Picture: The ANC can no longer relax and hope that its “liberation movement” tag will come to its rescue the writer says.
By Bheki Mngomezulu
Internal squabbles in the ANC at all levels have dented the party’s political image. The increased number of political parties has also meant that the ANC is no longer the enviable political player – although it is true that the ANC has continued to be the majority party compared to all its competitors.
Recent political developments in South Africa should sound a warning to the ANC as the governing party. Importantly, these events implicitly implore the ANC to read the political rhythm properly and to make the right decisions. Failure to do so would see this country descending into serious chaos.
Unlike in the period from 1994 to 2004 when the ANC was on the driver’s seat in South African politics, things have changed. There are many reasons for that. The recall of Former President Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and Former President Jacob Zuma in 2018 did not do the ANC any good. It is true that some within the leadership of the party reached these decisions with good intentions. But equally true is the fact that others had their own intentions which had nothing to do with the ANC.
Internal squabbles in the ANC at all levels have dented the party’s political image. The increased number of political parties has also meant that the ANC is no longer the enviable political player – although it is true that the ANC has continued to be the majority party compared to all its competitors. Even in instances where the ANC fails to obtain the fifty plus one votes, it still manages to be the highest performing party compared to all others. But this means that the ANC can no longer relax and hope that its “liberation movement” tag will come to its rescue. That time is quickly fading away.
The increased number of independent candidates does not augur well for the ANC’s continued dominance. With the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill on the table, the number of independent candidates might increase even further as they participate at the national level. The Constitutional Court ruling which compelled Parliament to amend the Electoral Act (No.73 of 1998) paved the way for more independent candidates to participate in elections.
All these developments are out there in the open for everyone to see. The leadership of the ANC should not take them lightly. The party needs to re-strategize and take proactive steps in order to remain relevant, competitive and retain the identity of being the “leader of society.”
I am deeply concerned that the ANC is not reading the political rhythm in the country the way it should. A few examples are worth citing in this regard in order to buttress my assertion and give it more impetus.
In the 2019 general election, the ANC still emerged victorious as it has done in all other elections since 1994. However, its support came down to 57.50 percent compared to the 62.15 percent that the party received in the 2014 general election. Again, during the 2021 Local Government Election (LGE), the ANC did not perform well at all. It even lost the majority of the Metros to the DA which rules them through coalitions.
To expound the claim that the ANC is failing to read the political rhythm well, I will cite developments in two provinces – KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
In KZN, when it became clear that neither the ANC nor the IFP had obtained enough voted to constitute Councils in certain municipalities, it became necessary for the two parties to reach an agreement. I applauded this move and argued in different media houses that it would ensure that the four economic hubs in the province would be shared by the two parties. If the ANC were to retain eThekwini and uMsunduzi Municipalities, the IFP would take control of uMhlathuze and Newcastle. This would have been a win-win situation.
It still remains unclear as to who is to blame for the collapse of the agreement between the two parties. The ANC accused the IFP of having not honoured its part of the agreement. In return, the IFP blamed the ANC of having reneged on the terms that had been agreed to. In the process, the IFP became the winner while the ANC suffered immensely. In fact, the ANC almost lost eThekwini Metro. Had it not been for the deal clinched with Philani Mavundla of ABC, the ANC would have lost eThekwini!
Ideally, this incident should have served as a reference point for the ANC. One would have expected that the party would use it as a lesson. This does not seem to have been the case.
After losing the three Gauteng metros to the DA (Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni) through coalitions, the ANC had a chance to reclaim these three metros and share them with the EFF. It is now history that this opportunity too was squandered.
Things started off well when the Municipal Speaker of Johannesburg, Vasco da Gama was voted out. As expected, Dr Mpho Phalatse was ousted as Mayor. Similarly, in Ekurhuleni, Mayor Tania Campbell was also voted out. Next in line was going to be Tshwane’s Mayor, Randall Williams. Disagreements and lack of trust between the EFF and the ANC scuttled the entire plan. Consequently, both Phalatse and Campbell were reinstated and Williams remained unscathed.
Preferably, the best strategy would have been for the two parties to agree that the ANC would take Johannesburg and that the EFF would take control of Ekurhuleni. They could then amicably decide the fate of Tshwane. Such an arrangement would not have been dictated by free will but by the prevailing circumstances. But, for it to succeed, it needed political egos and individual pride to give way to rationality and astute leadership. Now that the deal has failed, the question arises as to who is to blame between the ANC and the EFF.
These two cases should sound a warning to the ANC as it prepares for its leadership conference in December. Those who are going to be elected should be men and women of fortitude. They should be visionary leaders who are able to see the bigger picture as opposed to being fixated in parochial politics.
The reality is that all political parties – both old and new – are now having their eyes on the 2024 general election. Plans for that election should have started already. The prospect of having a coalition government after that election is becoming more real, especially looking at the trend from the 2019 general election and the 2021 LGE.
Experience shows that pre-election coalitions are more sustainable compared to post-election coalitions. The reasons are simple. Before an election, the political leadership is sober and can make proper decisions on who to work with. Secondly, if an agreement is reached before an election, it is possible for the potential partners to amend their manifestos on time to bring them closer to that of their counterparts. Thirdly, it is possible for the political leadership to prepare the mindset of their supporters and ensure that they have a say on who to partner with.
Post-election coalitions pose serious challenges. Firstly, the law dictates that a government has to be constituted within fourteen days after the election. This means that the political leadership from the concerned parties needs to move with speed. In the process, wrong decisions could be taken. Secondly, these types of coalitions happen in boardrooms without the input of the party members or the electorate. Thirdly, some smaller parties make huge demands which the majority parties have to comply with or risk losing control of government. Therefore, the voice of the electorate is silenced.
Recently, Hellen Zille told the media that her party, the DA, is already preparing to govern through a coalition after the 2024 election. Despite her bold statement that her party has been growing very well, the reality points to the opposite direction. In fact, it is the EFF, FF+ and the IFP that can make such a claim. The DA and the ANC have seen their numbers going down.
In a way, Zille tacitly conceded that the DA is not in a position to run this country alone. This is true. The DA is strong in the Western Cape and has some pockets of support in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and some urban areas in KZN. Therefore, it is not possible for the DA to replace the ANC. The only way it can achieve this goal is through a coalition government.
As things stand, the ANC is the governing party in South Africa. It is the oldest organisation across the whole of Africa. It has vast experience in governance after having been in charge of the country since the advent of democracy in 1994. The ANC has enjoyed a large following over the years by virtue of the fact that it was seen as the liberation movement.
The ANC’s recent dwindling support is of its own making. Internal squabbles, failure to deliver on its promises and the calibre of its leadership are to blame for the current situation. Therefore, it is important for the ANC to read the political rhythm very well and make the right decisions. Should it fail to do that, it will find itself on the opposition benches in 2024.
Bheki Mngomezulu is Professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape.