob Zuma soured from December 2015).

In this case, the situation began hours after the Nasrec election.

This gives the impression that the ANC is about to split apart. NEC members attack the president on Twitter and the president’s supporters counter-attack. EFF leader Julius Malema plays a key role in pretending to be outside the tent, but is much more than just an interested observer. His recent support of the Public Protector against Ramaphosa reveals he is playing a political role, and that it is a factional role in the ANC.

All of this suggests we may not be far away from something big and dramatic.

For years, there has been speculation about a big split in the ANC. In 2008 and 2009 this was about Cope, which in the 2009 election took more than a million votes from the ANC (which then came to 7.5% of the total votes cast). In 2017 there was an intense discussion about whether Ramaphosa would leave the ANC if he lost to the Zuma faction’s candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

However, now it appears that the various groups and factions are too complex to create a clear-cut split. Rather, it would be a splintering, a chaos of shards and dust, a mass dissolving of the ANC. There would be some sort of meeting, probably an NGC, from which the various parts of the party would openly fight.

It is also possible that a late-night freewheeling media statement could cause further chaos. Consider a press release which hit the inboxes late on Wednesday night: 

STATEMENT OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS ON THE CONFESSION BY ANC NEC MEMBER COMRADE DEREK HANEKOM

The African National Congress is dismayed by its National Executive Committee Member Derik Hanekom’s confession that he did had several meetings with the opposition EFF to indicate that he and other ANC MP’s would support the EFF vote of no confidence last February against Former President Jacob Zuma.

Hanekom had full access to air his acerbic views in the NEC of the ANC, he did so ad nauseum. He always spoke in an even, practiced voice, linking all the bad publicity that the ANC has had to the accusations against former President Zuma.

The ANC called for an open vote and it is Hanekom and others who put pressure on the Speaker to accede to the demand by the EFF for a secret ballot.

The agenda of the EFF by their own admission as an opposition party is to displace the ANC, they work fearlessly to divide the ANC and have a number of sleepers in the ANC proactively ensuring that divisions in the ANC are deepened.

The ANC is working to unite its members and in our midst is Derek Hanekom a wedge driver and on a mission to divide the ANC. Indeed this charlatton is making his mark through his ownership of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. Hanekom does not have the capacity to form a new political party, but he has shown remarkable agility in his efforts to divide the ANC.

Well we say to him and other EFF sleepers in the ANC, this only makes the members of the NEC, PEC REC and branches more determined to unite the ANC and deliver services to the people of South Africa.

We will ride this storm of accusations, and counter accusations.

We will unite behind the leadership of President Ramaphosa and all ANC members of good faith and defeat the nefarious negative actions of Hanekom

Issued by the Secretary General of the African National Congress

Cde Ace Magashule

Events like these could be the end of the ANC and the start of something very different in our politics, a complete reset.

However, it is also possible that a completely different scenario occurs.

To take all of the groups of actors in this, and to examine their interests is to see how similar their problems are.

There is a large group of people who now have something to fear from a properly neutral and working criminal justice system. No one wants to go to jail or face the anger of the public for actions that give the appearance of criminality.

It is important to look at the interests of ANC leaders and Malema without seeing political parties. If we do this, it becomes apparent that their interests are very similar.

If the ANC were to split, or splinter, there would be a vacuum which people in charge of institutions would be able to fill. The NPA would have more political space in which to work and would be able to prosecute cases without any fear of political push-back.

This would make all of those implicated in wrongdoing vulnerable.

And these people do not represent just one faction. Magashule could be worried about Estina and other scandals (and the entire contents of the book Gangster State), Deputy President David Mabuza may lose sleep over the claims against him, even those who support Ramaphosa may have something to be concerned about.

In short, there are smallanyana skeletons everywhere.

This means that all involved may well have the same need for self-protection. And if their needs are aligned, it would be not impossible for them to find ways to stick together.

There will be those who think this cannot happen, that the differences between the groups are too deep-seated. They will point, correctly, to the vitriol that is spewed by Malema towards Ramaphosa. But, rapprochements in similar circumstances have occurred before – just remember EFF’s violent opposition to Zuma and also their demands that Busisiwe Mkhwebane be fired – things can, and have many times so far, change overnight.

As Professor Nic Cheeseman has noted, this happens from time to time in Kenyan politics. Different personalities and groups contest power, their differences become personal, and then suddenly peace breaks out. This is because the elites in that society are afraid of losing their positions. And so the groups come together – it is cold out there, with the normal people.

There is very little to stop that from happening here. However, there are certain conditions that may not yet have been met.

First, the various groups, or their leaders, must have something to fear.

It is not clear that this has happened yet. While the “Magashule/Zuma” faction may indeed be worried, it is not clear whether enough members of the “Ramaphosa” faction are there yet. This could change should it become apparent that the funding of his campaign has other skeletons, or should other problems appear.

Second, both sides would have to come to the conclusion that they cannot beat their opponents. They would have to think that a truce is possible while a victory is not. It is not clear whether they are here yet.

It would also appear that Malema would have to be accommodated and his fears assuaged. Unless he was shut out completely, in which case he is likely to keep throwing smallanyana skeleton grenades into the ANC tent from outside.

So then, should this truce occur, how would it be achieved?

Certain people would be key, someone like Mabuza, who appears to be both extremely quiet and has histories with both factions, would be critical. Much may depend on what he would prefer to happen, and whether he still has the legitimacy needed to be a broker in any negotiations.

There may well be people in society who would welcome such a truce; they would be pleased with the cessation of political hostilities, and, at the very least, at the drop in political temperature.

However, there would also be big casualties, democracy the most immediate one.

The first would surely be any hope of a properly functioning, independent security cluster, and especially the National Prosecuting Authority. Any deal would have to include the NPA being neutralised. That would create a class of political elites who have nothing to fear from the criminal justice system.

A truce would also mean that none of the political elites has an interest in solving our problems. This would end all hopes of political solutions to inequality and unemployment and a slowing economy – the truce would involve people from such a wide ideological spectrum that any economic deal would be impossible. DM

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