In this opinion piece, social activist and commentator Mike Roussos reflects on the aftermath of the recent no-confidence vote in Parliament, cautioning that whoever is elected as the new ANC president in December will have a massive challenge in recovering the faith and trust of the people who have traditionally voted them into power.
The ‘Vote of No-confidence’ took place last Tuesday – by secret ballot. A total of 198 MPs voted against the motion (the ANC has 249 MPs in parliament). Nine MPs abstained and 177 voted for it. This gives a total of 384 votes from 400 MP’s. Some were clearly absent – or ill, or dead – or they just didn’t vote. A total of 201 votes were needed for the motion, in order for the motion to pass.
The lead-up to the vote of no-confidence included widespread public outrage as even more evidence emerged of the outright theft of many State assets. It became clear that many ANC MPs – who had remained silent as the so-called 'Zupta grouping' ran amok – began to feel that they were in danger of causing the ANC’s downfall in future elections, and were trying to distance themselves from this.
Although some of them made public pronouncements condemning the looting cabal, most restricted themselves to expressing private hopes that the attempt to get a ‘secret ballot’ would succeed – thereby allowing them to reject the President ‘in secret’.
How the ANC prepared for the vote
The ANC leadership – including the various factions – were well aware that this could possibly lead to a very embarrassing loss in Parliament. They initially confined themselves (especially the pro-President Jacob Zuma group) to making public pronouncements about this being another opposition ‘stage show’ to distract the voters from the ‘real issues’ facing the country.
When it became clear that a large number of their MPs were considering voting for the no-confidence motion, and especially when the various union groups came out strongly against the president, when the SACP congress took an unequivocal ‘Zuma must go’ decision at their congress, the tone of the ANC leadership changed. Bear in mind that many ANC MPs come from the union movement and it has been estimated that around 46 MPs are SACP members/officials – with some overlap between those two groupings. It was also becoming obvious that the speaker may actually decide to hold the vote in secret.
The ANC leadership was forced to convene a crisis meeting to work out the way forward. At the meeting, the pro-Zuma group made it clear that they would do whatever they could to prevent the ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa from being the candidate to replace the ousted President. They explored what the outcome would be, if the ANC was unable to agree on a candidate to replace Zuma. In that situation, the opposition would be able to determine which ANC person would gain enough votes to take over as president.
This was interpreted as the potential ‘death of the ANC’ as it would become clear that the party was in such disarray that they could no longer lead the country. This was presented as the ‘worst of all possible outcomes’ especially as (it was argued) ‘it is just a few months until the ANC congress, when we will be electing a new ANC president’ and that ‘this will be a more appropriate time for Zuma to go’. The advantage of adopting this approach, was that it took the critical issue off the table – as no agreement was required between the warring factions about who would replace Zuma.
The broader crisis of legitimacy for the government – being led by someone who was demonstrably crooked and acting in his private interest rather than that of the country and its people – was pushed aside in the interests of presenting a united front.
ANC call for united front needed to fend off ‘coup attempt’
They decided to present a united front and forbid any ANC MP from supporting the vote; a united front to cover up the fact that the ANC MPs were so divided, that they could not agree on an interim presidential candidate. The ANC decided that their internal problems were more critical than the crisis within the country as a whole; the country and the voters who supported them, would just have to wait for the ANC to resolve its internal issues.
The ANC position presented in Parliament – in opposition to the motion of no-confidence in the President – said virtually nothing about the President and his virtues or sins. The entire argument focussed on blaming the opposition for trying to steal power that they had not won at the ballot box. They were denounced as attempting to ‘stage a coup’ by using this vote to divide the country (by that they meant ‘divide the ANC’) and thereby create the kind of chaos that would lead to the collapse of the government and thereby allow the opposition to ‘take over’ (by which they meant that another election might have to be held – that the ANC might presumably lose).
This attempt to blame their inability to unite around an interim president on the opposition in parliament and on mysterious forces ‘out there’, has to be counted amongst the lowest and most desperate actions by the ANC in its history. Many have commented that it appears that the ANC cares far more about their own internal wars, than about the people who put them in power. They are far more concerned about their internal attempts to load the voting at the forthcoming ANC congress, than about what the voters feel. Their energies are focussed on getting the right number and the right kind of delegates to the December congress to ensure victory for their candidate and not on the people’s anger at all the corruption that appears endemic in government and within the party itself.
They appear to have prioritised the ANC over the country and the few party members over the many voters who put them in power!
What happens now?
This fiasco has been followed up by attempts to ‘root out’ the few MPs who refused to accept this strange compromise, and voted (in secret) for the motion of no-confidence. The Gupta aligned forces have been fully mobilised to undermine any who point to the corruption and decay within government and to try and confuse the voters with new ‘plots’ and new ‘enemies of the revolution’. Enormous energy is being devoted to ‘analysing’ who the ‘traitors within the ranks’ could be – in order to root them out.
The ANC is facing what is arguably the biggest crisis in its (post-apartheid) existence and it has decided to focus on internal fights, rather than on the issues that concern the voters who put them into power. It is no wonder that the DA has decided that they need to call for the dissolution of parliament and for immediate elections. The ruling party seems more concerned about revenge on those that disobeyed than on the issues that led to the whole fiasco in the first place: the horrifying revelations in ‘the Gupta Leaks’; the many people who have come forward to give evidence of widespread corruption and theft; the public positions being taken by civil society organisations across the board; and the demands by members of their Alliance (Cosatu unions and the SACP) for Zuma to step down. These issues are all being ignored while they ‘fight it out’.
The ANC Congress in December
This ‘unity at all costs’ approach is likely to colour their strategic options, as they focus on preparations for the December congress. Some, including President Zuma, are arguing for a return to the days of putting forward an ‘agreed slate of candidates’ – at least for the top 6 (or 7 or 8) positions – so that the elections for those positions are not contested at all.
This would entail an agreement between the ‘factions’, on a compromise grouping that includes candidates from each side. This would assist in reducing the tensions and in-fighting within the various ANC structures, although the biggest hurdle would be agreeing on which side gets to have the position of President of the ANC (and thereby President of the country, if the ANC wins the 2019 elections). This approach is designed to reduce tensions and give the ANC the space to tackle the host of squabbles within ANC structures around the country – that all stem from factional attempts to dominate the various structures, to ensure their group’s victory at the congress.
A ‘united front’ approach to the congress may well reduce the pressure and give the ANC a chance to sort out the conflicts at branch, regional and provincial level.
Implications for the 2019 Elections
The ongoing revelations about ‘State Capture’ and outright theft of public funds has decreased - what little is left of - the trust between ordinary voters and politicians. The reducing percentage polls in our elections are one indication of such sentiments, as are the increasingly vocal condemnations from all spheres of society. This has important implications for all political parties who intend to contest the forthcoming General Elections in 2019. Differentiating one’s party from the collective rejection of politicians in general is likely to be a difficult task for all the parties, but most especially for the ANC.
The majority of South Africans have always seen the ANC as the party that fought against injustice – that led the struggle to liberate the country and our people. This has sustained the ANC through many setbacks, and even 23 years after our first democratic election, this continues to be the most important reason why it is trusted by most of the voters.
Recent events – and the response of the ANC to such events – have seriously dented the faith of ordinary people in the ANC. Most voters are questioning how it is possible to continue to support a party that is led by a person who is clearly leading the assault on state structures, in order to pave the way for the wholesale theft of funds and assets – all of which are desperately needed to overcome the poverty and inequality that continues to plague our country. They are questioning how it will be possible for those who have been corrupted by the many opportunities to use their position to steal public funds for themselves and their friends, to change their ways. They are questioning how it will be possible for those who have spent all their time buying votes within the various ANC structures to ensure they remain within reach of all these ‘goodies’, to represent the people who rely on them. They are questioning how a ‘united front’ that includes all those who have ‘small anyana skeletons’ (and big skeletons) in their closets, will ever be able to once again become the party of the people, the party that led the way to democracy and liberation.
Whoever is elected as the new ANC president in December will have a massive challenge when trying to recover the faith and trust of the ordinary people who have traditionally voted them into power. The first step on this path may well be to toss out all the politicians who have shown, year after year, that they cannot be trusted to put the interests of the people before their own greed for power and money.
The big question is how this can be done in a party that has arguably been corrupted at every level and within most of its internal structures. For the sake of the country, and of all the people who have traditionally put their faith in the ANC, let us hope that this is possible, and that the new leadership will show this to be possible.
Roussos was a Trade Unionist with various unions during the anti-apartheid struggle. He then worked for various corporates, ending his time with them at an executive level. Roussos has also worked for government as a consultant and as a Head of Department. He has been an activist in a range of areas, from his time as a student within the Catholic student movement, his involvement with the unions and the UDF during the struggle against apartheid, to the Catholic Church Justice and Peace structures, and the struggle against climate change and for a variety of alternative energy initiatives. He has never been a politician and hopes to maintain this unblemished record, to the end of his days.