Dr Anthony Turton: Why ANC-led coalition with EFF and MK will never last

Dr. Anthony Turton from the University of Free State paints a vivid analogy of an ANC coalition with the EFF and MK as predators vying for resources in a zero-sum game, leading to instability and societal harm. He advocates for a centripetal coalition prioritizing economic growth, rule of law restoration, and countering anomie for stability and citizen welfare.

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By Dr Anthony Turton – University of Free State

Recently Rob Hersov made a prediction that any future ANC coalition involving any of its socialist derivatives – the EFF and MK – is likely to be unstable. I am inclined to agree for the following reasons. 

As a trained observer, I often fall back on lessons learned in nature, simply because evolutionary timescales have sorted out so many of the internal processes of ecological stability that we are only starting to think of in a theoretical model of political dynamics. I have spent a lot of time in the African bush, with one of my favourite pastimes being the analysis of tactic and strategy between predator and prey. This is most acutely noted around the kill, where an orgy of violence plays out, but with a surprisingly predictable pattern. Central to that scrummage is the apex predator, typically the lion, but also the leopard, cheetah or even the Cape Hunting Dog. Each species has its own unique tactical repertoire for capturing its prey, but once that kill has been made, it becomes a race against time before the scavengers arrive. First to arrive are often the vultures, descending on the trees until enough of them can challenge the apex predator feeding at the kill. They simply overwhelm the pride of lions, or solitary leopard, and squabble over the choice bits of the carcass. Watching the vultures descend, the hyaenas are close behind, vectoring in on the kill with remarkable speed. Soon their insane laughter rolls across the kill site as they also build up a force in numbers strong enough to eventually overwhelm the apex predator. Last to arrive are the jackals, flitting skittishly around the outer periphery of the kill, dashing in furtively to snatch a morsel to be devoured after the immediate retreat. 

This macabre spectacle lies at the heart of the African ecosystem, and has been playing out over eons of time, to the point where the tactics of each player in the game have become refined and predictable. The male lion feeds first, followed by the vultures and then the hyaenas until the jackal’s snatch what they can from the maggots that consume the rest before it desiccates under the harsh African sky.    

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If we call this a game, and apply a theoretical framework to deepen the analysis, we conclude that the dynamics playing out have two core characteristics. A win to the one equates directly to a loss for the other, so we can describe this as a zero-sum game. But more importantly, the game is all about capturing and feeding off prey in a way that is never beneficial to the source of all well-being – the prey itself. The behaviour, as refined as it is in tactical terms, is always about the destruction of the prey. At no time is any effort made to make the resource pool larger so that all competing parties can feed without competition. Instead, it can be accurately described as competing for a slice of the resource pie, so the central dynamic at work is about how big that slice will be for each of the competitors. No thought is ever given to making the pie bigger, for that would reduce the competition of a zero-sum game, and satisfy the needs of all the competing predators in a plus-sum configuration. 

I believe that the way to think of the ANC and it’s socialist derivatives, the EFF and MK, is the observed behaviour of lions, hyenas, vultures, jackals and eventually maggots, feeding on a carcass under the African sky. There is a hierarchy of authority at the carcass, so the male lion always feeds first. This is comparable to the ruling ANC, where the elite feed first, but where power is derived by gatekeepers who determine who can feed at the trough, and for how long that feast will be tolerated. But this is not a harmonious process, because the vultures always challenge the lions as soon as there are enough of them. In our analogue, this is the EFF, which also has its own internal hierarchy that dictates which elite gets to feed first, and for how long. The third newcomer is the MK party, which we can compare with the hyaenas, renowned for their aggression when fielding a large enough force. They can easily overwhelm the apex predator, and often do, but only when they are strong enough. Central to the melee is an enormous amount of squabbling and bickering about who gets to feed on what morsel, and for how long. But the feeding can only take place off a dead animal, so it’s a zero-sum dynamic where the gain of one party equates to the direct loss of another. Such dynamics are inherently volatile and competitive therefore they have a high conflict potential.

Seen through this lens, it becomes apparent that the ANC and its derivatives are dominated by the centrifugal force of intense competition over a dwindling resource, for the rewards of the zero-sum game logically equates to a diminishing economy. After all, the feeding is about monopolizing access to financial resources, with no regard to the health of the tax base needed to sustain that plunder.  

For this reason, I see no stability in an ANC-EFF-MK coalition, for none care about the health of the herd they are feeding off. They only care about access to the feeding frenzy as quickly and for as long as possible. The zero-sum dynamic contains within it, the seeds of its own destruction, so it is both unstable and unsustainable.

To give greater depth to this analogy we can overlay it with the sociological concept of Anomie. I believe this to be a useful theoretical construct with which to understand the descent of South Africa into the morass of normlessness that currently prevails. The Freedom Charter was an ethical document, steeped in norms and values so powerful that it gave legitimacy to the ANC during the Armed Struggle. This translated into financial and moral support from many developed nations because the struggle against Apartheid was seen to be a just one. So powerful was this normative basis to the ANC’s legitimacy, that most of the core values initially articulated in the Freedom Charter, found their way into our first democratic constitution negotiated during CODESA. The concept of anomie was first defined by Emile Durkheim in 1893, when he wrote a book on the division of labour in society. He noted that the endless desire for more gratification, devoid of any norms, becomes a destructive process of self-gratification that can never be slated. Durkheim described anomie as “derangement”, and “an insatiable will”. He also used the term “the malady of the infinite” noting that desire without limit can never be fulfilled, only becoming more intense. The end result of the process, is the slow descent into a normless society, which he described in his second book, published in 1897, as ultimately leading to national suicide. 

I believe that contemporary South Africa is now in an advanced stage of anomie, with a bifurcation of elites and the masses, driven by the uneven application of the rule of law. Stated simply, the policy of cadre deployment introduced by the ANC, created a gatekeeping elite so powerful, that it eventually insulated itself from the rule of law. Today we have one set of rules for the super-rich elites, and a different set of rules for their minions. The elite now dominates the top 5% of the income curve, but it is not representative of the top 5% of the skills in society. In fact, the highest paid salary earners are predominantly civil servants, all in protected positions, for which few are technically qualified. Their sole skill is their mastery of the scrummage around the kill, where the lions, vultures and hyaenas get to feed off the carcass of the collapsing fiscal foundation of the national economy. 

Therefore, it is logical to anticipate that for any coalition to survive in South Africa, three core elements must be present.

Firstly, the inherent dynamic of the coalition must be centripetal in nature, strong enough to counter the inherent destruction of the centrifugal force of a zero-sum game. Stated differently, the single most important objective of any viable coalition must be a united commitment to make the pie bigger, so that all can have their rightful share, even if it is only a tiny sliver. This means that the economy must be prioritised, with the restoration of investor confidence as a central objective. Without this, the inevitability of the fiscal cliff will simply overwhelm the coalition government. 

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Secondly, the rule of law must be restored. This means that criminal prosecution for all persons named in the Zondo Commission, will have to be prosecuted without fear or favour. This is a necessary condition for the restoration of investor confidence. What rational investor would put any capital into the country without the rule of law? Who would risk that capital being captured by the lions, vultures and hyaenas whose behaviour is a known factor? 

Finally, anomie must be countered by breaking the cycle of self-enrichment, through coherent policy choices that are realigned with the norms and values that brought us the democracy we once cherished but have now lost. How can a liberation movement ever justify the fact that the Born Free generation, is unlikely to be more than 40% employed in their lifetime? How can we justify anything less than a 5% annual growth rate for the next two decades? How can we expand the number of beneficiaries of our hard-earned freedom, to a national cohort larger than the Oligarchs who have plundered the economy into submission?  How can we make the leaders understand that is all about growing the economy to make the pie bigger for everyone?  

Seen through these conceptual lenses, I concur with Rob Hersov’s statement that an ANC-EFF-MK coalition will be unsustainable, and even destructive. Conversely, any coalition that seeks to restore the normative foundation of society, has the most benefit to the majority of citizens, but is also likely to face the strongest aggression from the lions, vultures and hyenas, all of which have become obesely addicted to feeding off the carcass of a once vibrant national economy. We once had the most diversified economy in Africa, but today we cannot keep the electricity and water flowing. We cannot guarantee the reliability of the postal and railway services. Our SOE’s are unsustainable, and the fiscal cliff looms large.  

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