ANC Watch

Can the ANC be gracious in defeat?

Zuma remains in cross hairs

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has suffered serious setbacks during the recent municipal elections. Will it accept the situation graciously and can it recover?

The ANC has lost full control over the country, but how it handles the new situation is still paramount to the future of the South Africa as a stable and prosperous democracy. How the two question above are answered, is key to that future.

At this early stage the first, almost knee-jerk, reaction of the party, does not look too promising and the short answer on both seems to be a clear “no”.

On the first question the reaction to the loss of control in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria, in the City of Tshwane, and in the Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) metropole serves as examples of what can be expected from the party in the immediate future.

In Tshwane the indications from the outgoing ANC mayor and chairperson of the party in the city, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, were that it would fall back on the tactics of the final phase of the liberation struggle in the late 1980s and attempt to make the city ungovernable.

In the process it will hijack what has become the favourite tactic of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in recent years and take to the streets in protest and disrupt the meetings of democratically elected councillors in their wards.

It also seems to have taken over the populist rhetoric of the EFF – Ramokgopa saying it will demand that 90% of the budget be dedicated to improving the lives of the poor.

In NMB the ANC also seems to have taken over the EFF’s parliamentary style and tactics over the last year of disrupting formal meetings of a democratically elected institution.

At the NMB council meeting last week to formally elect the mayor and speaker, ANC councillors first demanded access to the meeting after arriving late for its start, only to exit shortly thereafter.

Governance in especially metros, now subjected to minority governments by the grace of ad hoc alliances on issues as they surface, at the best of times will be extremely challenging. With the ANC constantly playing the role of spoilers, they can soon indeed become ungovernable.

Such a situation in the country’s major cities will be extremely bad news for the economy and investor confidence. As Raymond Parsons, a professor at the North West University Business School in Potchefstroom, warned:

 “Minority government at municipal level inevitably injects additional uncertainty into key local decisions around policies, budgets and posts where there is no permanent majority to take long-term decisions. Stability will require compromise” – something that looks unlikely at this stage.

The animosities created by the campaign, and the level on which it was conducted, also spreading to national level, will take time to settle down. As Sydney Mufamadi, director of the University of Johannesburg’s School of Leadership who served as South Africa’s local government minister for almost a decade, put it: “Our public representatives spend all their time mocking each other.”

He added: “If you can’t pass the budget and you can’t pass development plans, you don’t have an anchor for governance.”

Can the ANC recover?

In a previous article we have pointed out that the ANC is, after the 1994 election, very much on the same historical trajectory that the erstwhile National Party was after the 1948 election. The ANC’s battle for survival has begun.

The real question then should really be: Can the ANC survive?

Also on this front the first indications are not all that positive for the party. Its leadership, and particularly the position of President Zuma, is set to come under increasing pressure with all the factional complications that come with it.

Although the ANC Youth League was careful not to appear to attack Mr Zuma, it is interesting to read between the lines in their call for an early special national elective conference of the party. Its statement included the following: 

  • “The ANC must now, more than ever, deal with the people who taint the image of the organisation. Those found guilty of corruption must be expelled from the organisation”; and

“The ANC Youth League believes that all the current NEC members must come to an early conference to account.”

A new area of potential tension in the party has also opened between national and local representatives of the party, due to the different systems under which they are elected.

In the words of former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel: “While MPs are often parliament’s voting cattle, forced to toe the party line, doing so at a local level is far more risky for politicians who are highly visible to their constituents.”

The ANC itself has hereto governed as leader of an alliance – one that is increasingly coming apart – in which tensions seem set to increase.

In a statement in reaction to the election results the one partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said among other things: “The narrow focus on internal factional battles, the corruption scandals and the growing distance from the people have gradually eroded its high moral ground and weakened its political capacity and that of its leadership. This declining prestige has obviously undermined and compromised the ANC from playing its historical role of leading society.”

The other alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, that took a noticeably low profile during the campaign, in its reaction also slammed the “national leaders” who “brazenly undermine” resolutions of the party’s integrity committee “without consequences” by contradicting the process.

This was widely interpreted as a swipe also aimed at Mr Zuma, while all the controversies surrounding him show signs of returning to the news headlines in the near future.


There is no proof at this stage that the murder of an ANC councillor-elect in the Eastern Cape was politically motivated, but there are widespread fears that the frequent violence in the run-up to the election, and mostly associated with the ANC, is not quite something of the past yet.

Overall, the prospects of a smooth transition to a new political power dispensation in the country, and in the longer run for the survival of the ANC, do not look too promising.

by Piet Coetzer

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