Political Watch

Can the ANC survive 2019 the election?

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Has the ANC left it too late to adapt to the changing South African political environment and can it, as the governing party, survive the general election in 2019?

It would be foolhardy to try and predict the outcome of an election more than two years before it takes place.

However, after yet another senior member of the ANC government, Minister Malusi Gigaba, last week said it is in danger of losing power in the national election, the questions posed above are absolutely legitimate.

It is important to note that Mr Gigaba said the ANC is “divided”: “The centre doesn’t seem to be holding. We need to address that.”

At another occasion the secretary-general of the party, Gwede Mantashe, said party leaders calling for President Jacob Zuma’s removal are in denial about its problems and are merely looking for scapegoats.

Left it too late?

Mr Mantashe is probably correct in his assessment that the mere removal of President Zuma will not solve the party’s problems. However, that does not absolve Mr Zuma from blame for the party not developing (or sticking to) a strategy to adapt to the changing political environment since it came to power in 1994.

The ANC deserves credit for the central role it played in delivering political freedom to the majority of the people. In government, however, the main task should have been the content it gives to that political freedom in practical terms – the quality of life on all fronts of civil society.

For a time, the party seemed to be on track and the economy was on a seemingly sustainable upwardly curved trajectory. With it came improved quality of life and upward economic and social mobility. In short, the country’s future looked bright.

Then came the ANC’s 2007 national conference, the ousting of Thabo Mbeki as president and his replacement with Mr Zuma.

This event coincided with negative developments on the global economic front (which also contributed), but under Mr Zuma leadership the country and the party’s upward trajectory was severely stunted.

Misusing the weakness of the ANC’s policy of two centres of power, the Zuma leadership ripped the party apart in factional battles for dominance.

In any big organisation, but especially on the political front, there will always be factions, competing ideologies and interests. The glue that holds the successful ones together is the centre.

The most successful political leaders are also generally those who master the ability to consolidate the middle ground, be it in their own parties, alliance or coalitions that they lead.

On this score, Mr Zuma’s leadership has to date been a dismal failure. Not only has his own party become a chaotic factional battleground, but the so-called governing Tripartite Alliance has been disintegrating for some time now. This view is shared by none less than Mr Mantashe, who listed, among other things, the implosion of the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) as the reason for the party losing almost all key metros during the local government election.

Ominous signs for ANC

The ANC is fracturing fast. It is at this stage not even certain which faction will inherit the name of the party at the end of the process.

While the municipal election firmly established the trend towards the development of coalition politics, grouped in the centre of the political spectrum, the name of the party might not even feature in the governing coalition that could emerge from the 2019 election.

In an article on The Conversation website last week Mzukisi Qobo, associate professor at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg, wrote: “The governing African National Congress has reached its limits. It is incapable of reforming itself. It has ceased to be an agent for economic restructuring and transformation, and has instead become inward-looking, with those at the helm concerned only with extracting value for themselves rather than changing the lives of citizens for the better.

”There is a deep yearning among South Africans for change in the political landscape. The results of the recent local government elections have shown this. They demonstrated that, through competitive democracy, people can claim their power back from unaccountable elites.

“This suggests that there is a fertile ground to nurture the emergence of new political formations ready to contest power. These could crystallise in a number of ways: through the merger of existing political parties, through coalitions, or through a further break-up of the governing party.”

The ANC failed to recognised the shifts taking place in the body politic of the country and to prepare for the new reality. As the Zuma era is drawing to a close and the alliance is coming apart, the ANC will be hard-pressed to maintain a foothold in government, nevermind perpetuate its dominance of the last two decades.

by Piet Coetzer

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