Shifting sands

2009-09-28 00:00

ANALYSTS talk about the shifting sands in politics and the sands have certainly been shifting in South Africa. Who would have thought that within five months of the country’s national elections, the glue would be coming unstuck among the groupings that came together to get President Jacob Zuma into the Union Buildings.

The ink is hardly dry on the ballot papers and there is already talk of a succession battle within the ANC. Zuma warned against the debilitating effect on the party if comrades started this discussion now.

The left has also been flexing its muscle. This was evident at last week’s Cosatu congress. The labour federation slammed the ruling party over Trevor Manuel’s green paper on national planning. Cosatu felt that it, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP), were marginalised in the shaping of this policy and has indicated its intention to have it withdrawn.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini categorically outlined the role he felt the alliance partners should be playing within the ANC. He said: “From now on, Cosatu’s presence will be felt and our socialist voice will be heard right inside the corridors of power. Whether on issues of the planning commission, monitoring and evaluation, budget priorities, deployment of cadres, economic policy, industrial strategy, we will be there to contest neoliberal tendencies wherever we see them.”

Author William Gumede points to yet another faction within the ANC. He calls this grouping the opportunists, saying they come from both within the left and the right. Gumede says this grouping, within the coalition, used the rhetoric of transparency, accountability and pro-poor policies to grab power for personal, factional and ethnic reasons. They have a very narrow view of democracy. The only change would be that they and their allies are now in charge. They want their plush cars, large VIP entourages with bodyguards and hangers-on, access to tenders and senior positions. This grouping, he believes, is also covertly playing its hand within the ruling party.

According to analysts, how Zuma manages the various factions within the ANC will be a true test of his leadership.

While battle lines are being drawn within the ruling party, the sands are also shifting in opposition politics. We know from media reports that as early as July the eight opposition parties within this country have been meeting in co-operation talks with an eye on the 2011 local government elections. An indication of how far along the way they have gone was hinted at by the DA’s KZN chairman, Greg Krumbock. Accompanying party leader Helen Zille on her visit to the province on Heritage Day, he said it was not impossible in the future that we would see a new and united opposition in this country that can win power.

Commentators have been sceptical about this. Aubrey Matshiqi has said that “a constellation of lightweights will not create a heavyweight”. However, he did add that if the parties wanted to bolster opposition politics in the country, serious strategic thinking was needed.

Other commentators believe the move will not go far because egos will get in the way and there are too many substantive differences within the parties. There is also the ANC, which has shown in the last election that when challenged it can come together and pull out all the stops to ensure a win.

Idasa, in its analysis of the 2009 election, said the ANC’s overall win was because electoral power lay among the predominantly black African rural and urban poor.

According to Idasa, the opposition as a whole will have to refocus their energies on adapting their party images to the political reality that the poor hold power in South African elections. “Without such introspection the opposition will be unable to consolidate itself against continued one-party dominance. Without significant growth into the poor black African electoral market by Cope and particularly the DA, the ANC’s electoral dominance is likely to continue,” said Idasa

Are the opposition parties considering all these factors? There are signs that they are. Opposition leaders have spoken about the need to forge co-operation on the basis of values, policies and a vision for South Africa and not merely as a ganging up exercise against the ANC. Their measured comments and not showing their hand too soon has also indicated that they are proceeding cautiously.

In a country where the ruling party seems to be increasingly caught up in its own factionalism, it does not pay to write off too soon any moves — from any quarter — no matter how small or how doomed to failure.

Opposition politics is certainly worth watching.

Another certainty is that politics in South Africa is never boring. Shifting sands indeed!

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