ANC Watch

Governing party caught in a fractured mirror

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Any attempt to analyse what is happening inside, or with, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress at the moment is like gazing into a broken mirror – the only sure thing is the brokenness.

The clearest sign of the sorry state the once-almighty party finds itself in came last week at the elective, turned consultative, conference of the ANC’s Youth League in Soweto. It came as the president of the party, and of the country, Mr Jacob Zuma, was interrupted by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe just as he started with his keynote speech.

Mr Zuma, speaking without notes, started off with the following telling admission: "The ANC Youth League has been shaken and the mother body, the organisation is in trouble (our emphasis). And if anything goes wrong with the ANC everything will go wrong in the country."

At this point Mantashe handed him a note. Zuma interrupted himself to first consult with Mantashe and, when he returned to the podium, he changed tack and spoke about some of the ANCYL’s internal problems.

This incident underlines the increasingly vexing question, who is really leading the party at the moment? And the answer seems to be: nobody really.

The steady breakdown of the once all-dominating political power of the ANC is starting to show on more and more fronts.

Not only was the election of a new leadership of the ANCYL postponed at the Soweto conference for the second time this year – a decision not welcomed by sections of the delegates who became rowdy, booing some ANC leaders, as well as the fact that they would not be voting at the conference.

On the parliamentary front Deputy President (DP) Cyril Ramaphosa was in trouble the week before last with sections of the ANC’s caucus for his attempts to find a compromise with opposition parties in an effort to try and restore some workable decorum to the National Assembly.

In line with the well-known symptom of deeply divided political parties, leaks from the ANC caucus to the media revealed that when ANC chief whip Stone Sizani presented a deal struck between Ramaphosa and opposition leaders, several members strongly objected.

Set on having their revenge on Economic Freedom Fighters’ members for disrupting President Zuma’s questions session in parliament on 21 August by suspending them, they claimed it was for the speaker and not the DP to strike such deals.

Ramaphosa himself showed some strain with his uncharacteristic ill-tempered response to the Democratic Alliance’s refusal to see the understanding reached broadened to a ‘deal’ that prevented them from fulfilling what they saw as their parliamentary obligations.

On a related front some prominent members of the ANC’s Veterans League have also broken ranks with the official party line regarding calls on Mr Zuma to pay for some upgrades to his private residence at Nkandla. Veterans League president Sandi Sejake, former ANC MP Ben Turok, and former home affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang were critical of the president's refusal to comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's recommendation that he pay back some of the costs.

Sejake slammed the party's MPs for not holding the president accountable in this regard, saying that they were protecting him to further their own interests.

On yet another front the South African Communist Party, that functions as an integral part of the ANC, has embarked on a move that is set to reopen some painful wounds from the past.

It has called on President Jacob Zuma to investigate apartheid-era spies within the Tripartite Alliance. The call was made in response to claims that Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza was a spy. Mabuza, on his part, is threatening legal action against the ANC's Matthews Phosa for allegedly "spreading rumours".

As it is, Mpumalanga is one of the ANC’s most troublesome regions, and has been the scene of bloody infighting coupled to the fruits of patronage. An article in Wikipedia describes Mpumalanga as "notorious for political assassinations", with 14 assassinations having been documented there.

From this perspective one has to agree to some extent with Mr Zuma’s view expressed at the ANCYL’s conference that “…if anything goes wrong with the ANC everything will go wrong in the country".

However, the break-up of the ANC is increasingly taking on an air of inevitability, and as we report elsewhere, the state of affairs under Mr Zuma’s leadership, or lack thereof, has the country on the verge of potentially huge turmoil.

by Piet Coetzer

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