While the African National Congress (ANC) has long declared itself as a leader of society intent on delivering a better life for all, its experience in government has been different. The post-apartheid ANC is hamstrung by internal party dynamics which frustrate its mission. The on-going battles among various factions in the party tend to spill over into government, which limits the latter’s ability to implement policies.
Ideological differences run deep in the party. The South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have assumed a more prominent role in party affairs through their alliance with President Cyril Ramaphosa. Though exhibiting signs of fracturing at times, one wonders if the alliance signifies a shift in the balance of forces in favour of the left within the party. That being said, the so-called nationalists, who resist left influence in the ANC, still have a strong sway. To that extent, ideological differences are unlikely to end any time soon. As such, policy formulation and implementation will continue to be highly contested in the party, much to the disadvantage of the ruling party.
At its 54th national congress in December 2017 in Nasrec, the party adopted a Resolution to address the entrenched scourge on corruption. The Resolution states that “that every cadre accused of, or reported to be involved in, corrupt practices accounts to the Integrity Committee (IC) immediately or faces DC processes. (Powers of IC under constitutional changes)”. The IC can “Summarily suspend people who fail to give an acceptable explanation or to voluntarily step down, while they face disciplinary, investigative, or prosecutorial procedures”.
At its Special National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on 24 August 2020, it was resolved that party members formally charged with corruption must immediately step aside from all leadership positions. Yet, the party currently finds itself at a crossroads following charges being levelled against its Secretary-General, Ace Magashule. Its own senior leaders, including Magashule, have questioned the legality of the NEC’s decision and explicitly stated that they cannot be removed from their positions except only through a decision of the branches.
The Party’s failure to implement its own resolutions will come back to haunt it one day. This brings into question the extent to which party members and society in general can trust the word of the party, since the decisions of its highest structure appear open to different interpretations, depending on the whims of those affected by them. It raises legitimate questions about the seriousness with which the party views its own electorate as its election manifestos are drawn from decisions of congress. It brings into questions the utility of a NEC that is disregarded at will by those who disagree with its decisions.
It can be expected that more and more members of the NEC will come out in support of Ace Magashule, much to the detriment of the party’s bid to stay in power. Though, Magashule himself does not have a huge powerbase in the party, those in his corner have demonstrated enough energy to mobilise support within their constituencies to threaten President Ramaphosa’s bid for a second term. His trial will be portrayed by those in his corner as a bid to deal with those calling for radical transformation of the South African economy by those hellbent on protecting the interests of ‘White Monopoly Capital’ and using state machinery to do so. This of course is in reference to Ramaphosa. The upcoming National General Council in first half of 2021, will be a test to Ramaphosa and his leadership. It is likely that his hold on the party will be tested, with the aim of weakening him in the build up to the party’s elective conference in 2022.
Keeping the party together will be especially difficult with local government elections coming up in 2021.
The ANC will have a tough time in trying to win back large metropoles such as Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay. Though the recent by-elections results are viewed as an endorsement and reaffirmation of the party’s support on the ground, any further divisions in the party are likely to be felt in future ballots. A poor showing by the party at the polls in 2021 will be put on the doorstep of Ramaphosa by those in the party who have sought to undermine his efforts and leadership at every turn. Whilst the ANC has managed to emerge stronger from its many challenges, this time, it might not be so fortunate.
Written by Calvin Matlou