Apocalypse or Tectonic shift in the national political discourse?

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Siyabonga Hadebe

In the Daily Maverick of Wednesday, 28 November 2018, a member of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the national Parliament Toby Chance suggests that “a coalition between ANC [African National Congress] moderates and the DA will stave off tyranny…”

He further adds, “To avoid this unpleasant scenario, the ANC will need to split with the breakaway rational constitutionalists, forming a coalition with the DA and other like-minded smaller parties.”

Chance’s ideas correspond with those advanced in Leon Schreiber’s book titled ‘Coalition Country: South Africa after the ANC’. Schreiber argues that coalitions could become “the norm in South Africa, although they are not the only possibilities.” But Chance goes one further by openly suggesting a split of the ANC.

Basically, Chance appears to be dead worried about agitations for land reform in South Africa and perhaps all other resolutions that were taken by the ANC’s elective conference at the end of last year.

Chance refers to the push for change in South Africa as constituting “outdated ideology” which lead to some form of paralysis. In his view, the current posture with “EFF-leanings” (as he calls it) would result in a mayhem, e.g. reduced investment, higher unemployment, more government debt, existential threats to our financial system, etc.

Perhaps some people would question why one has to be concerned with what the DA thinks since the ANC preaches unity at every given opportunity.

Well, the contestation of ideas in the ANC has been there for quite a long time. Mervin Gumede calls it “the battle for the soul of the ANC”. Thus, my opinion is that tug-of-war over the direction that the ANC should take going forward has not been more pronounced as it is now.

Not discounting the battles over the soul that started in the 1940s – that eventually led to the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) – the present struggle is even more significant in that it goes beyond the ANC but also it means that country has to take a keen interest.

The battle for the soul of the ANC also means that the form and shape of the organisation that was forged over five decades ago will drastically change.

The DA appears to be standing on the pulpit delivering a sermon they think is key to dismantling ‘the broad church’. It is likely that the DA is not acting alone but its sentiments are shared by many inside the governing party.

The ideological divide within seems to be more visible from space that the Chinese Wall. It would be quite disingenuous for anyone to deny that even Isaac Newton could battle to pinpoint the direction of forces in the ideology of the ANC.

The moderates see the ‘radicals’ within and without the ANC, e.g. the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Black Land First (BLF) and trade union movement, as threats to South Africa.

This is more like a repeat script in the South African politics.

Starting in the 1960s, the Nationalist Party (NP) and its support base, Afrikaner population, were divided over a number of issues pertaining to apartheid policies such as immigration, language, racially-mixed sporting teams, and engagement with black African states.

Coincidentally, the NP also experienced a major apocalypse when the emergence of the ‘verkramptes’ (conservatives or radicals) and ‘verligtes’ (moderates or liberals).

It was in 1969 that the “verkrampte” faction including Albert Hertzog and Jaap Marais, created formed the Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP). The new party saw itself as “the true upholder of pure Verwoerdian apartheid ideology.”

Although the Herstigte Nasionale Party never really fared well in any elections, it sufficient numbers “to erode support for the government at crucial points.” The verligtes grew in strength in attempts by the NP to deal with international isolation.

The National Party internal politics could also be used to explain the proximity of the EFF, and even the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), to ANC radicals.

The 1969 split of the NP was preceded by the expulsion of Japie Basson, a moderate, over disagreements pertaining to the racial questions. Basson went form his own National Union Party but would later rejoin the NP in the 1980s. Before this, he was also a member of the United Party and Progressive Federal Party.

The Progressive Federal Party was a precursor of the Democratic Party (now the DA), which could be described as Theo Gerdener’s “attempt its own verligte solution to racial questions.” Gerdener served as the NP interior minister from 1970 to 1972 and prior to this, he was Administrator of the Natal Province (now KwaZulu-Natal).

The predicted split of the ANC could resemble the shift of tectonic plates in the South African politics in that the ‘radicals’ could join hands with the EFF, BLF, NUMSA, etc. The ANC-light could partner with liberal DA and similar parties to trounce the radical formation in the same way the verligte-NP managed to throttle, and even ostracise, both the HNP and the Conservative Party (KP) in the running of South Africa.

This coalition of liberals has been in the making for while since apartheid ended.

Firstly, the formation of Agang which later tried to forge a new partnership with the DA (remember the kiss of death between Mamphele Ramphela?) and the rapid rise of Mmusi Maimane in the DA are perhaps the two best examples of an intensified effort to build a liberal party in South Africa.

Secondly, another attempt saw the formation of the African Democratic Change (ADeC) which was still-born, after it was alleged that George Soros’ Open Society Foundation decided against funding the new party after Nasrec. Hungary banned Soros and his organisation from supporting similar initiatives in that country.

ADeC’s founder Dr Makhosi Khoza, an ex- ANC member of parliament, was shipped to the oppositionist Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA).

However, the strength of the ANC was a serious stumbling block. So, the post-Nasrec era is seen as an opportune moment to give the liberal project another try. The engineers of the project want the ANC to split in order to get the required numbers from the ANC carcass.

The strategy entails getting the liberals to control the soul of the ANC, and or formation of an alliance with the DA.

The lingering question is, who are the ANC moderates and what percentage do they command to gain significant numbers in polls?

It is interesting that the DA says nothing about white verkramptes like Afriforum, and other liberal NGOs such Open Society Foundation, Free Market Foundation (FMF), OUTA, etc., who think they have an upper hand over all arms of the state.

Just this week, the AfriForum applied to the court to stop parliament from debating section 25 amendments.

Nonetheless, my view is that the liberal project is not very far from being realised. The media leads from the front in promoting it and also advances liberal agenda with one goal in mind, ostracising radicalism.

The strategy is devised in such a manner that radical elements inside and outside of the ANC are cornered via negative reports and singing praises for anyone who could be key in the implementation of the liberal project.

Different media outlets openly defend the likes of the DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and endlessly attacks Julius Malema and others in what Chance calls ‘the EFF-leaning faction’ from Ace Magashule to Numsa.

The DA would not be pronouncing on this preferred approach without having gauged the prospects of attaining some milestone through a coalition with ANC ‘moderates’.

It is therefore important to check from the loyal ANC supporters if they are ageable to DA proposal. And, also it would be necessary to verify how many in the ANC sees the impending reforms on land and economy as a complete waste of time.

Moreover, it is necessary to determine how many people prefer the split to fast-track the reforms in collaboration with like-minded EFF and BLF.

The challenge for the ANC is retaining numbers through unity in supporting the present leadership to avoid the split, which will make it more difficult to pursue the transformative agenda without taking instructions from anyone.

The national democratic revolution will not be possible in an event of a split, and efforts of leadership to guide the ship to safe waters will be severely undermined.

A strong and united ANC, with the support of like-minded forces, needs to be resolute in its efforts to attain the longstanding goal of a better life for all.

We are entering a very interesting stage of our politics.

 

 

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