AFRICANGLOBE – The cliché says that a day is a long time in politics – but for the ANC (and South Africa) the last 30-days since the August 3 local government elections has been a lifetime.
Over the period of just one month, South Africa’s dominant African National Congress is now facing unprecedented challenges – from not only a more critical electorate but more fundamentally – from turbulence inside itself.
Ten key factors are now evident in ANC-related politics – and due to the historic conflation of party and state – are also evident across government departments and broader agencies of state. Whilst many were evident prior to August 3, the last month has aggravated and inflamed the issues with breakneck speed.
1. The ANC have never suffered such a severe electoral setback as August 3 – and as a result, had no precedent in how to deal with the loss. This shock of electoral decline – after ingrained assumptions of timeless voter support – is enough to destabilise any party and especially a Liberation movement who assumes power for life.
2. The ANC in Opposition in the Western Cape (both Province and City) have always been weak. Given their inability to define a constructive path forward, the losses of Gauteng’s economic and political heartland call for a redefinition of how best to perform out of power. With little experience in Opposition, the initial “sore-loser vindictiveness” strategy is tempting but very limiting in the hope of regaining lost support. Without a clear direction at national level over leadership, policy and ethics, the ANC in opposition is set to struggle and this is clearly destabilising segments of the party.
3. The ANC were factionalised and divided prior to August 3rd. Bad results simply exacerbated existing tensions and heightened others. From economic policy issues to the management and functioning of State Owned Enterprises: from the role of the Guptas to Jacob Zuma’s leadership, just about everything within the ANC had already become disputatious. So, simply put, nothing fails like failure. Without the guarantees of power, all these issues become battlegrounds. And they are expedited given dismal economic indicators, the ratings’ agency pressures and election cycles not too far in the future.
4. Internal party discipline – already strained – can no longer contain itself in the wake of such pressures. Everyone now seems at war with everyone else. From the ANCYL, ANCWL to the MK Vets; from Treasury and Eskom to Gordhan and the Guptas. And within the last month, it now seems as though Gwede Manthashe simply carries little authority anymore. As the ANC’s chief custodian of party discipline, it’s just unraveling – not to mention the fact that it is even now extending into Luthuli House itself via the “Occupy Luthuli Campaign”. Any party with such high levels of public ill discipline is bound to find remedial action very tough indeed.
5. When a power vacuum emerges amidst high levels of disagreement, expect the emergence of political mavericks. Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is a case in point. Whether acting as a foil for more Machiavellian maneuverings or not, a lack of cohesive leadership will embolden not only pro-Zuma supporters (Zwane) but also those critical like Zola Skweyiya to speak their minds. Again, this public spat is antithetical to any attempt at unity.
6. Electoral decline has deepened the existing tensions between the populists (Premier League/Zuma) and pragmatists (Gordhan/Treasury) debate – virtually to crisis point. With political power now marginal, but with pervasive patronage and cadre linkages, holding onto the last vestiges of patronage becomes more urgent. And, this deepens the debate between those who view politics as a zero-sum-game of patronage-induced power or those that will equally risk their jobs for more accountable and transparent government.
7. The poor election result and the resultant pressure on Jacob Zuma has upset the already highly charged succession debate. With Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma seen as President Zuma’s preferred heir(ess), pressure on him also puts pressure on her. As a result, those groups supporting her, like the ANCWL or ANCYL are largely siding with the anti-Gordhan factions and are reluctant to commit to an early elective conference. Succession has always been divisive within the ANC and the ‘blame-game’ following bad election results worsens this.
8. There have now been unprecedented calls in branches across two major provinces – Gauteng and the Eastern Cape – for the recall of President Zuma. It is no co-incidence that it is the provinces, which fared the worse that are uniting in direct conflict with those who wish to preserve the status quo. This will deepen divides further.
9. If you voted against the ANC or abstained, the actions of the ANC this last few weeks will vindicate your decision not to support the party of liberation. If you thought that the ANC would bounce back, think again. The levels of distrust, ill-feeling and downright paranoia just compounds the problems for a party that instead of shoring up its support, is doing a sterling job of encouraging more voter defections in future.
10. Finally, this is a heavyweight fight with many contenders for power. The ANC’s problem is that there is still no critical mass to find either a suitable replacement for Zuma or a new leadership approach to help the party. The ANC is therefore approaching a crisis of stalemate that could last – in its debilitating form – for some time to come.
Whilst struggle songs will still be sung with gusto at party events and commemorations, this current stage of the once-mighty ANC might well be more attuned to Mary Hopkins’ 1968 hit “Those Were the Days”. The chorus of which sums up the state of the movement today: “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end”.
The ANC and South Africa is therefore in yet another transition. A previously dominant political brand is watching – somewhat helplessly – as its credibility erodes incrementally. This is a path with which neither the ANC nor South Africa has any precedence-based expertise to manage.
The ANC is now a disunited governing party with a damaged but resilient brand that is still attractive to its increasingly factionalised parts. The battle for the custodianship of the brand is now underway. Diverse vultures are circling for the spoils.
By: Daniel Silke