The ANC five years after Polokwane

2012-02-21 11:46

For two reasons this year is very significant for the ANC: on the one hand it is its centenary anniversary and secondly it will also convene the sixth National Conference since 1990. The previous National Conference at Polokwane in 2007 was a major milestone in its recent history and can arguably be described as the beginning of a ‘second transition’ after the one in 1994.

In years to come the significance of Polokwane for the ANC – both positive and negative – will continued to be analysed and assessed. However, for a proper understanding of the current situation and for the prospects of Mangaung, a provisional assessment of Polokwane has to be made.

Polokwane was the first instance since 1990 during which the fault-lines in the ANC were demonstrated in public. Before 1990 the ANC experienced several internal upheavals such as the formation of the PAC in 1958/9, the Gang of Eight or ANC (African Nationalists) or the Marxist Workers’ Tendency in the ANC as well as the revolt in the MK camps in Angola but still it could present a unified view after 1990.

However, at Polokwane a 60/40 split emerged between, on the one hand Jacob Zuma supported by COSATU, SACP, ANCYL and provinces like KZN and Limpopo. On the other hand were the Mbeki supporters who were less well defined. Another feature of Polokwane was the overt use of the media for the internal power struggle. ANC tradition expected an internal resolution of differences while Polokwane shattered that solidarity and introduced politicking by means of the media. Tokyo Sexwale, in particular announced his presidential ambition in the media. His involvement earlier as the presenter of The Apprentice (SA) on national television already raised suspicions about the media in presidential campaigns. One of the most visible products of the media’s prominence in the Polokwane internecine struggle was Julius Malema, President of the ANCYL.

During the final years of the Mbeki Presidency South African politics – and in particular the ANC’s – has increasingly assumed a patronage character. The Mbeki style of government also increasingly drew a distinction between the ANC-as-government and the ANC-as-political movement. As Government it assumed an elitist character beyond the reach of many in the ANC.

In contrast, as a populist figure Jacob Zuma presented himself as the champion of the ANC, who could re-arrange the patronage networks and bring the movement closer to the Government. Zuma held the potential to introduce a principle of regional rotation of government control. The first decade after 1994 was the heyday of the Eastern Cape. Zuma’s ascendancy in 2007 would therefore manifest a change towards KZN, with the potential that if Limpopo can consolidate its prominence in the Zuma constituency, it might follow as the next regional epicenter.

To understand the current dynamics in the ANC the place of Limpopo has to be investigated. Before 2007 Limpopo was one of the provinces with the ANC’s strongest electoral support. However, it never received much prominence in Government. Pres. Zuma changed it with the appointment of several Ministers (Collins Chabane, Aaron Motsoaledi, Richard Baloyi and Maite Nkoana-Matshabane) and Deputies like former Premier Ngoako Ramathlodi, Rejoice Mabudafhasi and Joe Phaahla.

Some would regard it as a ‘reward’ for Limpopo’s contribution towards Zuma’s election at Polokwane. Arguably the province’s new-found prominence encouraged the Youth League President Malema and the provincial Premier, Cassels Mathale, to lobby for its role as the leading (or kingmaker) province in the ANC. Without articulating it as such in public, it set Limpopo up against KZN (Zuma’s home province). The SACP’s and COSATU’s vociferous criticism of the Limpopo government, especially in 2011, and considering Blade Nzimande’s unqualified support as SACP leader for his provincial compatriot, is an illustration of the regional or provincial loyalties as a factor in the latest ANC dynamics.

One can expect that Mangaung will be vastly different from Polokwane in 2007. The contending blocs are completely different. The Polokwane ‘winning alliance’ (SACP, COSATU, ANCYL) fragmented in the meantime and does not exist anymore. Strong Zuma supporters (like Sexwale, Phosa, Malema and Vavi) are now his opponents. The blocs are not coherent or homogenous anymore: they don’t follow ideological lines, socio-economic distinctions or regional coherence. Only a few pointers are already known: Zuma is supported by KZN, the SACP and some unions, while Motlanthe is supported by Limpopo and the ANCYL. The ultimate decisive factor will be their support in the provinces, and a critically important province will be the Eastern Cape.

The main differences in 2012 are the following: Pres. Zuma is not opposed by a campaigning opponent. In 2007 Zuma was actively campaigning against Pres. Mbeki; Motlanthe is not doing the same in 2012. There is therefore no national focus or rallying point for the Zuma opponents. Earlier it was focused in the struggle for the position of Secretary General (Fikile Mbalula vs Gwede Mantashe) but it failed to serve as a substitute for a presidential contest.

Another significant difference is that Zuma is much stronger than what Mbeki was about ten months before the election. At the National General Council (NGC) in 2005 Pres. Mbeki failed to eliminate his main political rival and Jacob Zuma was rehabilitated in the ANC. Comparatively, at the NGC in 2010 Pres. Zuma was faced by a ANCYL revolt against him, embodied in their nationalization proposal. Zuma not only consolidated his authority in the ANC (supported by Paul Mashatile and the provincial chairpersons) but also insisted on the ANCYL’s respect for the seniors in the ANC. Moreover, the nationalization issue was referred to a panel of researchers and therefore it lost its political potency.

Another major difference between 2007 and 2012 affects the status of the main opponent. By 2007 Jacob Zuma was dismissed as national Deputy President but his status in the ANC was still intact. In 2012 the leading opponent – Julius Malema – has been suspended from the ANC, which means that he will be excluded from all ANC positions and activities. The opposition has therefore been decapitated and the main question now is who will emerge as the new leading figure?

Pres. Zuma appears to be more confident than Pres. Mbeki a few months before the two respective National Conferences. Pres. Mbeki concentrated on international issues and avoided the domestic scene. Pres. Zuma, on the other hand, is confident enough to pre-empt the nationalization policy debate and did not wait for the National Policy Conference before he declared the Government’s policy.

Moreover, in two consecutive years he dismissed a total of nine Cabinet members and changed the Executive quite dramatically but he refrained from dealing with his opponents (like Mbalula, Sexwale, Mashatile, Lindiwe Sisulu, etc). He also suspended the Police Commissioner, Bheki Cele, who is apparently not supporting him. None of these steps were overt political interference or power politics against his opponents – compared to Pres. Mbeki who did not dismiss ministers but who was accused of using state institutions (i.e. the judiciary, intelligence, Scorpions and National Prosecuting Authority) to eliminate or discredit his opponents.

In the past the intelligence services played an important part in the ANC’s internal dynamics. It appears as if Pres. Zuma has done more than Pres. Mbeki to prevent intelligence becoming a liability for him before Mangaung. The top management of the State Security Agency (Jeff Maqetuka, Gibson Njenje and Moe Shaik) were removed in 2011 while Minister Siyabonga Cwele received Zuma’s endorsement.

The head of crime intelligence was also removed from his position while the Police Commissioner has been suspended. Ironically, the military does not play any role in the ANC dynamics. Moreover, it can be speculated that the Protection of State Information Bill might become quite useful to prevent exposure of the skeletons of prominent candidates before the National Conference.

Moreover, Pres. Zuma’s appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry into the ‘arms deal’ has effectively sidelined it into a long-term formal process that will divert any leaks from the media. Everything put together, Pres. Zuma has minimized as much as possible any exposures or liabilities of his interests. At the same time the same is not necessarily true of his opponents.

What are the possible effects of these dynamics?

In the first instance it has effectively neutralized or coopted the SACP into the Zuma Government. Blade Nzimande’s public profile as a left-wing SACP leader is very low – he is much more seen as a Minister and indeed as one of the staunchest Zuma lieutenants. An onslaught from the Left against Zuma is therefore very unlikely.

The effect on COSATU is more complex. During the Zuma Administration NEDLAC was revived as a leading corporatist arrangement which gives COSATU more bargaining power with Government and organized business. The demise of NEDLAC during the Mbeki years was one of COSATU’s main criticisms and opposition against Mbeki. However, General Secretary Vavi’s vocal social criticism of the Government has remained intact during the Zuma years but his strategy with it in this period is not yet clear.

COSATU will also convene its own elective congress in September 2012. Three years ago Vavi indicated that it will be his last term as General Secretary and that he wants to move then to the ANC. One should also keep in mind that COSATU has a historical claim on the ANC’s Secretary General position – Ramaphosa, Motlanthe and Manthase are all former General Secretaries of the National Union of Mineworkers. Fikile Mbalula – the former ANCYL President – will therefore interrupt this claim should he be elected.

COSATU is quite effective in preventing public campaigning for Vavi’s successor. Irwin Jim (NUMSA) and Fikile Majola (NEHAWU) are almost certainly possible contenders. Frans Baleni (NUM) should be a possibility but he does not appear to be seriously involved in a campaign.

At present a strong view is that Vavi should continue for another term and avoid a divisive internal power struggle. Irrespective of Vavi’s future, COSATU’s internal dynamics have also an influence on ANC politics. Irwin Jim is a strong proponent of mining nationalization and therefore seems to be part of the Malema group. NEHAWU, on the other hand, indicated their support for Pres. Zuma (and therefore also for Manthase), while the NUM is against nationalization but not overtly pro-Zuma. NUM is strongly in favour of Vavi’s continuation in COSATU and it might give Baleni some time to position himself better.

Julius Malema’s demise is now already accepted as a political fact of life. What are therefore the possible post-Malema scenarios?

The first scenario is that the anti-Zuma tendency disintegrates after Malema’s suspension. It is based on the assumption that Malema is the ‘kingmaker’ of Mangaung, that the ANCYL maintained their critically important role in the ANC after Polokwane, and that successful elections at the Conference will depend on Malema’s support. It was arguably the logic pursued so far by Mathews Phosa, Sexwale, Lindiwe Sisulu and Mbalula. It is also partly based on the belief that Limpopo will be a pivotal province in the decisions taken at Mangaung.

If Malema together with Limpopo were to politically disintegrate, the anti-Zuma movement will be in crisis.

A second scenario is that without Malema individual candidates might develop an electoral identity of their own and that the candidate ‘slates’ might play less of a role than in the past. Kgalema Motlanthe does not depend on Malema for his success; the same applies to Paul Mashatile (Gauteng) or Vavi (COSATU and other constituencies) or even Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

A third possible scenario is that the ANCYL would not be able to recover from its setback; that it evolves into in-fighting and that the League might therefore have little impact on the Conference’s decisions. The effects of the disciplinary judgements and appeals process are that it isolated Malema and Floyd Shivambu while the successful appeal freed Ronald Lamola and Pule Mabe to emerge as new leaders. Lamola will automatically become the acting President, according to the ANCYL Constitution, while Shivambu as Spokesperson is not in an elected constitutional position.

It would be difficult therefore to justify a special National Congress for only one constitutional vacancy. Lamola would try to avoid another election, which could only challenge his current advantage. A new (acting) President could relatively quickly assert his own authority, which automatically will undermine Malema’s prominence and legacy. Lamola, however, does not have sufficient time before December to develop into a Malema II, which means that the ANCYL’s influence will be limited.

The main imponderable at this point in time is what will happen in the provinces?

The ANC’s Constitution determines that at least 90% of all the Conference delegates must come from the ANC branches. It means that the number of delegates per province will be determined by the total number of ANC members. Each province nominates one person for each of the six positions of office-bearers, which implies that when the nominations have been concluded after October 2012 a calculation can be made of the provinces who will most possibly vote en bloc for their nominees.

A very reliable prediction of the election results will then be possible. It is noteworthy that by January 2012 the Eastern Cape (21.96%), KZN (23.84%) and Gauteng (11.80%) constituted almost 58% of all the ANC’s members. On the other hand, the Free State (7.43%), North West (6.16%) or Limpopo (11.13%) will not be able to play the same decisive role at the Conference. A successful campaign for President or Secretary General will therefore depend on support in the best combination of provinces.

Another imponderable is what will transpire at the National Policy Conference (26-29 June) in preparation for the National Conference in December. Will it become an alternative terrain of attack on the Zuma group? In 2002 and 2007 the Policy Conferences were low-key events, mainly because policy continuity was a major consideration in 2002 and the succession debate overshadowed the policy matters in 2007.

Will 2012 be different?

The main policy issue so far has been nationalization of mining. Pres. Zuma has managed to avoid an internal discussion in the ANC about it. But will he be able to prevent it from returning to the conference agenda? Mainly macro-economic policies have solicited serious debates in the ANC in the past. At this point in time the Government is tied into the New Growth Path, Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and the National Development Plan and therefore a radical change in policy appears to be unlikely.

Yet the rhetorical focus will most possibly be on job creation and maybe land reform. In both instances the policy options are limited and therefore ambitious statements might be forthcoming but not radical policy changes.

The ‘mid-term’ National Conference in 2002 in Stellenbosch was not a major event associated with significant decisions.

The question is whether Mangaung will be another ‘mid-term’ conference or the end of an era. Kgalema Motlanthe is the first President/Deputy President/ Secretary General who was not part of the 1994 leadership generation.

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