Intra-party tensions

2010-07-06 00:00

“We know from recent media reports that guns have been drawn at meetings of the ANC Youth League, and we know that Cope’s conference ended in chaos. So how will the electorate differentiate between the unruly behaviour of our opponents and the unruly behaviour of our own members?”

These are the words of Inkatha Freedom Party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi during the party’s Gauteng provincial conference. He realises that the culture of political violence, which used to characterise rivalry between the United Democratic Front and the IFP in the eighties, is now playing itself out in internal politics of some political parties.

It has become all too common in the structures of some parties for leadership wrangles to descend into violence and intimidation. There are a number of reasons for this. Party apparatchiks finger unruly elements internally seen as alien to these parties. As the problem persists and worsens, such as with the killing of an IFP leader in a party meeting in KwaMashu, north of Durban, party operatives blame the turn of events on agents provocateurs with external support for the problem.

The IFP National Council and its president have spent the past year trying to suppress a group lobbying for the election of the party chairperson, Zanele Magwaza- Msibi, as the new president. The group calls itself Friends of VZ and has challenged the IFP to allow internal democracy to guide the election of the new leadership in the national conference that has been postponed several times.

However, it was not any violent conduct on the part of the lobby group that led to its ostracisation within the IFP; rather it was the fact that it would not succumb to pressure from the current IFP leadership to give up its quest for a change of leadership. Together with a portion of the IFP Youth Brigade, this group has made the point that the decline in the IFP’s political fortunes in the past two national elections cannot be blamed on the strategies and performance of lower-level officials alone, but the situation is so grave that it requires a leadership overhaul at the highest level. They say that the IFP leadership has hardly changed since freedom and democracy in 1994, but the IFP has lost a lot of political ground.

After another poor showing in the last national elections, the IFP undertook a comprehensive review of its performance and decided on a turnaround strategy. But it expected the same leadership that has been in place over the past decade to carry out this re- energising of the party. When the second Review Council sat two months ago, it blamed weak implementation of its plans on the fact that the leadership had spent all its energy and time fighting the ructions and Friends of VZ.

Besides the fact that the decision to ask a leadership with a weak track record to drive renewal does not make sense, the council’s assessment suggests that this same leadership continues to have its priorities wrong. Instead, of pushing through the Vukuzithathe revival campaign it chose to focus on suppressing a group lobbying for internal democracy.

The IFP leadership’s aversion to the Friends of VZ and rebellious elements in its youth brigade is less to do with violence than its inability to deal with the changing nature of its politics. The influence of the new youth with limited experience of the struggle weakens old loyalties and notions of respect for the elders, but encourages open debate, vibrant political activities and sometimes too much militancy.

The youth in politics is as diverse as youth out there. There are intelligent and mature young citizens making a difference in the job market and in the marketplace of ideas. They are running organisations and are helping political parties improve their efficiency. But some of these young people belong to the lost generation with little or no education and are unable to find jobs or start income-earning ventures. They are frustrated and angry which is expressed in the culture of protest.

Political violence is, however, also related to structural and historical conditions. These include political violence engendered by the apartheid system, which could only be resisted effectively using disobedience and vigorous protests. Poverty is dehumanising and it produces a psychology that encourages violent conduct. Of course, the black youth are getting a raw deal on all fronts. In a country with a high incidence of family-based violence, violent crime and violent protests, political parties that fail to encourage political maturity and internal democracy will see internal political competition turn into violent clashes.

The parties affected need to accept that the manner in which they manage internal contradictions common in any political party generates rebellious conduct and political violence. They need to strengthen internal discussion and allow expression of dissent through structures.

If they seek to defeat dissent through intimidation and suppression, it simply becomes violent conduct. The IFP should open itself to internal criticism and robust debate if it wants to distinguish itself from other parties.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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