Tensions in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) continue to raise questions about whether the ruling party – populated by individuals with varying ideological inclinations, from hard-line communist to pro-capitalist – can be truly united. It is also worth asking whether the party, together with its alliance partners, can genuinely balance the interests of the poor on the one hand, with the rich on the other. Recent events seem to have put paid to the notion of a unified alliance that can provide a vehicle for South Africa’s development.
On 22 September 2008 ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, announced that the ruling party had resolved to recall former President Thabo Mbeki. News24 quoted Mantashe on the reasoning behind such a decision: ‘We want to ensure that there's certainty [within the ANC], that's why we've taken this decision.’ He further stated that ‘This procedure [the recall] will take place to ensure the smooth running of government.’ Since making this statement, the running of government has been less than smooth, especially considering recent reports of police brutality, wildcat strikes in the mining and agricultural sectors, the downgrading of South Africa’s credit record, and the deterioration of financial management across the public sector.
Fast-forward to 18 March 2013 and Mantashe announced the dissolving of the ANC Limpopo executive and the national executive of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). On the Limpopo decision he stated that ‘The provincial executive committee has been dissolved for displaying totally un-ANC behaviour and institutionalised factional conduct within the provincial leadership’. The decision on the ANCYL was, according to Mantashe, ‘as a consequence of its continued ill-disciplined behaviour that brought the organisation into disrepute on numerous occasions.’ Mantashe indicated that the decisions on Limpopo and the ANCYL demonstrated that the party recognised the problems that it faced and was on a path to rebuilding itself. However, some analysts have noted that the corruption, factionalism and general maladministration in Limpopo, along with the youth league’s unruly behavior, is a reflection of the enduring state of affairs in the ruling party.
As far as these recent decisions of the ANC are concerned, it should be noted that political parties are private entities. They are therefore entitled to take decisions such as ‘recalling’ their members from key posts or disbanding specific entities that they feel are an obstacle to advancing the interests of the mother body. Arguably, the decisions on Limpopo and the ANCYL may well rid the party of divisive elements, but this remains to be seen.
At the ANC’s 53rd electoral conference in Mangaung in December 2012, supporters of President Jacob Zuma came out victorious. There had been various debates about whether the debacles in the run-up to Mangaung, such as the Limpopo textbook incident, the Marikana massacre, the misuse of taxpayer’s funds on upgrading Zuma’s Nkandla residence, and cases of corruption and fraud involving high-ranking government and ANC officials, would dent Zuma’s chances of retaining the post of party president. Prior to Mangaung and at the conference itself, the leadership of the ANC stressed the importance of unity within the party. This would seem at odds with the decision to dissolve the Limpopo executive and the leadership of the ANCYL. Factionalism in Limpopo, and across the party, will no doubt take a considerable time to address.
Still, several key issues require some reflection considering the adoption of government’s National Development Plan (NDP) as key policy at Mangaung, the uncertain economic atmosphere that prevails, and the coming 2014 general elections.
First, even though Zuma preached unity at Mangaung, there are still deep-seated divisions and factionalism within the ruling party. The leadership appears to be aware that this requires urgent attention, especially in the face of a lethargic economy, declines in investor confidence, increasingly violent service delivery protests, and rising unemployment, all of which are likely to sap ANC support. Party infighting will distract the leadership’s attention from addressing these challenges and implementing the ANC’s plans and policies.
Second, there is the issue of whether the tri-partite alliance will hold, particularly in light of the disagreements concerning the NDP. Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the trade union alliance Cosatu, has for instance publicly stated that to ensure sustainable economic growth, South Africa must focus more on industrialisation rather than growing the services sector as proposed in the NDP. Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa dismissed the NDP as a ‘right wing’ document that reflects policies of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance. The Food and Allied Workers Union has rejected the NDP outright and called for an alliance summit to discuss the policy.
This comes at a time when the leadership of some Cosatu-affiliated unions (such as the National Union of Mineworkers) and even top Cosatu leaders (such as its President, Sidumo Dlamini) are members of the ANC national executive and are bound by the ruling party’s decisions, some of which are at odds with Cosatu’s stated positions. This puts the labour movement in a difficult position. Aside from debates about the global financial crisis, its impact on companies and the affordability of higher wages, the reality is that many members of Cosatu-affiliated unions have witnessed an assault on their livelihoods which is likely to worsen with plans for mass retrenchments and a shaky economic environment.
Finally, it is unclear how the alliance will deal with the unions that are opposed to the NDP. Opposition to the plan from ‘within’ will undermine the NDP as the basis for a roadmap to development and the alleviation of poverty, unemployment and inequality over the next few decades. Having adopted the NDP in Mangaung, the ANC is likely to use it as a foundation for its 2014 election manifesto. This may set the party on a collision course with the trade unions that oppose the plan, particularly during the campaign process. Whether the alliance can withstand these tensions is debatable. A plan has already been set in motion to deal with those who believe Cosatu should be independent of the ANC. How far this plan will be taken and what its impact will be on the alliance, remains to be seen.
Written by Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, Researcher, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria