The alliance must die for the ANC to live

2017-12-24 06:05
Members of the tripartite alliance, which comprises ANC, Cosatu and SACP leaders, met to discuss the divisions among their parties. It was also the first time that President Jacob Zuma met with his former higher education minister Blade Nzimande after his axing from Cabinet. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

Members of the tripartite alliance, which comprises ANC, Cosatu and SACP leaders, met to discuss the divisions among their parties. It was also the first time that President Jacob Zuma met with his former higher education minister Blade Nzimande after his axing from Cabinet. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

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The party has tried to keep its partners happy, instead of providing policy certainty

A significant dip in the fortunes of the ANC occurred in 2007, when it allowed a morally and ethically compromised individual in the person of Jacob Zuma to become its president and, ultimately, the president of the country.

Unfortunately for the country, this happened at a time when the world was about to enter a period of extreme financial uncertainty and instability, following the collapse of the financial markets that was triggered by the reckless subprime mortgage lending in the US.

For South Africa, this critical moment called for a visionary leader with contextual intelligence to hold the reigns of political power at this early stage in its democratic transition.

On the eve of the democratic transition, the world legitimately believed that South Africa was bound to explode into racial violence and instability and lay to waste the economic infrastructure built up over centuries that was critical as a foundation for a new inclusive economic future. But this did not happen.

The ANC-led government appreciated the enormity and complexity of the challenge and implemented policy choices that laid a foundation for modest economic growth and the essential social welfare policies that have been critical to the poverty alleviation that was achieved.

However, in the past decade, the ANC has experienced a steep erosion of its founding organisational values and a corrosive rise in factionalism, patronage and corruption under the leadership of Zuma. We need to draw lessons from the theory of organisational behaviour to understand this development.

No organisation can exist without a compelling purpose and mission. When the purpose and mission have been clarified, it becomes possible to design the structure and strategy required to achieve the vision of its founders and agree on shared values to sustain it.

The ANC and the broad anti-apartheid movement were motivated by the singular objective and mission of replacing the apartheid state with a democratic one, underpinned by democratic values and the rule of law embedded in the Constitution. This objective has been met and we now all enjoy the freedoms promised in the Constitution.

But the fundamental question to ask is whether the ANC, on the eve of the democratic transition, was adequately prepared to govern and, more importantly, whether it understood the objective need to redefine its purpose and structure to make it suitable to execute the responsibility of governing successfully for the benefit of all people.

By choosing to maintain the alliance structure that was instrumental in successfully bringing down the apartheid state, it failed to comprehend the essential need to reinvent itself for the new task of governing in a very different and competitive political policy environment that required a highly focused party.

The alliance is a very broad church with very partisan interests under the leadership of the ANC. In such a situation, the formula for success and stability within the alliance required that the ANC agree to a set of policy choices that were too broad to achieve the high impact urgently desired to reverse apartheid’s structural inequities.

This compromise was necessitated to accommodate the diverse interests of its alliance partners.

This is the reason why it has to date failed to transcend the ideological policy divide inherent in the alliance structure and it is this weakness that is at the centre of the policy incoherence that has contributed to the sluggish economy we have and the downgrades that followed.

Too much energy and time were devoted to managing the tension and bringing about stability and policy harmony when, in fact, it was going to be impossible to achieve.

The downfall of Thabo Mbeki was a result of this policy conflict and contestation. It was not possible, for example, to win the support of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) on the National Development Plan and it has remained in limbo as a result.

The basic education department’s failure to successfully implement quality education, especially in poor schools, is primarily because of efforts by the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) to impede plans to improve the management and performance of principals.

Sadtu, in fact, dictates policy direction in the department. It is this weakness in policy certainty that has been cited by the rating agencies and the World Bank as a constraint to economic progress.

The ANC will need to free itself from the clutches of its alliance partners if it wishes to reassert its legitimacy as a party in government for the benefit of all the people of South Africa, rather than for its alliance partners.

The lack of progress and the regression that the country has endured in the past decade emanate from this flawed organisational structure.

Mbeki correctly understood this weakness, but he was forced out by the need to protect the partisan interests of the ANC’s key partners in the alliance. Cosatu and the SA Communist Party were at the forefront of successful efforts to push Mbeki out.

A further complicating factor is that in such a broad structure, it becomes very difficult to enforce the discipline of shared values necessary to achieve cohesion and unity. In such a situation, the emergence of a culture of patronage networks finds fertile ground to grow.


The spread and depth of corruption that has grown out of this weakness have emboldened the president to literally hijack the party and establish an alternate shadow state that has been exposed on many fronts in the media and other publications.

A by-product of this is the emergence of two irreconcilable internal factions driven by opposing sets of values.

One entrenched in patronage networks and the other driven by the need to uphold constitutional values and the rule of law.

These factions cannot coexist under the same roof and, in my opinion, a split is inevitable regardless of the outcome of the election conference.

The profound and racialised structural inequities inherited from apartheid required the establishment of a capable state to reverse them successfully. This is the single and most commanding purpose and mission of the post-democratic state.

Building a capable and efficient state and supporting state institutions at the three levels of government is, and continues to be, a top priority in the context of high and growing inequality, poverty and unemployment.

Efficient service delivery is impossible without achieving visible success on this question.

There is no doubt that the ANC perfectly understood this compelling necessity; however, in the last 10 years, the biggest focus and energy of the current administration was to build a very successful patrimonial state staffed with incompetent, but compliant, cadres. And this objective has been achieved successfully.

The future of South Africa requires new political leadership with strategic vision.

Perception surveys conclusively show that the majority of people reject corruption and they believe the ANC has lost its moral and ethical compass.

They expect a complete leadership overhaul that will be capable of re-inventing the ANC.

Motsohi is a strategy consultant with Lenomo Advisory

Read more on:    sacp  |  sadtu  |  cosatu  |  anc  |  thabo mbeki  |  jacob zuma

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