Political Watch

Fracturing of ANC alliance weakening Zuma’s position

Zuma’s hold slipping?

President Jacob Zuma’s iron grip on the ANC and its governing alliance is slipping as internal divisions broaden and gain momentum on several levels.

The lingering controversy around the so-called security upgrades at his private Nkandla residence is increasingly becoming the rallying point of a building rebellion against the Zuma-led administration. Last week delivered a clear sign that the rebellion might be heading for the heart of the party itself – its National Executive Committee (NEC).

The chairman of the party in the Gauteng province, Paul Mashatile, and in that capacity a member of the NEC, in rejecting the controversial report on the Nkandla upgrades by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko last week, pointed out that it has not been before the NEC yet.

In the process he not only put distance between the party and its parliamentary caucus. It also reflected the problematic ANC stance of “two centres of power”, one in government and one in the ANC top structures, as symbolised by headquarters in Luthuli House.

In this regard, and probably reflecting the growing tensions around the Nkandla affair, it is noticeable how quiet ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe has recently become on the subject. Earlier this year he was still publically dishing out instructions to ANC parliamentary functionaries on how the matter must be handled.

Mashatile, who in 2008 replaced Mbhazima Shilowa as Gauteng premier, after the latter resigned over the way Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki as ANC president (only to be replaced himself seven months later and moved to a junior cabinet position) has been disenchanted with the Zuma administration for some time.

He and his Gauteng inner circle last year are said to have blamed Zuma’s poor administration for the setback the party suffered in last year’s general election. Nkandla is also not their only gripe; previously they had taken a hard-line stance against the e-toll system in the province.

In recent weeks the ANC in Gauteng also suffered the embarrassment of some of its local Soweto structures protesting openly against government-sanctioned moves by Eskom regarding electricity supply to that city.

Wider factional battles

But it is not only in Gauteng or in the structures of the mother party that its organisation has become factionalised and frail.

There have been plentiful examples of this state of affairs recently, including:

  • The week before last the KwaZulu-Natal ANC Youth League’s provincial elective conference ended in violence between opposing factions. It, in large part, stems from the factional power struggles in the ANC’s eThekwini region, the party’s largest region and previously a pillar of President Jacob Zuma’s provincial support base;
  • The ANC Women’s League still has not been able to organise its long-overdue elective conference;
  • Many ANC branches and regions suffer from disorganisation and power struggles, not least of these being those in the Eastern Cape. Regions and branches in the former Transkei have long been at one another’s throats;
  • The party has just reshuffled its leadership of the Buffalo City Metro and appointed soccer boss Danny Jordaan as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to clean up this corruption-riddled metro, a move that might backfire in the face of the Fifa scandal; ahead of the elections; and
  • In Mpumalanga a power struggle between the ANC and its South African Communist Party (SACP) partner in the Ehlanzini region led to Mantashe being accused of failing to protect provincial premier, David Mabuza, against SACP attacks; and the list goes on.

Break-up of COSATU

The broader alliance is in even bigger trouble, especially as the break-up of its governing alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), is picking up momentum.

An especially sensitive blow for the party and President Zuma and his inner circle came at the recent congress of the National Union of Mine workers at which all the leaders responsible for the suspension of ex-COSATU secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), bar one, was replaced.

All the ousted leaders are close allies of the president of COSATU, senior leader in the SACP and Minister of Justice, Sdumo Dlamini, who is also a key figure in Zuma’s ‘kitchen cabinet’.

With Frans Baleni, who built up NUM to a dominating force in COSATU, replaced as secretary general of the union, the Zuma support group in the federation looks a lot less secure. It is a position to which much symbolic influence is also attached, having in the past been filled by Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, ex-President Kgalema Motlanthe, Mantashe and Vavi.

It is against this background that well-known columnist and political commentator Max du Preez described the ousting of the Baleni leadership as a “political earthquake for the ANC”.

Recently, another close ally of the ANC, the South African Students Congress (SASCO), lost the student representative council election at the University of Fort Hare (an iconic institution from the days of the liberation struggle) to the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation. This happened despite senior ANC leadership figures like Mr Ramaphosa assisting SASCO with its campaign.

Tensions over policy

But it is not only on the organisational front that Mr Zuma is challenged at the moment. There are increasing signs of practical policy implementation putting the ‘broad church’ under strain.

Besides ANC structures rebelling against the Eskom strategies and e-tolling, the SACP are at odds, and stating it in public, with some government policies.

Recently, there was the spectacle of one cabinet minister, Blade Nzimande in his capacity as general secretary of the SACP, summonsing another cabinet colleague, Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown, to appear before the SACP Central Committee meeting. At issue was the government’s plan to partly privatise and sell some assets of Eskom – something strongly opposed by the party.

Likewise, COSATU has come out in opposition to such plans as it, and the SACP initially, did with regard to the e-toll system in Gauteng.

In the meantime Nkandla has also become a rallying issue for not only opposition parties but also emerging political forces like the United Front from the midst of expelled and dissenting COSATU members and from civil society. At the end of last week these players were to meet with groups like Corruption Watch, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.

The meeting was aimed at coming up with a plan of action against political, economic and social issues facing South African civil society. According to Vavi, who was involved in organising the meeting, it was aimed at putting together a programme of action around issues affecting South African communities. A march to the Union Buildings to protest the handling of the Nkandla issue could form part of it.

It is now less than two weeks before the deadline that Mr Zuma set for himself to release the Farlam Commission of Enquiry into the 2012 shooting of mineworkers at Marikana. The mere fact that it has taken him so long to release the report, despite ongoing court action, seems to indicate that there will be sticky issues to be dealt with.


It is likely to be a messy process, but the transition to a new political distribution of power and away from the absolute dominance by the ANC, is getting into full swing. It is unlikely that the ANC alliance as we know it now will survive.

As the proverb goes, “one should not take the ball before the bound”, but Mr Zuma looks a lot less secure in his position than he did a year ago. Next year’s municipal elections might be crucial in determining whether he will survive to the end of his term in office.

by Piet Coetzer

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