Thursday, October 23, 2008

ANC Politics

The politics of the ANC have become so confusing that even analysts in the same newspaper office differ over how to explain the day's events.

On Monday, Karima Brown and Amy Musgrave wrote in Business Day: "A fundamental shift to the left in economic policy emerged from the ruling ANC's weekend economic policy summit with its communist and trade union allies, with clear signs that the SA Communist Party in particular is scoring huge successes in redirecting national policy... The changes will surprise, if not shock, analysts who had been taken in by repeated assurances by the new ANC leadership that no policy changes were envisaged."

On Tuesday, however, also in Business Day, Hilary Joffe wrote: "Far from shifting to the left, the tripartite alliance's economic summit at the weekend seemed to march resolutely into committee mode. It was difficult to discern any hard and fast policy thrusts from Sunday's post-summit media briefing, where the tone was careful, even tentative."

The difference in approach is not as significant as it seems. Joffe is right when he concludes: "This committee-making may really be about the same thing as the alliance economic summit was about: an attempt to balance the political tensions within the alliance by going for process, rather than policy, issues." For Joffe, taking his position on the facts of the day, it is a matter of what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Brown and Musgrave though are also on course. Their take of the summit is longer-term, more interpretative: what-you-see-is-only-the-route-to-what-you-won't like-when-you-get-it.

Brown and Musgrave focus on a political phenomenon of our times: the rise and rise (real or illusory) of the SACP. Last year, the SACP said it had 20,000 paid-up members; a little later it upped this to 50,000; then a newspaper said it had the "fastest-growing" youth movement in the country. Some ANC leaders say these figures are eyewash; others say the SACP (with Cosatu) has taken over the ANC. Democratic Alliance MP Kobus Marais remarks: "The Cosatu and SACP ‘tails' of the Alliance are now firmly wagging the ANC ‘dog'...this contradicts assurances by Zuma and Motlanthe that the country will remain ‘stable, progressive and unchanged.' "

The public sector obviously is sorely in need of policy changes and a personnel reshuffle. Thabo Mbeki's "governance" was disastrous. The Democratic Alliance, in its excellent daily bulletins, identifies the departments where the wheels are coming off. Whether the changes when they are implemented will improve the situation, or make it worse, is still to be seen, but one fact stands out: what the SACP has in mind long-term is not a correction course for Mbekism, but ultimately the insertion of socialism (preceded by a Medium Term Vision so as not to frighten the horses).

All this is set out in a SACP September 10 policy discussion document (see here) - probably the most brazen, if as yet only proposed, change in South African politics in living memory. The SACP's motives and planned moves have been analysed in some detail in these columns by Paul Trewhela (lessons to be learnt from the SACP's record), Dave Steward (how the SACP's power grab would be realised), and George Palmer (the alarming consequences of the application of SACP economic policies). The September 10 document should be required reading for South African business leaders, politicians, foreign governments - all 11,000 words - because it explains the logistics of the SACP's planned power and policy grab in South Africa.

At first glance, a power grab by the tiny SACP seems ridiculous, but a key factor needs to be considered. It is that rejection by Thabo Mbeki of the SACP's and Cosatu's input into governance brought the two together, and fortuitously they found in Jacob Zuma a standard bearer for their common interest. They then connived their way to the Polokwane conference in December last year, ousted Mbeki as ANC president, and then later dismissed him as South Africa's president. Mbeki paid the penalty for hubris.

At this point, the SACP discussion document comes in. It quotes, with approval, a proposal devised by the Young Communist League, which saw a huge window of opportunity opening up. Under South Africa's electoral system of proportional representation, the 400 seats in the National Assembly are allocated to political parties in proportion to the votes they gain in elections; the party bosses (in practice) then "deploy" their approved cadres to the captured seats. The result in the 2004 election was that the ANC (floor-crossers excluded), took 293 of the seats, while the remaining 107 seats were distributed among the 17 opposition parties (the Democratic Alliance 47, Inkatha 23, the rest tailing off.

The genius of the YCL proposal was that each of the three members of the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, Cosatu, SACP), founded in the 1980s, should be allocated one-third of the seats gained under the ANC banner. By SACP calculations, this was a reasonable division of the spoils. In any case, according to the SACP's own figures, the ANC had already allocated about 80 seats to the SACP after the 2004 election, so it was no big deal to formalise it at one third of all ANC seats in the NA. The YCL proposal was that ethically there was nothing wrong with the SACP and Cosatu each being allocated one-third of ANC seats even if they did not win a single seat under their own names.

This is where the whizz kids of the YCL, and the parent SACP, should have foreseen that post-Polokwane a new political party might be formed to challenge the new ANC-Cosatu-SACP government. On November 2 a convention will be held to debate the formation of the new party and on December 16 (Dingaan's day...sorry, Day of Reconciliation) the party is expected to be formally launched. Writing in City Press on the debate whether "the time is ripe for a breakaway party," Dumisani Hlophe said there was never a right or wrong time to start a party. "The emerging party does not really have to defeat the ANC at the polls. Instead it will seek to grab a significant share of the political power bloc."

Take as a basis for calculation the present total of 80 SACP parliamentarians, and assume that at next year's elections (provisionally May 6) the alliance gains, say, 240 (3X80) of the 400 NA seats. This is a random figure which presupposes that the new Lekota-Shilowa breakaway party, plus the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties, make inroads into Jacob Zuma's ANC which will bring its seat total down from 293. It would stand no chance then of securing a two-thirds majority (without which it cannot change the constitution). If the seat total is cut further, say, to less than 200, then Zuma's party will not even command a simple majority in the NA. All this is speculation, but the chances surely are that the ANC-SACP-Cosatu party will be cut down to size.

So, depending on whether the breakaway party becomes airborne, a re-energised opposition will have a ball, as the Zuma party panics (already it is showing such symptoms). Whole new vistas will open for the 17 opposition parties, led by the Democratic Alliance, which already scents successes. The Zuma party suspects that Mbeki is behind the breakaway operation, but if he is, he will keep a low profile (he remains a member of the Zuma ANC), so he gains either way -Mbeki-ites could vote for the new party and non-Mbeki-ites could also vote for it because it is not visibly linked with Mbeki. This is known as having your cake, and eating it.

To return to the YCL proposal: if the alliance approves it (and the ANC secures, say the 240 random seats mentioned above), then the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP each will be allocated 80 seats - probably the most brazen proposal put forward in South African politics in living memory. Then if Cosatu and the SACP vote together, they will be able to outvote the ANC and run the show. The SACP will be positioned as an elitist think-tank - remember, it is a "vanguard party", sniffy about Cosatu's mental reach (it did not get to where it is through false modesty).

In the 1994 election, the SACP recalls, Cosatu also asked for and received an allocation of seats from the ANC. However (to quote the discussion document), most Cosatu MPs quickly abandoned any connection with Cosatu (as a federation representing 1.8 million trade unionists) and devoted themselves instead to other, more profitable activities. The document makes the sly observation that this drainage of Cosatu members to parliament resulted in "a massive loss of organisational capacity and skills."

The brazenness of the YCL's proposal goes further: if the SACP is particularly influential in say a particular province, its quota of seats should be increased accordingly - above the one-third level; it should also have a voice in the selection of all alliance (ANC) candidates (while the SACP was happy to send members to the NA, it was dismayed by "the ugly spectacle of senior SACP leaders in the ANC cabinet (Mbeki's) leading the government's privatisation campaign"); finally, in major NA debates, for example on the budget, the SACP should be allocated "designated slots." No kidding.

To summarise: it seems the Zuma ANC's basic attack position will be to present itself as the only true ANC and that defectors will be disciplined (suspended or expelled). In response, the breakaway party (some analysts say) will present itself as a modernising party, reaching across differences and ethnic divisions and offering an open house. Whether the infighting will repeat the 40-60 percentage by which Mbeki lost the battle of Polokwane is impossible to tell - there is high volatility in both the Mbeki and Zuma camps - but it does not seem that it will necessarily be a battle of ideas. The obvious point of difference is the crucial issue of Mbeki's orthodox macro-economic policies - but this is a minefield neither the Mbeki-ites nor the Zuma-ANC want to enter at this stage.

Last week, Shilowa indicated that an important attack point will be on the SACP and Cosatu for supposedly trying to take over the ANC. There is more than a hint of an ethnic clash here. What Shilowa conveys, intentionally or not, is that the real ANC is its solid, black members, and that Cosatu and the SACP somehow are a pair of freebooters. "Anti-communist" sentiment, said Shilowa, is one of the reasons some people have left the ANC. It is the ANC's leftist allies and the party's youth league who catapulted Zuma to the party leadership. Lekota's deputy in the defence ministry, Mluleki George, added that the tripartite alliance used to work, but that the SACP now wants to control it.

If so, he said, "they must go it alone." It makes one wonder whether the SACP, instead of rising and rising, will become the Achilles heel of Zuma's ANC.

4 Opinion(s):

JoVanHeemstraten said...

They seem to be completely out of control of the country, or is that just my impression from afar? The language used by all these supposedly responsible leaders is shocking. Calling for people's death is illegal in most countries. It's not a good sign for SA's future and meanwhile who is running the country? Is anybody still in charge? I get the feeling that the country is rudderless.

Anonymous said...

Rudderless is a good word. What passes for normal in SA is bizarre by world standards. Believe me, all of it is fact.

Anonymous said...

very bizarre. They were offering WC2010 tickets here to the local football club and nobody wanted to buy any. Who wants to go to such a violent country? But they also cost an arm and a leg.

Katzenjammer said...

@anonymous 5:12.

Ha! Ha! Wait till you find out what a literal arm, leg, heart, lung, stomach etc etc REALLY costs in SA!

The hospitals don't work either!