Let's Think

Dysfunctional ANC proves folly of centralised power

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The governing ANC’s internal governance model of strong centralised power has it in deep trouble and puts the country’s political stability in grave danger.

Failing to understand that real power in the ANC is centred in Luthuli House, its headquarters in Johannesburg, and in the hands of its top leader corps, has led to a number of wrong assumptions about what happened in parliament last week.   

One of those assumptions, already proven wrong in public, is that the party and its parliamentary caucus has closed ranks solidly behind the leadership of President Jacob Zuma.

Another is about the fact that someone like Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan voted against the impeachment motion.

What gets forgotten is that the ANC parliamentary caucus met with party secretary general Gwede Mantashe beforehand – essentially to get their instructions from Luthuli House. The ANC’s parliamentary caucus is not an independently functioning entity within the party’s structures.

For Gordhan and others to have voted differently to what the Luthuli House instructions were, would have amounted to political suicide. They had to survive to fight another day.

Later in the week a warning also came from Mantashe that ANC leaders who do not toe the party line in public will be disciplined.

It came after ANC Gauteng deputy chairperson and provincial premier David Makhura publically said that “loyalty to the country is more important than loyalty to the organisation”; MK veterans called for Mr Zuma’s departure from leadership and two Johannesburg branches of the party demanded that action be taken against him.

“We must debate these issues and engage society but if they choose to take public platforms and look good by insulting the president, they’ll pay the price obviously,” Mantashe said.

Losing touch

To what extent the party, under this situation of centralised and concentrated power, has lost contact with its own traditional support base and supporting organisations is apparent from a groundswell of resistance – mainly against the way both the Nkandla issue and the controversial relationship between Mr Zuma and the Gupta family are being handled.

And it is not only veteran ex-leaders of the party who are campaigning for the removal of Mr Zuma.

Last week, for example, the party’s Sefako Makgatho branch in the Greater Johannesburg region said Mr Zuma should be removed from office or face the ANC's integrity and disciplinary committees.

Branch chairperson Sasabona Manganye said the branch has recommended three options on how it believed the National Executive Committee (NEC) should deal with Zuma:

1.    The first option was to ask Zuma to resign as ANC president and president of the country and allow Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to act in his place until the party’s next conference in 2017;

2.    If he refused to resign he should be subjected to the integrity committee or the national disciplinary committee and temporarily suspended so that he didn’t unduly influence the disciplinary proceedings; or

3.    The party should hold a special national conference to discuss and resolve the matter.

Manganye also said that the Sefako Makgatho branch will be lobbying other branches. Also last week, in a letter to Mantashe, signed by about 40 former members of Masupatsela or “young pioneers” – those who were born or raised in exile – a call was made for action against Mr Zuma.

Despite Mantashe’s renewed call last week for those "howling" at the ANC to take action against President Zuma to come and engage with the party, signs are that the party is fast losing control over the process – even inside its own structures.

Dysfunctional politics

If the ANC, instead of dictating everything from Luthuli House, has from the word go left some leeway to its parliamentary caucus to manoeuvre, some compromises could have been reached in 2014 already. That would naturally also have called for some flexibility from the top leader himself.

In June 2015 we warned in an article: “Due to the centralist way in which party political power and government responsibility have become structured under the ANC, Nkandla has much wider and more serious ramifications than Watergate ever had.”

We also pointed out how already in October 2014 Mr Zuma and his advisers had missed an opportunity to put the issue to bed.

There was an offer from wealthy KwaZulu-Natal businessman and friend of Mr Zuma, Philani Mavundla, to raise the money the Public Protector recommended the president should pay towards the upgrades at Nkandla.

Instead of accepting the offer, the matter was left to fester until court action was the only option left to opposition political parties to bring him to account.

And it goes far beyond just Nkandla. The ANC’s stranglehold on just about all normal political processes has on many fronts made the courts almost the only option available to opposition parties to hold them to account.

As highly centralised and concentrated power with its arrogance of “my way or no way” almost always does, it has robbed the South African body politic of the subtleties that come with true democracy.

Knowing by now how the ANC would react to suggestions for dealing with the Nkandla judgement, the opposition immediately went for the jugular via an impeachment motion. More subtle options, like an ad hoc committee of parliament, that could summon Mr Zuma to explain himself was apparently not even considered.

That would have created a platform and space for negotiated give-and-take options to avoid the extremely dangerous deadlock that has now developed.

An even more disturbing development is that having to use the courts to force the governing party to do its duty is no longer restricted to politics at national level.

What went by almost unnoticed last week amid the uproar surrounding parliament and the Constitutional Court judgement on Nkandla, was a Higher Court ruling in Gauteng.

A residents forum of Joe Slovo Park and the Socio Economic Rights Institute approached the court, claiming the City of Johannesburg had failed to implement its own upgrading of informal settlements policy.

The court found the City of Johannesburg in breach of the constitution by failing to upgrade the area in terms of that policy.

Politics taking to the streets

For the residents of Joe Slovo Park the judicial process might have delivered the desired results, but at the national level surrounding the Nkandla affairs it is a different story.

Closure has not come after the conclusion of the judicial process. It would seem that a very broad spectrum of society has decided that the only option left is to take their grievances to the streets.

It happens against the background of:

  • Plans by a growing alliance of civil society‚ church‚ trade union, academic organisations and probably some political parties to organise massive public protests, which might see up to a million people taking to the streets on Freedom Day, 27 April;
  • The Economic Freedom Fighters already having declared they will physically prevent President Zuma from addressing parliament;
  • Growing frustrations among millions of, especially, poor people under increasing economic pressures; and
  • Desperate people at the levers of power, apparently willing to use state security apparatus to mount a fight-back.

We have entered a new phase of street politics, posing the biggest threat to social stability since the advent of democracy in 1994. It has indeed become dangerous times.

by Piet Coetzer

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