Political Watch

Gossip or truth – the ANC looks doomed to break up


Whether reports that ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte peddled the position of minister of finance to the deputy minister are actually true or just gossip, both are signs of a party in trouble.

Both the ruling African National Congress and Ms Duarte disowned reports this past weekend that in November last year she called Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas to offer him the top job at the ministry. It was allegedly in the run-up to what now has become known as ‘9-12’ – President Jacob Zuma’s game of musical chairs with the ministry in December.

It was particularly the ANC’s reference to “the gossip mongering being masqueraded as news on the front page …” that took my thoughts back some 40 years to the time of the so-called verligte/verkrampte (enlightened/narrow-minded) battle within the ranks of especially the parliamentary caucus of the then ruling National Party (NP).

At that time members of the parliamentary press gallery and political correspondents like myself would often be accused of spreading gossip about the battle. To pin down the exact truth was pretty difficult when you had information from sources in both camps on the same event, like Thursday morning’s customary caucus meetings.

One fact was, however, beyond any doubt: a right royal battle was raging inside that caucus for the heart and soul of the party.

Rhymes from history

Although not beyond all doubt that he is the one who coined the phrase “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”, Mark Twain is mostly credited as the father of this pearl of wisdom that came to mind when reading the ANC’s statement.

With it came thoughts of another pearl of wisdom from Sir Winston Churchill who famously said that “those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it”. A refrain that suddenly came to mind, was the one from the famous Steve Miller Band song, ‘When Things Go Wrong’: “When things go wrong, So wrong with you, It hurts me too.”

In those days the parliamentary caucus of the NP was more or less in terms of real political power on a par with the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC). For one, it had the power to elect the national party leader who then became the head of state – or to replace him, as happened with Botha’s predecessor, BJ Vorster.

Back in the 1970s the core battle inside the NP caucus was also an ideological one. The verkramptes, under the leadership of Dr Andries Treurnicht, fought for the retention of the policy of strict “separate development”. With tentative reform policies on, for instance the sport front, the verligtes under President PW Botha’s leadership, were pushing for a more pragmatic approach. 

The first breakaway came from someone who originally was not regarded as part of the right wing, Dr Connie Mulder, the then Provincial leader of the Transvaal and the man who lost the battle for national leadership against Botha.

Interestingly enough, Mulder left the NP when he in what is more or less equivalent to today’s ‘Nkandlagate’ and ‘SARS war’, the infamous ‘Info Scandal’, was fired from the cabinet. He went on to establish the National Conservative Party (NCP) in 1979 and Treurnicht was elected as the NP’s new provincial leader – opening the door to a cabinet post for him.

Besides Mulder’s NCP there was an earlier right-wing breakaway in 1970 by the Herstigte (re-formed) National Party (HNP). Unlike the Congress of the People’s breakaway from the ANC in 2007, which was aided by the present proportional electoral system, the HNP under the constituency system of that time, never made any parliamentary headway.

The final break in the NP came in February of 1982 when the NP’s in-house publication, The Nationalist, carried an article suggesting that coloured and Indian representatives could be accommodated in a power-sharing model of government.

After a motion was adopted in the NP caucus supporting Botha’s leadership and his interpretation of “healthy power sharing”, Treurnicht and 16 other members of parliament resigned from the party and the Conservative Party was established on 20 March 1982 in Pretoria.

With the ANC in government functioning as in alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), one should take note of the fracturing that has been taking place inside COSATU and the imminent establishment of a new trade union federation. There is also, especially in the KZN province, growing signs of strains between at least some elements inside the ANC and the SACP.

Other similarities

There are also other similarities between the situation surrounding the NP of the 1970/80s and the ANC of today.

In the 1970/80s FW de Klerk and others were concerned about the prominent role played by the State Security Council and its National Security Management System. Something that De Klerk addressed very shortly after his election to the highest office in the land.

In the case of the Zuma administration the situation is best illustrated by a recent  remark by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan about a letter leaked to the media, supposedly addressed to him, but that he did not receive.

He posed the question: “So where is this mysterious letter? Why does one journalist among the press seem to have something at hand but the people to whom it is directed don’t? Also, why ‘leak’ a letter that has to be still studied and responded to – to further use harassment and intimidatory tactics like the old Security Police did?”

During the early days of the NP’s reform efforts, in February 1980, when it was announced that coloured schoolboys would be participating in the Craven Rugby Week. Treurnicht publicly stated his displeasure at this, but was repudiated by Botha. Only the direct intervention of ministers such as FW de Klerk and Hendrik Schoeman averted a rift in the party.


Now just consider a few of the headlines surrounding the ANC and its governing alliance over the last ten or fourteen days:

Time to restore the ANC's integrity, says Mashatile

Motlanthe’s throwdown: ANC could end up a “dead organisation”

ANC after Sizani's departure: The pressure cooker lid is off

Why can't Zuma be 'Thabo-ed'?

How the Guptas allegedly planned to ‘capture’ Treasury: report

Disgraced ANC leaders should step down: Motlanthe

Gordhan vs. Ntlemeza: A proxy battle in a war over control of the state

Gordhan slams Hawks: No regard for economic, social welfare of SA

Adios Cosatu. Here comes Vavi’s powerful new Labour Federation

Vytjie Mentor says she was offered ministry by the Guptas

They tell the story of an organisation at war with itself.

by Piet Coetzer

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