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Power, money and the ANC: There will be blood

Mandy de Waal is a writer who reports on technology, corruption, science, the media and whatever else she finds interesting. She loves small stories and human narratives, and dislikes persistent evangelists, bad poetry and the insane logic that currently passes for political rhetoric. Back in journalism after spending time in the corridors of corporate greed, de Waal has written for Mail & Guardian, Noseweek, City Press, Rapport, MoneyWeb, Brandchannel (New York) and a number of other good titles. She now writes for The Daily Maverick because it’s the smart thing to do.

Relative “calm” has returned to South Africa following the bloody turbulence that was the run-up to Mangaung. On the surface, Jacob Zuma’s landslide victory has silenced dissidents who challenged his position for ANC presidency, and the ruling party is now battening down the hatches in an effort to control in-fighting. But when having the right position within the ANC means the difference between being middle-class or destitute, it is unlikely that the contestation for access to patronage networks and resources will remain under control for long.

The advent of January 2013 heralded a rebirth for the ANC, a renewal campaign for which the strategy was that those loyal to the ruling party would be “economically advanced”. When SA’s president declared at the party’s 101st anniversary gala dinner that those who supported the ANC would be rewarded, Zuma did not only mean businesses that were loyal to the former liberation movement.

Instructing ANC members to make use of internal channels for voicing grievances, party spokesperson Keith Khoza told The New Age that the ruling party’s new unity strategy included focusing on the “liberation of people so that they could advance economically”.

“Our focus will be based on improving the lives of our people. We have a vision that we share with our alliance partners, which is derived from the Freedom Charter. We will guide our alliance partners and we hope they will work with us well in the new year,” said Khoza.

“While we respect the fact that our alliance partners can express their views, we also wish to say there are internal channels that they can use to articulate their views, instead of engaging each other on public platforms.”

2013 sees the ANC reborn not only as a political party, but as a powerful organisation with access to resources, jobs and wealth. The clear message is that if you’re useful to the ANC and you support the ruling party, you’re in… and will have access to economic advancement. However, if you publicly criticise or attack the congress, like Julius Malema did, you’ll find yourself in the wilderness with the public prosecutor, sheriff of the court and debt collectors knocking at your door.

As Richard Calland, Associate Professor in the Public Law Department at the University of Cape Town, writes: “Arguably, the ANC’s character has long ago changed beyond the point of no return: to some observers of the Mangaung proceedings it has become a party of ‘arrivistes’, a vehicle for the socioeconomic advancement of individuals, but not the grand driver of structural social change and reform it once was.”

A new lens is required for looking at the ANC, and columnist and political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi offers this lens, when he tells Daily Maverick that “since 1994, the access to political power is no longer an end in itself, but has become the means towards the achievement of other ends, particularly narrow economic gain.”

Says Matshiqi: “If you look at the violence (in the run-up to Manguang, provincial elections or local elections), there are basically two drivers, the battle for political power and the battle for money. The two are interlinked. If you win the battle for political power you have access to money.”

The political murders and assassinations are all part of a bloody struggle for class formation, and at a provincial and local level, particularly in regions like the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West, where poverty is rife and jobs are scarce, the only way to be part of an emerging middle class is through government.

“The main access point (to wealth in these areas) is the state, through the ANC. If you win political battles in the ANC, you can then enter the ranks of the middle class, because the ANC is so dominant as the governing party, and the state is the main platform of middle-class formation in those provinces,” Matshiqi says.

In a country where over a quarter of the population is unemployed, and where this statistic rises to some 50% amongst the youth, and can reach 75% in rural villages and sprawling rural townships, loyalty to the ANC can mean access to money and more. One in five South Africans or some 2.8-million people now work for government, the biggest employer in the country, who pays employees 34% more on average than the private sector.

The contest for position within the ANC is dangerous, and at times even deadly, because with position comes the ability to dispense employment and access to resources. What ANC-aligned politicians are fighting for isn’t just a place at the feeding trough, as it has been repeatedly and vulgarly put. What we’re seeing is an epic seeding contest amongst factions within in the ANC to become part of the power elite, or as close to it as possible.

At a senior level within the ANC, this has realised the creation of an authoritative new cluster, a group that Daily Maverick has written about. At a cabinet level, the struggle for power determines your ranking and status, and because this is mostly a public competition, the outcome means access to patronage networks in varying degrees, or being cast out into the wilderness like a leper.

At the branches and in the provinces, faction fights largely take place on the news periphery, and here feuds are often “resolved” with gunfire. This was the case with Wandile “Wonderboy” Mkhize, who was mowed down on his way home in June 2012 following an ANC meeting where pro- and anti-Zuma groups were at each other’s throats. Mkhize’s story briefly flowed through the news machine, before attention was rapidly diverted to the high drama of succession battles between top ANC leaders, Nkandla and other personality politics.

What the ANC has created is a series of dependencies. At the apex of the ANC, sits the power elite who hold the reins to patronage and resources. Beyond the elite are an emerging middle class who rely on the power elite for their status. Then there’s the entrepreneurial class that is largely dependent on the State for tenders. And below the middle class, the mass working class on whom everyone is reliant on keeping the economy going.

It is here that the ANC’s fault lines lie. These rifts and splits live between the newly evolved classes; between the “haves” and the “have-nots”; between the nouveau riche and the desperately poor who both fought a liberation war but received dramatically different outcomes. The fractures exist between those who support Zuma’s patronage networks, and those who do not.

Zuma’s victory was overwhelming at a national level, but it is at the provincial and local level where these fault lines are most exposed, and where they will collide to create conflict.

As Calland writes: “Mangaung has shuffled the deck of cards. The anatomy of power has changed, subtly yet potentially significantly. But the core socio-economic fundamentals are unbendingly unchanged: the grinding poverty and unsustainable inequality; the degradation and indignity of permanent unemployment; the understandable anger of the youth; and the scope for violence and social destabilisation in a desperately precarious nation.”

The ANC will likely create unity amongst those who depend on its patronage and who are happy with their positions within the organisation. Beyond that, and for those who live outside these networks, the battle for access to resources and patronage networks will realise the same bitter fighting as it did in 2013. There will be blood. DM

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