Because so many of our fellow citizens continue to give the African National Congress (ANC) power over our lives, it is in our interests, as South Africans, to understand how the ANC works – how it decides on its policies, what the special interests are and how these play out in terms of how its leaders are chosen.
We must understand the urban/rural divide, the youth/adult divide, equal rights for women, traditional female roles in traditional cultures, the left/centre-left divide, the looting/anti-corruption divide, the competing tribal interests (the Zulus within the ANC, in particular, haven’t bought into the whole anti-tribal thing), and the middle-class/working-class divide.
These fault lines are also present in broader South Africa, and herein lies the key to the ANC’s electoral successes: balancing all the competing political interests among black people to get enough of them to vote ANC.
This balance is emergent rather than constructed consciously. It comes from the ANC’s structure as a mass democratic movement rather than a vehicle for a particular set of principles. At different times in its post-1994 history the ANC has had a leadership in which some of these factions have had more or less influence.
Some factions are no longer relevant, such as the black majority/coloured and Indian minority divide.
It is in this context that #ANCBowl2017 should be understood.
The outcomes of this conference were unusual compared to all the others because it was one of the few times since 1994 that the ANC tried consciously to strike a compromise between its many factions, not only in terms of leadership but the policies that have been approved.
The problem is that these factions can’t really be balanced. You can’t be for looting and fighting corruption at the same time. That is why the ANC is going to continue splitting.
In the short-term, the prospect has been staved off long enough to hopefully (from the ANC’s point of view) win the 2019 elections. That is why Ramaphosa became president.
Losing the urban vote forever is a disaster given the reality of urbanisation. Losing the middle-class vote represented by COSATU is equally a disaster and both sets of voters are being courted by the Democratic Alliance (DA) as we speak, whilst the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is courting the populist (left) and youth votes.
ANC divisions capture the political divisions among black people in South Africa. The most foolish thing apartheid ever did was create a black political identity. By defining black people as fourth class citizens they created the conditions in which the various political factions among black people could put aside their differences and engage in common political action regardless of each faction’s interests.
The ANC took advantage of this when they returned from exile (the second foolish thing apartheid did was not enforce the law when the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Azanian People’s Organisation were suffering under the terrorism of the ANC’s people’s war) and continued the work that the ANC Youth League had begun under the likes of Mandela and Tambo in the 1950s. Lest we forget, the ANC used to be a body for the African aristocracy and were willing to accept a liberal compromise in exchange for property rights; a real missed opportunity.
This is why the ANC has so far only lost power through its breakaways: different parts of its contradictory alliance are finding homes which best represent their interests. As I have said, their artificial unity constructed at the conference in Nasrec will not last, even with the fabled unifying skill of Cyril Ramaphosa.
Speaking of Cyril, it is precisely because of the ANC’s contradictions – the resolution passed in 2007 that the ANC president should be their candidate for SA president and the power vested in the state president by the Constitution – that Cyril’s victory is a good thing. Any president is going to focus their implementation efforts (in terms of ANC policy) on the side of the contradictions that they belong to. As every ANC president does, Ramaphosa is going to pick and choose while also having the opportunity of killing (or slowing down) the policies he doesn’t agree with through committee.
The choice during #ANCBowl2017 was really between an Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma/EFF coalition and a Ramaphosa/DA (or just Ramaphosa) coalition. The opposition couldn’t govern without the EFF even if the ANC had gone below 50% in 2019, and NDZ’s faction was more likely to try and woo Malema by changing the Constitution.
So, if you think debt and inflation are our most pressing long-term problems (as I do), supporting Ramaphosa to win the ANC presidency while vociferously campaigning against the ANC in 2019, is your best bet. Listen to his speech on his ‘new deal’, which is really just a restatement of the National Development Plan, and its emphasis on avoiding a default compared to NDZ’s populist slogans during the campaign, and you soon realise what was at stake.
The problem with South Africans and South African liberals in particular is our tendency to see things in absolute terms rather than seeing every choice in terms of damage limitation. We are like the general who focuses all their efforts on winning the pitched battle while the enemy whittles down their men in small skirmishes. I say we need to fight to win every engagement, inside or outside the ANC.
It is still of critical importance that the ANC lose power, not only to provide the right incentives for any future government but also to stave off the inevitable takeover of South Africa by populists. This means having an opposition that can provide a credible alternative vision to the many political factions in this country. The DA is, unfortunately, ill-suited to the task at the moment, as they are creating policy based on opinion polls and thus reproducing the policies of the ANC since it is built to reflect popular opinion better than the DA. An opposition that can challenge the premises of ANC policy and not just accept them and try to make them more pragmatic, an opposition that can tell the majority when they are wrong.
If such an opposition cannot be found, then we are doomed by whatever happens inside the ANC.