News and Information

What If the Alliance Splits?
September 9, 2005

Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg)

September 9, 2005
Posted to the web September 9, 2005

Vicki Robinson, Rapule Tabane And Sam Sole

A top leadership team from the African National Congress, South African Communist Party and Congress of South African Trade Unions has been assembled to try to ensure that tomorrow's crucial national executive committee (NEC) meeting is a "talk-out" rather than a "shoot-out".

The team aims to ensure that President Thabo Mbeki's call for an internal commission of inquiry to probe Cosatu and the SACP's belief that former deputy president Jacob Zuma is the victim of a political conspiracy will not make the NEC's agenda.

Alliance leaders plan to follow a well-worn path in managing tensions: they will push the fallout over Zuma "into process". This means no substantive discussion would take place this weekend and that senior leaders would be mandated to thrash out the issues in a smaller forum before resolutions are taken to "10-a-side" alliance meetings.

But several NEC members said they relished the opportunity a discussion on the inquiry would present to debate broader issues of organisational direction and management.

The Zuma imbroglio has weakened Mbeki's position and has become a lightning rod for a range of objections to his leadership style.

But Mbeki's inquiry move could succeed as the NEC is packed with Cabinet members, deputy ministers and technocrats such as Frank Chikane, Director General in the presidency, with communists and unionists heavily outnumbered.

Strategists such as Joel Netshitenzhe know that even if Mbeki pushes through his commission, it may be a Pyrrhic victory, as it would not fly with the rank and file.

The Zuma camp concedes that Mbeki may win this round of the battle. But one source aligned to the Zuma camp added: "Mbeki must learn that he who controls the streets will win in the end. Every move he makes, like this machination, is turning the streets more against him." The national general council showed the ANC grass roots is less and less in awe of Mbeki.

Current indications are that Zuma will wait and use his trial to launch his counter-offensive. One source said the trial would be used to turn the spotlight on the arms deal and those -- like the president -- who exercised influence on the process, rather than Zuma, whose role was peripheral.

The NEC is officially sitting to discuss routine organisational matters, such as preparations for the local elections. Both Mbeki and secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe will give organisational overview reports.

Several sources in the NEC say the fight between the party's number one and two have been valuable.

"Whether a commission is set up is neither here nor there," said one NEC member. "What should be debated is the lack of democratic life in the ANC. There is widespread unhappiness with how the top leaders conduct themselves. The fact that many people believe Zuma has been thrown to the wolves is symptomatic."

While the ANC knew it needed to examine itself critically, it had not done so. "It has been too easy to deflect the problems on to the wrong idea that people have been drummed up demagogically to protect Zuma."

Another NEC member said the NEC debate would centre less on the inquiry proposal than on instilling a renewed sense of "collective leadership" into the movement.

What if the alliance splits? Four analysts look at the potential repercussions

More a case of so what?

by Ferial Haffajee

Since 1994, the alliance has come to the brink more times than one cares to remember. It's a fair bet that we are stuck with this lumbering beast for at least the next three elections.

Fear and panic greet talk of a split. It shouldn't, for the country's stability would not be lost, and neither would we careen into the orgy of neo-liberalism so many on the left seem to fear and so many on the right seem to desire.

The split, firstly, will not be neat, with the African National Congress going off in one direction and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) led by the vanguard South African Communist Party in another.

Bits of each are likely to hive off and form a coalition to contest elections: it could look like the anti-poverty and pro-jobs organisation established in the Western Cape last month. And it is likely to be joined by some of the social movements, which have begun sprouting around the country.

A lot will hinge on the outcome of former deputy president Jacob Zuma's trial: until there is a judgement, he will fight from inside the ANC. If Zuma is convicted, he could use his political support to lead a breakaway, though the leaders he gathers around him are unlikely to include Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, his president Willie Madisha or the SACP secretary general Blade Nzimande. All are ANC men to the core. Instead, Zuma's ranks are likely to be filled with what is now second-tier (largely provincial) ANC and union leadership, notably from KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, the largest provinces.

It is likely to be a fractious movement, which will spend its first decade managing tensions. It is unlikely to muster more than 20% of the vote, possibly reducing the ANC's majority to between 60% and 70%. But 20% is enough muscle to ensure that the country's policy direction is not completely influenced by the black economic empowerment (BEE) mandarins in the ANC who will enjoy an ascendancy if such a split occurs.

The position paper on flexible labour through a dual labour market, written by national executive committee member Jabu Moleketi and trounced at this year's national general council, is likely to reappear on the agenda. So is more state funding for BEE, tax breaks and a less regulated economy, elements defeated at the national general council.

But it is wrong to assume, as do my co-writers, that the only reason this has not already happened is the alliance. Union influence is one factor, but the ANC's economic establishment is quite social democratic by inclination -- and not just because of alliance pressure.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, in 2002, was won round to the view that the growth, employment and redistribution (Gear) strategy was a "necessary, but not sufficient" measure to stimulate growth and fight poverty. Under Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, privatisation of any scale has been stopped in its tracks.

Both have been coaxed away from neo-liberalism by the writings of the development economists Amartya Sen, Jeffrey Sachs and Dani Rodick, as well as economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Getting a corporate tax break out of Revenue Service commissioner Pravin Gordhan is like trying to pull teeth without an anaesthetic.

But mostly, there is no need to panic, because the so-called Zuma backlash has been overstated.

Yes, President Thabo Mbeki was forced to climb down at the national general council and reinstate Zuma to active party duty. Such grassroots reining-in of an imperious leader was a long time coming, but does not presage a huge split. It was overdue censure wrapped in pro-Zuma support. For the rest, Zuma's support base is quite small -- surveys show that his public standing has taken a battering. And while his young troops marshalled in the ANC Youth League, its communist counterpart and on the campuses are noisy, they are not politically powerful.

The Youth League has some membership and support, but the Young Communist League is a puppy and the South African National Students Congress a dead dog, if its recent electoral setbacks are anything to go by.

Is the alliance set to split? The question should not be "What if?" but "So what?"

Ferial Haffajee is the editor of the Mail & Guardian

The possible split is no cause for grave concern and should be welcomed

Tony Leon

A split within the ruling tripartite alliance, or indeed within the African National Congress itself, is no cause for grave concern. In fact, it is greatly to be welcomed. It will be a hopeful sign that South African politics is maturing and moving beyond race, patronage and post-liberation nostalgia as the major themes of our democratic discourse.

There are three principal ways in which a split would help our country. Politically, it would liberate South Africa from a creeping one-partyism -- and all the cronyism, corruption and conformity that goes along with it.

We will once again have real and open debates about urgent issues -- such as economic reform, HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe -- that have until now been suppressed by the ANC leadership. There will also be opportunities for new political coalitions to form -- coalitions that have a real prospect of wresting power from the ANC.

Opposition parties have proved, in the provinces that we have controlled and the places where we have provided the strongest opposition, that political competition produces more competent government and more efficient service delivery.

Economically, a split would give a tremendous boost to our nation's growth prospects by freeing President Thabo Mbeki to implement the sweeping economic reforms he has been hinting at for half a decade.

Until now, the president's liberal macro-economic policies have not been matched by liberal micro-economic policies, because he has lacked the political courage to face down his internal opponents. He has been in economic terms what PW Botha was in political terms: a reformer without gain.

With a free hand to reduce corporate taxes, privatise state-owned enterprises, and cut back labour laws and regulations (while protecting workers' rights), the president will help our economy create millions of new jobs, attract billions of rands in new inward foreign investment and reach rapid economic growth rates of 6% and higher.

Culturally, a split in the ruling coalition or the ruling party would free our national identity from the narrow cult of ANC self-worship.

Free from the stifling influence of ANC symbols, from the thought-

killing monotony of ANC political correctness and neo-Stalinist ANC rhetoric, South Africans will embrace and enjoy a more creative, tolerant and diverse national culture.

There are some who may fear that a split in the government would cause political instability in the country. In reality, continued ANC power monopolisation would be far more destabilising in the long term than a more open, equal and contested political system.

By undermining Parliament, threatening the judiciary, abusing floor-crossing legislation and appointing party hacks to important executive and investigative posts, it has brought about a crisis of democratic legitimacy.

The fight between Mbeki and Zuma, for all the turbulence and drama it has caused, has already served a useful purpose. It has become the outlet for pent-up frustrations and conflicts that have been building up for years inside the ANC.

Instead of clinging to the vain hope that their ideas and interests can best be represented through the ANC, the parties and groups that the president once derided as the "ultra-left" would achieve far more if they escaped the orbit of the ruling party.

However, damaging a split would be to the ANC's political fortunes, it would be a great boon for the nation and would be an appropriate way to mark the second decade of our democracy.

Tony Leon is the leader of the Democratic Alliance

A vital policy instrument

Drew Forrest

The tripartite alliance is a messy and crisis-prone affair -- but there are good reasons for thinking things would be a lot messier without it.

It would, in addition, be much harder to disentangle than its opponents think.

Scratch most union members and you will find an African National Congress supporter. On the ground, labour activists widely double, or treble, as ANC or communist leaders.

Journalists write glibly of the "ruling alliance" -- but that is how ordinary people tend to see it; as a single movement. When Thabo Mbeki took his campaign to "isolate and defeat" alleged ultra-leftists in Cosatu to the ANC regions, he was politely asked to go away and patch up the differences.

This is, perhaps, the main reason the alliance stubbornly refuses to fracture, and why Cosatu continues to throw its weight behind ANC election campaigns, despite recurrent hostilities at leadership level. The expectations of the general membership have fused alliance leaders in a reluctant embrace.

More is at stake than emotional attachment to the ANC's heroic past. The mass of ordinary alliance supporters are not entirely wrong to see the ANC and its left-wing partners as jointly representing their interests -- or at least, as representing them more nearly than anyone else.

Pace the fantastists of the Trotskyite left, organised workers would not necessarily stream to a "Labour Party" in the unlikely event of an alliance split. Research indicates that they would go on voting for the ANC, while the lesson of history is that those who deliberately step outside the ANC's fire-circle face inanition in the wilderness.

Labour might gain little in terms of direct political representation, while forfeiting the sense of common historical mission, of comradeship in a shared struggle, that currently enables it to influence ANC policy.

It is nonsense to argue -- as the ultras do -- that Cosatu has received nothing from the ANC government but abuse. In league with other forces, including sympathisers within the party itself, it has wrung concessions on many matters, from the shape of the national budget to black economic empowerment and Aids treatment. It may even have had an impact on Zimbabwe. The shifts have often been slow and grudging -- but they have happened.

For labour to go it alone would be to abandon the field to the ANC's least desirable elements -- the slavish Mbeki loyalists and party line-toers, the "racial nationalists" (to use a Democratic Alliance phrase) of doubtful loyalty to our constitutional freedoms, the admirers of Robert Mugabe, the avaricious climbers and the corrupt.

But vital as it is as a humanitarian ginger group, Cosatu has not been elected by the majority of adult South Africans. It is not the government and there are reasons for thinking it would not make a very good one.

It is hard not to see in its economic prescriptions shades of the macro-economic populism that sank Chile in the early 1970s, through a pegged exchange rate, price controls, over-mighty public sector unions and land invasions.

As Robert Mugabe is discovering to his cost, the government cannot simply tell the International Monetary Fund to go hang. And Mbeki cannot simply halt Jacob Zuma's corruption trial.

Alliance processes might be less acrimonious if ANC leaders rethought their relationship with Cosatu.

In the infamous "briefing notes" on the union "ultra-left", Mbeki's hit-men complained that the labour movement was infiltrated by elements alien to the congress tradition. Quite so. South Africans can be grateful that Cosatu arose in the vacuum left by the banning of the ANC, with its own leadership, organisation, ideology and democratic traditions.

The federation is not Sactu, the ANC's former labour wing, which mainly served to harness workers to the nationalist cause. Mbeki et al should get their heads around Cosatu's right to think for itself and to press its demands by all constitutional means -- even when it is wrong.

The sparks that fly from alliance encounters can be seen as the by-product of an essential policy-forging process, in which conflicting class interests and political realities are reconciled. South Africa needs the ANC and its left allies to temper each other.

Drew Forrest is the news editor of the Mail & Guardian

It's not going to happen

Jeremy Cronin

The controversy within the ANC-led alliance around the Jacob Zuma affair has breathed fresh hope into the if-only brigade. There are basically two headlines under which most political commentary deigns to acknowledge the existence of the South African Communist Party.

The one headline reads "growing marginalisation" of communists or unionists within the African National Congress. The other, headline "alliance about to split", is a back-handed admission that the SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions are not as irrelevant as hoped.

So, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the hypothetical question: "what if the alliance breaks?" As always, I take it as a back-handed acknowledgement.

After all, over the past three years, the government has shifted away from its privatisation drive. President Thabo Mbeki has articulated an increasingly robust critique of free market fundamentalism. Worker strikes for higher wages have seen growing non-racial worker solidarity and broad public anger directed, not at the workers but at management for their inflated salaries and perks. The ANC's national general council has rejected labour market flexibility. Following the land summit, and the SACP's Red October campaigns, the government is supporting an urgent review of the "willing-seller, willing-buyer" land reform approach.

These and many other positive developments are what really lie behind the question "what if?" (which is, in fact, a wishful "if only").

But what about the Zuma matter? It underlines my point. The alliance is not divided along organisational boundaries, nor neatly into a centre and a left. Anxiety over the Zuma matter cuts through all our organisations, not least the ANC itself. We are united strategically, but also, as we are being reminded, by the shared challenges of combining internal democracy and collective leadership with a progressive rule of law with corruption-free but strong governance, and with the capacity to mobilise and engage poor communities across our country.

An alliance break-up, we are told, will be "good for democracy". Citizens will finally "know what they are choosing". The assumption is that democracy is a market-place in which we are periodic voters exercising individual "choice" between competing brands -- the more the better. I don't have a problem with multi-party democracy and I know it is fashionable to brand everything, including sports grounds -- such as Vodacom (formerly Securicor) Loftus. But is the "choice" between a Heinz Soup Kerry, for instance, and a Halliburton Bush really the pinnacle of democracy?

Here in South Africa, a democratic breakthrough has been won and a new society is being consolidated on hostile terrain. In townships and rural villages, communities are trying to give substance to this democracy through community policing forums, school governing bodies, water committees, co-ops, health forums, ward committees and integrated development plans. Things are not easy. There are partial advances and failures. Local government helps, but not always. There are problems of official corruption and of community gate-keeping. Most government policies are well-intentioned, but not all are appropriate. This is where the battle to consolidate a vibrant democracy will be won ... or lost.

As we struggle to build this democracy we are up against a powerful antagonistic force. Economic power remains obdurately in the same hands. Our country is still in the grip of an accumulation path that is reproducing concentrated personal wealth and a persisting crisis of underdevelopment.

In the face of these realities, the best hope of workers and the poor is preserving a solid 70% democratic majority with which to consolidate a developmental state buttressed by and strengthening its mobilised popular base.

If the alliance breaks (but it won't) that potential will be considerably dissipated. And if the alliance breaks, it won't be neatly into a left and a centre. We will see, rather, a proliferation of personalities and competing factions, mobilised around grievance and frustration, behind which will be the real power-brokers. An Nkobi Holdings left? An Elephant Consortium congress? A Standard Bank dark-horse? A Brett Kebble youth?
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But this isn't going to happen. Sorry to deprive you of the choice.

Jeremy Cronin is SACP deputy general secretary and an ANC MP


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