The African National Congress (ANC) is contemplating severing its connections with both the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Patriotic Alliance (PA), as revealed in a document drafted by David Makhura, former Gauteng premier and current head of political education for the ANC. With its electoral influence waning, the ANC faces a transformative political landscape and internal discomfort regarding its associations. The ANC’s report criticises the EFF as ‘proto-fascist’ and the PA for its stance on Israel. This potential shift could reshape South African politics and the ANC’s future prospects.
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Adapt or die? The ANC that just can’t get on with anybody
By Terrence Corrigan*
The ANC is looking to cut ties with both the EFF and the Patriotic Alliance. This is according to reports on a document prepared by David Makhura, former premier of Gauteng and now head of political education for the ANC.
Its electoral fortunes having fallen, the ANC has found itself over the past decade having to confront what it had hardly dared to imagine: that its incumbency could not be taken for granted. True enough, it had become used to this in the Western Cape, though this could be explained away as a function of the unique demography of the province, and the target of future liberation. But the failure to secure majorities in Gauteng’s metros signalled a very different form of politics for a party seeing itself as the natural leader of society.
The ANC’s deals with the EFF and PA were the cost of a political transaction to retain the ÀNC’s hold on power.
The EFF and ANC have a common ideological (and even organisational) lineage. Differences in their policy stances tend to be matters of degree and emphasis rather than overall orientation. In that sense they have been regarded in many quarters as natural allies, or even as partners only temporarily estranged. Even President Ramaphosa has expressed a willingness to accept Julius Malema back into the ANC. Malema would no doubt hope for something similar, to re-enter the ANC in a position to dominate it. We at the Institute have warned of this possibility.
Yet it is only one possibility among many. Makhura’s report articulates discomfort that has grown with this relationship. Describing the EFF as ‘proto-fascist’ and ‘dictatorial’, it hit out at the EFF as being ‘embedded in corrupt practices and links with criminal business syndicates such as the cigarette mafia, which it publicly defended.’ The EFF’s commitment to the Constitution and rule of law was derided as opportunistic, applicable only ‘when decisions favour it’.
The ANC’s record is not dissimilar – systemic corruption, the undermining of state institutions, not to mention its own personality cults – so these critiques need to be taken with a large dose of salt. A more convincing explanation lies in how the ANC views the political implications of its links with the EFF.
The EFF’s political proposition – divisive racial nationalism, dirigiste economics, and a political approach shaded by menace – is by all available survey evidence not a popular one. But it has secured a solid share of voter support, drawn generally from the ANC. It has also taken over a significant part of the ANC’s brand, or perhaps more accurately its political aesthetic – the fearless, uncompromising revolutionary romanticism.
While this does little to undermine the ANC’s hold on power, it comes across as profoundly threatening to the ANC; it challenges the ANC’s own narrative of its place in South African history. Indeed, the ANC would often talk a more radical game than it put into practice (not that this mitigates its litany of ideological-concocted disasters), and this has been a gift to the EFF, enabling the latter to use derogatory terms like ‘sell out’ with some credibility.
Thus, the ANC huffs that the EFF ‘has developed a long-term agenda and ambition to destroy, displace and replace the ANC as the leader of the transformation project’. There’s a lot going on in that statement that helps to explain the ANC’s mindset. These words bespeak some wonderment at the EFF’s ‘ambition’ – though in a democracy, this should be absolutely unremarkable. The ANC also views this not only as a challenge to its incumbency, but as a challenge to its ‘leadership of the transformation project’. Self-important and verbose though this is, it signifies an organisation that fears for its identity and the ‘hegemony’ it has taken for granted.
Meanwhile, the PA is apparently making itself unacceptable through its stance on Israel. The PA’s approach to the ANC has been basically transactional in nature, but the party has been forthright in its condemnation of Hamas’ attack on Israel, saying that it refuses to ‘be on the side of baby killers’.
This was too much for the ANC. Said Gauteng Premier and ANC grandee, Panyaza Lesufi: ‘All those political parties that are in coalition with us and have decided to stand on the side of Israel must know it’s over with us. We do not care whatever they bring with us.’
This too is revealing. The PA is a partner to the ANC at municipal level; global politics are far removed from it. Certainly, cities are increasingly conducting diplomacy of their own (as the administration of Cape Town has done around Russia and Ukraine), but it is absurd and self-defeating to elevate differences around a distant conflict to a dealbreaker over relationships at this level. South Africa has vanishingly little influence over the conflict, and it has (at present) a marginal real-world impact on the daily lives of most people in the country.
If it is impossible to collaborate with a party that takes a different view on foreign matters, it speaks volumes about the prospects (or lack thereof) of durable collaboration with those who have different views on issues of immediate local importance.
Currently, without the EFF and the PA, the ANC cannot retain control of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. As the future rolls on, its hold on other jurisdictions will weaken too. If it hopes for future incumbencies, it will have no option but to learn to cooperate with those whom it finds distasteful.
Or it could go to the opposition benches. Some in the ANC have stoically declared a willingness to do so. Perhaps. But to make a success of this the ANC would need a major mindset shift. A period in opposition can be a revitalising experience for a political party, but only if it is prepared to understand that this is an inevitable humbling for an organisation with no greater claim than any other to power. The ANC will have to accept that it has no mandate from history – or whatever other flatulent cliché it might choose.
The signs are not favourable. Its eviction from office in the Western Cape in 2009 was followed by years of extravagant promises that it would soon ‘liberate’ the wayward province, its rhetoric frequently reflecting a government-in-exile rather than an opposition party. Today, that is laughable.
Adapt or die, PW Botha famously warned his followers. The ANC seems doggedly unwilling to take this advice.
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*Terence Corrigan is the Project Manager at the Institute, where he specialises in work on property rights, as well as land and mining policy.
This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission