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Understandably it would be hard for ANC diehards to accept that their erstwhile monolithic movement must die first in order to live in future – yet this seems to be the best option.
The party faithful would argue that as a “broad church” the party thrived on diversity and its many contradictions had become the oxygen that kept it alive.
Such contradictions, they would say, strengthened the strategy and tactics of its National Democratic Revolution and helped to force the apartheid regime to its knees. But those contradictions are becoming more and more apparent.
The ANC had political tensions even before 1994, but from about 2000, these started to threaten to destroy the party. The premature removal of Thabo Mbeki as party and national president and second real breakup of the ANC with the establishment of the Congress of the People by Mosiuoa Lekota, was the turning point in the party’s deterioration.
The first true separation of the ANC involved Africanists led by Robert Sobukwe, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in 1959. Both the EFF and Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement were not breakaways, but outcomes of the expulsions of their leaders from the ANC.
All these splits served to weaken the ANC and frustrated any attempt at uniting the liberation movement or black parties.
The ANC, instead of uniting, has over the years seen widespread political killings among its own members in places like KwaZulu-Natal, a series of unexplained assassinations in Mpumalanga and murders related to political positions and government contracts in the North West. All these have one thing in common – power and access to state resources.
Lately, widespread dirty character assassinations via media platforms has become fashion among senior members.
Among others, they have accused one another of being apartheid spies or former white regime informers and puppets of “white monopoly capital”, accusations mostly without substance.
Since the Polokwane conference of 2007, factionalism and infighting has become a party culture. At every national conference, the party secretariat paints a bleaker picture of the deepening factionalism crisis.
Along with dissatisfaction over corruption and poor service delivery, ANC infighting has begun to affect its electoral performance as voters search for alternatives. The electorate disgruntlement was demonstrated by the drop from 69% under Mbeki down to 62% under Zuma and now 57% with Cyril Ramaphosa in the 2019 election.
There are clear signs that, had Ramaphosa not been elected in Nasrec, the party could have done worse. Even the ANC’s own pre-election predictions gave it as low as 35% at the 2019 election.
Fearing losing power, Luthuli House once contemplated getting into bed with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) by luring Julius Malema back to the party, something that Malema was amenable to only if the ANC moved its headquarters to Soweto.
There is no argument against the fact that the ANC policies of non-racialism, non-sexism and to unify the nation appealed to different segments of society. But today, the ANC survives on patronage and not on attractive policies or having leaders of integrity in the mould of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Albert Luthuli.
ANC factionalism and divisions are encouraged by ongoing patronage power-mongering from grassroots level right up to the top.
Zuma had been a common denominator in the post-1994 ANC infighting, since the beginning of his battles with the state. The narrative being drummed up that he was being persecuted, instead of prosecuted by law, has been transmitted from the rape and corruption trials to the Zondo commission.
The cult-like environment continued with a Capitol Hill-like gathering of Zuma supporters around his Nkandla homestead. His rural supporters sang tribal war songs, daring anyone to touch their hero, Zuma, and vowing to die for him.
Signs that the situation will continue beyond Zuma are there, with the anointing of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule as the Zuma camp’s heir-apparent.
Zuma supporters rallied around Magashule during his recent court appearance for corruption in Bloemfontein, with uniformed uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) veterans giving him a military-style guard of honour.
With its demise imminent, the time for the ANC to choose between death and a calculable survival is now. The best option is to accept that it must formally break up into two – one party led by Zuma/Magashule and another by Ramaphosa.
Splitting of political parties is not new in Africa. Just across the border, the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe showed us this is possible. Under Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC separated into two parties, which helped it to deal with ongoing fatal factionalism.
The ANC could choose to be two completely separate parties, but sharing heroes, martyrs and party heritage.
But the ANC is addicted to power and will not entertain any suggestion of a split. As some in the party would say: “It’s cold outside the ANC.”
As political analyst Ralph Mathekga, who is finishing a new book on the future of the ANC as a governing party, observed: “The problem is that members realise it’s too risky to access power without the ANC – it’s a difficult job. So a break-up is not easy, they would have to exist as a fragmented party.
“They fear losing power and breaking up will accelerate that.”
Once the ANC realises the significance of its future as a two separate parties, the real political realignment will start in South Africa. Each of the two ANC factions would be forced to look for outside partners to form a coalition, which is how the country will be governed in future … as in many parts of the world.
In any future coalitions, whether or not the ANC is the dominant party, both the EFF and the Democratic Alliance (DA) would be significant as the king maker. In such a case, no party would be too extreme to work with and strange alliances would be forged.
With history showing coalitions in South Africa were not based on ideological commonalities, but on accessing power, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of the ANC’s former factions fighting for a partnership with the DA.
If there is indeed an ANC split, there is no doubt – after the Nkandla tea-party – who the EFF would choose to sleep with.
On the other hand, as DA leader John Steenhuisen himself stated, his party would work with the Ramaphosa camp – as long as it didn’t include deputy president David Mabuza.
Unless the ANC wakes up and smells the coffee and considers a split, its current self-defeating infighting will completely decimate the party and it will follow its erstwhile nemesis, the National Party, into the dustbin of history.
Eric Naki is political editor at The Citizen
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