ANC fragmenting fast

2013-06-26 00:00

THE almost irreversible fragmentation of the ANC has begun. The ANC does not have the quality leadership needed at the head of the party and it does not appear to be open to introducing fresh leadership and ideas, or capable of the genuine introspection necessary to reverse the decline.

The ANC is starting to fragment on the back of its inability to reduce poverty and deliver jobs and services. It may have reached its electoral peak and could find it difficult to secure the two-thirds majority it achieved in previous national elections.

South Africa is entering that 20-year post-liberation mark, when many African liberation movements-turned-governments, who fail to deliver adequately on promises, fragment as members and supporters leave them for new parties.

It has been assumed that the ANC would break into left and centrists factions, with the left, made up of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and/or the South African Communist Party (SACP), going its own way, while the centrists, including the African nationalists and black business, in alliance with populist and Africanist groupings, remaining as the rump of the ANC.

However, it is more likely that the model will be along the lines of the fragmentation of South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num).

Disillusioned members splintered into the Association of Mineworkers Construction Union and other smaller unions. In the same manner, the rate of smaller groups breaking away from the ANC is likely to increase.

Recently, Julius Malema announced that he will form a political party — the Economic Freedom Fighters. In April, some MK veterans formed a new party, South Africa First. In 2011, some members of the SACP in North West Province formed their own communist party, the Lebaleng Communist Party. Ahead of the 2011 local-government elections, scores of disgruntled ANC, SACP and Cosatu members stood as independent candidates or formed new parties at municipal level. These former ANC members-turned-independents and their parties may form the nuclei around which new parties will form.

Although Agang, launched on Saturday by Mamphela Ramphele, is not strictly a breakaway party, many disgruntled ANC members have joined it. Smaller left-wing parties, outside the mainstream ANC left, may also emerge to recruit disillusioned left-wing members of the ANC alliance. An example is the formation of the Workers’ and Socialist Party (Wasp), which claims to have made political inroads among communities in mining areas, following the Lonmin Marikana massacre.

The formation of the Congress of the People (Cope) in 2008, protesting against the election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president, started the fragmentation of the ANC. Although Cope is in chaos caused by fighting between its two leaders, Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, the formation of the party broke an important invisible wall. It made it acceptable for ANC members to seek a political life outside the ANC.

Although the ANC choreographed unity after the re-election of Zuma as ANC president at the 2012 Mangaung national conference, the party is perhaps at its most divided since 1994. The final ANC National Executive Committee elected at Mangaung did not elect members from the five provincial branches who either directly opposed the president or were almost equally divided between those opposing him and those supporting him — a historical first for the party. These provincial branches may distance themselves from key decisions made by Zuma and oppose their implementation.

There is also a large number of senior ANC figures, with presidential or deputy presidential ambitions, who opposed Zuma’s re-election and now find themselves out in the cold. They include Tokyo Sexwale (Minister of Human Settlements), Mathews Phosa (former ANC treasurer), Fikile Mbalula (Minister of Sport and Recreation) and Kgalema Motlanthe (deputy president), as well as Zwelinzima Vavi (Cosatu general secretary) and Malema.

ANC leaders, including Zuma, appear to have accepted that the party has lost a large number of black middle-class voters. For the first time, there are powerful individuals and constituencies within the ANC who feel they are being marginalised. If all the disgruntled leaders and constituencies band together, they could create a powerful opposition. Even if these groups do not form a formal opposition, they may respond in a very lukewarm manner to the ANC’s 2014 national election campaign. This may undermine the party’s electoral performance.

The tipping point will be reached when the gap between the ANC leadership and its ordinary members becomes so wide that many ANC members will no longer be able to identify with the leaders or the party. Zuma’s questionable friendships and lack of leadership are making it easier for members and supporters to leave the party. South Africa is entering a period of political realignment, during which the ANC’s majority may be dramatically reduced, and we may see a number of small breakaway parties emerge from within the ANC and opposition parties, and entirely new parties may form from the left and centre.

• William Gumede is author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg).

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