Last year ended with a lovers’ tiff. African National Congress (ANC) YouthLeague president Julius Malema threatened war, fire and brimstone after he and a delegation of ruling party luminaries were booed and heckled by delegates at a South African Communist Party (SACP) congress in December.
In case you are wondering, this gathering of communists took place at the Waterloo of South African politics – Polokwane. If media reports are anything to go by, the alliance partners are going to boo the tripartite alliance into extinction long before the completion of the historical mission of the National Democratic Revolution. Because it is too early in the year to wrack our brains with heavy matters such as the meaning of national democratic revolu- tions in postconflict political settings, we should focus on the less ambitious task of discussing the expiry date of the tripartite alliance.
For some, the fact that the alliance ended 2009 more discordant than the atonal harmonies of Karlheinz Stockhausen was a perfect end to a terrible year – a year during which the rich suffered a bit of wealth alleviation and the poor sank deeper into penury.
Is the optimism about the imminent collapse of the tripartite alliance well founded, and what is the tiff between some in the ANC and its Left allies really about?
We must never forget that the alliance was not intended to last forever. The argument that the alliance will split one day is, therefore, as interesting as watching your wife window-shopping. What should interest us are the conditions under which the ANC, the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will part ways. According to people who know these things, the alliance has to satisfy one of two conditions before it is allowed to split. First, it must complete the historical mission of completing the tasks of the revolution. In other words, the alliance must deliver a better life to all of us. Second, contradictions between the alliance partners must be sharp enough to warrant a split. The alliance partners are even allowed to pretend that the contradictions are caused by policy differences, even when capturing the State to achieve ends that have very little to do with ‘a better life for all’ is the real cause.
This brings me to why Malema accused the SACP of being “yellow communists” and called SACP deputy secretary Jeremy Cronin a “white Messiah”. (Is there any other kind, and do you still want to argue that Malema does not read the classics?) I will not say anything about the Young Communist League’s dismissal of Malema as a “retard”. All I will say is that the coalition that destroyed the political career of Thabo Mbeki and installed Jacob Zuma as president of the party and the country is fracturing, and current tensions within the alliance must be seen as part of a continuum of political conflicts that started peaking in June 2005, when Zuma was evicted by Mbeki from the Union Buildings.
There are two main reasons behind the fracturing of the Zuma coalition. First, it was not a coalition based on principle. Second, the coalition is a hotchpotch of disparate political interests that, in Zuma, saw the only weapon through which they could capture the State. The ends to which some of these interests seek to capture the State are decidedly nefarious and, therefore, constitute a threat to the stability of party, State and society.
Some in the ANC are concerned that instability in the ruling party creates opportunities for ‘counter-revolutionary’ elements to capture the State. To them, these counter-revolutionary forces are located outside the ANC and the alliance. What they seem to ignore is the fact that forces of the counter-revolu- tion they fear are probably already in existence in the ruling party and the alliance. Therefore, the primary threats to the State, the ruling party and the alliance are the objectively counter-revolutionary actions of those whose political choices are shaped by narrow agendas which threaten to reverse the gains of the 1994 democratic breakthrough.
But what should concern us more is the possible effect tensions in the ANC and the alliance will have on national security. In a dominant party system such as ours, a withering away of the line between party and State may rob the State of the capacity to deliver national security and public goods. More import-antly, a State that cannot deliver national security within its own borders may become a risk to the security of other States. We must accept that, to some degree, there is a link between instability in the ANC and the capacity of the postapartheid State to deliver services to citizens, ensure national security and prevent the globalisation of national threats.
By the way, the alliance is here to stay – for now.