South Africa


Divided ANC house struggling to stand

Illustrative image. ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, left, and ANC NEC member Derek Hanekom (Photos: Leila Dougan / Brenton Geach)

The ruling party’s vicious infighting continues, suggesting something dramatic may be about to occur or, at the very least, its proxy battles will be intensified.

On Sunday 28 July various claims emerged, indicating the nature of the power struggle within the ANC. They suggest that President Cyril Ramaphosa literally told his critics to “be my guest” if they want to remove him at the party’s 2020 national general council and that ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was gagged from speaking to journalists on Friday after his vicious attack on NEC member Derek Hanekom late on Wednesday.

This indicates that the previous assessments of the power balance within the party are holding. It is also clear the ANC is either about to see something dramatic occur, or the upscaling of the continual proxy battles.

On Sunday reports emerged about what had happened in the ANC’s national executive meeting, with suggestions from the Sunday Times that Magashule had been “gagged” from delivering the traditional pre-NEC meeting briefing. It also claimed this decision had been taken by the top six national leaders. This would be in the wake of the statement Magashule released at 11.28 on Wednesday night, in which he launched an unprecedented attack on NEC member Derek Hanekom.

The importance of this lies in how the balance of power in the top six of the ANC can be assessed. It has often been assumed that Ramaphosa and ANC chair Gwede Mantashe generally move as one, that Deputy President David Mabuza and Treasurer Paul Mashatile work as a team, and that Magashule walks with deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte (this can change depending on the issue).

The importance of these claims lies in what they suggest about Mabuza. He has kept as low a political profile as is possible during all of this ANC turmoil. Last week he refused to answer questions in Parliament about Ramaphosa’s challenge to the Public Protector’s report on his campaign financing, claiming it was “sub judice”.

(Of course, this is legal nonsense. As a deputy chief justice once said, the sub judice rule is all but dead in our law, because we don’t have juries but judges who won’t be swayed by media reports on certain cases.)

This means that Mabuza (and presumably Mashatile) are still backing Ramaphosa in the ANC, and working against Magashule. This is important because the one person who may, from time to time, hold the balance of power is Mabuza himself. And while it is difficult to say with certainty, his support in issues like this could still be decisive.

At the same time, it was also claimed that Ramaphosa has dared his opponents in the party to try and get rid of him. This has always been Ramaphosa’s A-bomb, the one weapon that he can use against his internal ANC opponents.

While there have not been many recent opinion polls on his popularity, it is generally accepted that he was important to the ANC’s election result. Certainly, without him as its leader, the party would have lost Gauteng, and its national haul could have been diminished to below 50%. In two years (2021) the party goes to the polls again in local government elections, and it’s obvious that several metros will be up for grabs.

To put it another way, in politics it is difficult for a group of people who are seen as unpopular to remove from power a person who is seen as popular. This means that Magashule and those around him are still pushing against political gravity. And it appears that this will remain the case for some time.

There may also be a strange feedback loop operating here. One of the criticisms heard most often against Ramaphosa comes from people who want him to do more, and also to give less regard to his opponents in the ANC. They want him to take them on, to do what needs to be done. This may mean that the more Ramaphosa is seen to challenge his opponents, the more support he gets from society.

Then there is the situation around Hanekom.

It is just the latest in a series of proxy fights in which an issue is put up simply to test the balance of power within the organisation. Another example of this was the fight around the Reserve Bank. This too was thrown into the political cauldron by Magashule.

The Hanekom issue was nicely timed for Magashule. It dominated headlines and political reportage last week. But, as others have noted, it served to distract from the incredible, and slightly awful, testimony delivered at the Zondo Commission. Several witnesses gave testimony about the Estina Dairy Farm project; one of them explained how it was too dangerous to be seen to be questioning Free State ANC Treasurer (and former mineral resources minister) Mosebenzi Zwane.

The spat around Hanekom (which was started by EFF leader Julius Malema but stoked by Magashule’s late-night statement) served to cast a shroud over all of that. This was clearly to the ANC SG’s benefit.

In the meantime, the spat around Hanekom is likely to continue, but is unlikely to include real matters of principal.

The claim against Hanekom, that he worked with a leader of an opposition party to remove a sitting leader of the ANC from the position of president is a serious one. His supporters will point out that the ANC itself said in 2018 that it would talk to the EFF about its motion to remove then-president Jacob Zuma. In other words, it was public knowledge that the party was preparing to do what Hanekom had already done just a few months before in 2017. Hanekom’s supporters will also say that Zuma was the person acting against the ANC, and damaging the party.

However, the strongest argument to make against Magashule’s statement and claims around Hanekom is Zuma’s own behaviour. During the election campaign earlier in 2019 he met with the Black First Land First movement and allowed pictures of him to be taken with them.

And yet there has been a strange veil of silence over it all. A claim against Zuma that he was working with another party is surely undeniable here.

At the same time, Magashule himself is being investigated for his alleged role in the formation of the African Transformation Movement. Both he and the ATM have denied he was involved in its creation. But a commission is supposed to be investigating what happened and whether Magashule did play a role. His demands that strong action is taken against Hanekom could well come back to bite him. Hypocrisy is never good. Shameless hypocrisy even less so.

All of this feeds into the perception that the ANC is fighting too many internal battles to govern effectively and that the camps are too obsessed with internal power. However, the incendiary tone of Magashule’s Hanekom statement and Ramaphosa’s attitude in saying “be my guest” may well suggest that tempers are about to boil. DM


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