The ANC has become a machine of endless wheels within in wheels, out of control, grinding itself to pulp and threatening the country’s stability.
Contradictory statements and actions from the governing party and its constituent structures, and open revolt by its so-called governing alliance partners has become the order of the day.
In the meantime, South Africa might be experiencing a reincarnation of the United Democratic Front of the 1980s, which played an important role to make the country under apartheid-rule almost ungovernable.
Ironically, it was the two sovereign debt downgrades in as many weeks by international rating agencies, that supplied the catalyst to bring together opposition parties, organised and non-organised civil society groups and religious formations together in staging mass-protests.
While the ANC accuse the ratings agencies of being part of a conspiracy by “foreign forces” seeking “regime change,” it was a similar, late 1980s early 1990s, credit situation that hugely contributed to nudging the National Party towards unbanning the ANC and seeking a negotiated settlement.
Although President Jacob Zuma has become the main focus of the protest actions as the most prominent contributor to the ANC and the country’s present crisis, the roots can be traced back to the early transitional phase of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A wide range of complicated and interwoven factors, some historical and others connected to the global economy and technological developments, however also contributed – amongst them the integration of the global economy, post the Cold War, and a boom in the ratings industry since the recession of 1970.
Nic Cheeseman, an expert in democracy in Africa at Birmingham University, probably put his finger right on it when he, in an article in The Guardian about last week’s protest marches wrote: “.“The South African state is under threat … The system now has problems throughout. A lot of these tendencies were latent, and Zuma has been so damaging because he has brought them out.”
“There is a battle for the soul of the ANC,” Cheeseman wrote.
Been coming some time
By the time that Mr. Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki as leader of the ANC in 2007, it was already clear that, on the one hand the ANC’s socio-economic policies were not delivering up to the post-1994 expectations and, on the other hand, that factions were becoming entrenched in the party.
The main battle lines were drawn around economic issues and ideology. Since Mr. Zuma’s election as president of the country, in the wake of scandal after scandal and corruption becoming endemic, new factions battling it out for control over state resources mushroomed.
Ironically two of these factions, the South African Communist Party and the trade union federation Cosatu, strong supporters in his election, have now become Zuma’s staunchest opposition within the governing alliance.
But, the fracturing of the party runs much wider and deeper than just alliance solidarity. Last week there were a multitude of occasion where different high profile party functionaries made contradictory statements on a number of issues.
For example, on the issue of the credit down grade, which finally triggered the protests, the ANC’s national executive committee sub-committee on economic transformation’s chairman, Enoch Godongwana, called it a setback and asked the party for the mobilising of collective action by all South Africans.
On the other hand, in defiance of the hardships the downgrade would inflict on poor people, ANCYL president, Collen Maine, welcomed the downgrade as a way of wrestling the economy out of the hands of “white monopoly capital.”
And, the ANCYL is increasingly taking on the appearance of a party within a party, at various levels – doing its own thing and often taking on the senior party’s structures.
Earlier this week, for instance, the Youth League in the Western Cape criticised the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) and the national working committee, accusing them of publicly undermining President Zuma.
At a memorial event for the late SACP leader Chris Hani, the party’s second general-secretary, Solly Mapaila, again uncompromisingly called for the removal of Zuma as leader of the ANC and the alliance, saying: “We have made decisions, including that the president resigns. We will engage and further elaborate without fear and favour."
The list of contradictory stances coming from within the party goes on and, telling the story of badly slipping united leadership.
Motion of no confidence
The SACP’s pledge to “without-fear-and-favour” will be put to the test when a vote of no confidence in President Zuma is considered by parliament – be it by a secret ballot or an open vote.
In, what amounts to an admittance that the ANC is not confident that Zuma still commands the support of the majority of its members of parliament, it has thus far refused a secret ballot.
This, however, can all change dramatically if and when the Constitutional Court finally considers an application by the United Democratic Movement to force parliament to hold a secret ballot.
There are a multitude of permutations of what can be expected during the vote, depending on how many members will be present in the house, how recently fired members of the cabinet like Pravin Gordhan, will vote or just abstain, what the SACP will do, and if the opposition parties can get all their members in the house on the day.
It is, however, ironical that considering its role in Zuma’s 2007 election, the SACP might now sit with the balance of power to remove him.
The SACP’s numbers in the ANC caucus are not available in the public domain at present, but estimations by informed sources puts it at least close to 20 – which is dramatically less than the 80 established by a 2009 survey.
Still, if they vote as a block with opposition parties on the no confidence motion, Mr Zuma might just go to bed on that very night as an ordinary citizen for the first time since 2009.
The implications of such an eventuality are profound, both for the ANC and the country. Any expectations that the removal of Zuma will be a silver bullet for the woes of either the country or the ANC, will be sourly misplaced.
It is more than likely, that it will trigger a crisis of another kind altogether. Considering reports in recent times of death threats levelled at known Zuma opponents and the war-like rhetoric from some Zuma supporters, dangerous times may be waiting ahead.
If he is not removed soon, it can be expected that civil protest action will escalate. And, it can’t be accepted that it will all remain peaceful in the longer run.
Either way, things are likely to become worse, possibly much worse, on the social stability front, before it becomes better.
Also read: South Africa emulating Zimbabwe template
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