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Political violence within the governing ANC tripartite alliance is likely to rise considerably ahead of the 2019 elections as competition intensifies between supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa and former president Jacob Zuma for control of provincial and local party branches and nominations for provincial and national legislatures.
As Ramaphosa moves to take control of the ANC and government – and with the Zuma faction fearing prosecution over alleged corruption and the potential loss of their government positions and lucrative tenders – the battle for control of provincial and local party branches and the election candidates' lists is likely to become deadly.
The stalled economy and reduced opportunities for lucrative tenders due to the public sector clean-up reforms will only add to the conflict.
Competition between the ANC's alliance partners will increase. Cosatu and the SACP supported Ramaphosa for ANC president and are therefore in his camp. However, if Cosatu and the SACP back the ANC in the 2019 elections, they cannot field their own independent candidates. If their members want to become candidates for election they must then do so through the ANC's internal branch nominations process. This may bring Cosatu and the SACP in direct conflict with pro-Ramaphosa and pro-Zuma candidates already battling for places on the party lists.
The ANC may face the toughest electoral competition since the end of apartheid in 1994. This means that it is likely to receive fewer votes, meaning fewer candidates from their lists will get a job. Those on the lower ranks of the lists may face the danger of not getting elected and getting placed higher on the lists to secure a place for election may therefore add to the competition.
Political violence between the ANC and its breakaway party, the EFF, is also likely to increase as the ANC, battered by long years of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence faces competition from the leftist populists.
The country is likely to see increasing protests against failing public services, corruption and lack of accountability by public officials. This is likely to be accompanied by rising political violence as many ordinary citizens believe elected officials only listen to protesters when they destroy public property and run riot.
The distribution of low-cost public housing is riddled with corruption, with many citizens having been on the waiting list for years, only to see latecomers jump the queue. Housing corruption has often unleashed violent protests.
The country is further likely to see an increase in labour market violence. The declining economy has meant that many mines have gone bust. New investors are reluctant to set up bricks and mortar investments until there is certainty about the political and economic path of the country which will be determined by the outcome of the 2019 elections.
With the private sector under pressure there is likely going to be more job losses. Competition between trade unions organising in the private sector will also be intensified. South Africa's self-inflicted economic crisis has led to the closure of factories and job losses in the private sector. This has been the main reason for the breakaway of most of the private sector unions within Cosatu to the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), as they protested against Zuma's presidency which plunged the economy into freefall.
South Africa's public sector, denuded of competent staff and starved of funds because of corruption and bailouts of failing state-owned enterprises, is likely to be right-sized. Public sector workers who have hitherto been protected by their unions' alliance with the ANC will now, like their private sector counterparts, feel the pressure.
The ANC-aligned Cosatu public sector unions will be increasingly unable to protect their members from losing their jobs because of the inevitable right-sizing of the public sector, leading to Saftu-like breakaways starting to form new public sector trade unions outside the ANC fold.
This may also increase political violence similar to what was seen when the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) formed outside of the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) following the crisis in the mining sector when mismanagement of mining policies, politically-connected black economic empowerment deals and greedy owners combined with a commodity crunch caused mines to close or downscale, leading to job losses.
Why is political violence on the increase? Apartheid laws, institutions and culture were violent. Many liberation movements used counter-violence to respond to apartheid's violence. White South Africa was a militarised society. Black patriarchal traditional cultures were often also violent.
Violent solutions to conflict have been part of South Africa's white colonial and apartheid culture and black counter-colonial and counter-apartheid culture, and black traditional systems. South Africa has been unable to overcome this deep-seated culture of violence in the country's cultural DNA.
As a case in point, violence and violent rhetoric and slogans continue to be celebrated as "radical" in the democratic era. Leftist populism has latched onto violent rhetoric to brandish their "revolutionary" or "decolonisation" or "radical economic transformation" credentials in a democratic epoch which demands more inclusiveness, compromises and pragmatism.
The "winner takes all" political culture whereby the ANC faction which wins exclude everyone else from appointments and government contracts has contributed to make political competition brutal, zero-sum affairs.
Known criminals are increasingly funding politics. Certain factions of the ANC have in some instances become criminalised. Criminals in turn are increasingly using politics to launder illegally acquired assets to seek protection from prosecution and buy policies through supporting leaders and party factions.
For another, gangsters and criminals have created their own political parties which now contest local and national politics. The EFF is also in danger of replicating the violent culture of certain factions of the ANC into their new political organisation.
Police investigations of political violence have in many cases been very unenthusiastic because of political intimidation. To reverse political violence all political parties must punish violent members.
Political parties must also improve the quality of candidates they elect as leaders. Merit must be introduced in the cultures of all political parties and the winner-takes-all party-political approaches must be stopped at all levels of politics and government.
Whichever party is in government, at whatever level, must govern responsively, inclusively and honestly.
- William Gumede is chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation and associate professor at the Wits School of Governance and author of South Africa in BRICS, Tafelberg. This is an edited extract from his keynote address to the "Monitoring and Responding to Political Violence in South Africa" workshop organised by the Institute for Security Studies in partnership with Gun Free South Africa and the Human Sciences Research Council on 23 October 2018.
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