Violence Watch

Violence gets a life of its own as ANC loses control

Polokwane election triggered factionalism
Polokwane.jpg

Public violence – for the most part politically linked – is fast developing a life of its own in South Africa as both the ANC and the government are losing control.

With the countrywide municipal elections now almost exactly six weeks away, the country is encountering the sternest challenge to its stability since its first democratic elections in 1994. At the same time the governing ANC stands exposed for inept strategic thinking and a lack of leadership.

Nowhere was it illustrated clearer than last week in the capital city of Tshwane where a mayoral candidate was imposed on grassroots structures by party leadership. This triggered unprecedented violence – some of it out of protest, followed by opportunistic elements in the community.

On the leadership front it is telling that:

  • No real leadership on dealing with the problem, besides very placid and general statements, came from President Jacob Zuma, who is also leader of the party. On last Thursday when the critical moment of the final announcement of mayoral candidates arrived, five people had already been killed in the violence, countless properties destroyed and looting was rife. Mr Zuma was at a ‘good story’ event in a rural area in his home province of KwaZulu Natal (KZN);
  • It took a full four days before cabinet reacted to the violence and then only with a prosaic statement condemning the violence and looting and calling on citizens to refrain from breaking the law;
  • Besides State Security Minister David Mahlobo, no other member of cabinet visited the area. In what was clearly a PR event, Mahlobo, dressed in suit and tie, pretended in front of SABC cameras to help clear some post-rioting debris.

With, at least initially, attempts by the ANC to put some distance between itself and the violence and not accepting some responsibility, Minister Mahlobo did at least to some extent admitted ANC involvement by declaring that the violence was instigated from within the ANC to protest the imposition of ex-cabinet minister Thoko Didiza as mayoral candidate.

It also became clear that government suffered from a major intelligence failure and was completely taken by surprise with what happened – again raising questions about how much damage has been done to vital state institutions by the AC’s policy of cadre deployment.

  Also read: ANC state capture renders Hawks a lame duck

On the strategic front it has transpired that the idea of putting forward Didiza as a ‘compromise’ candidate to counter factional battles in ANC structures in Tshwane was first floated last year. Nothing, however, seems to have been done since to ‘sell’ her as a possible candidate to members in Tshwane and to lift her public profile in her adopted city of residence.

Wider fault lines

What has been happening in Tshwane has also exposed volatile wider socio-political fault lines in the party and in the South African society in general.

Soon after it became known that the party leadership was parachuting Didiza in as candidate, resistance emerged, based on the fact that she is originally from KZN and a Zulu in a predominantly Northern Sotho/Tswana and other ethnic groups from the northern parts of the country.

There seems to be a resurgence of tribalism in the country as it recently also led to riots and the destruction of 24 schools in Vuwani, Limpopo, because of a municipal demarcation dispute. Communities in the area — dominated by Venda speakers — did not want their villages incorporated into a municipality dominated by Tsonga speakers.

On the East Rand of Gauteng, notably around its notoriously volatile hostels, there is a danger of a situation developing similar to the late 1980s with its running battles between hostel dwellers and township residents.

And, as during the early phases of the country’s transition to democracy, trends like violence hotspots and the enforcement of so-called no-go areas by some parties on others, are making a reappearance.

Last week the Economic Freedom Fighters were prevented from campaigning at a hostel. And, in Durban, Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane, was recently confined by ANC members while campaigning there.

As in the past, there are strong tribal undertones present. Referring to some of the noises coming out of the Tshwane protests, even deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa found it necessary to caution against “tribalism”. 

The dire state of the economy, high levels of unemployment and poverty as well as simmering xenophobia also led to an element of opportunistic violence piggybacking on the protests over the mayoral candidate’s imposition in Tshwane.

Internal vested political interests and careerism that developed, led to a situation where rumours developed that some people would lose their jobs if Didiza became mayor.

Other special interests might also have exploited the situation in Tshwane. Rumours had it that a local taxi association was behind the burning of buses of the bus company it is in dispute with. 

Zuma as factor in it all

Although not necessarily by either design or intention, the rise of Mr Zuma to the top of the ANC has much to do with the situation that the party, and by extension the country, now finds itself in.

Zuma became president of the ANC as a result of so-called slate voting and a winner-takes-all type of result. It also led to the development of factions formed around personalities. It is a process that not only dramatically raises the stakes involved in such elections and lays the foundation for cronyism and the networks of patronage, which now permeate the party at all levels – especially where it governs.

Against this background it is interesting to note that Mr Ramaphosa earlier this year remarked: “…in the 2016 local government elections we will not play zama-zama with our people’s future. So we will not allow our municipalities to be turned into a lottery. We will not allow our municipalities to be employers of last resort.”

All the controversies and scandals Mr Zuma became involved in as president of the ANC and the country have also greatly contributed to fostering factionalism and uncertainty.

It led to talk of his possible early exit and thus a succession battle. Pro- and anti-Zuma camps developed, with individuals and groups in his patronage network going into battle to try and project their positions. In short, it became a very messy situation.

Also read: Violence in South Africa’s capital leaves ANC vulnerable at the polls

by Piet Coetzer

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