LONDON - The instability that has struck the African National Congress and sent it reeling into confusion has not been caused by ideological rifts, but mostly by over-ambitious members scrambling wildly for top jobs - ranging from ministerial and other government appointments to key posts in the upper and even middle ranks of the ANC.
This is the opinion of Moeletsi Mbeki (brother of ex-president Thabo Mbeki), who says that talk of a well-organised "coup" to overthrow the top six in the ANC leadership is exaggerated. He identifies over-grasping members of the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, Cosatu, SACP) as the principal players in the power struggle - they have brought the current political upheaval upon themselves, he says.
Moeletsi's comments (in an interview) follow publication of a leaked Cosatu report which some analysts see as a cry of anguish from the two million member trade union federation. The report, still in its draft stage and to be tabled at a four-day Cosatu conference opening on Monday (September 21), suggests that Cosatu is besieged by plotters and disloyal Alliance members.
Cosatu is doing its own plotting though. Training its sights on former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, it says that as Minister of the National Planning Commission, "he wants to be seen again as this super-minister," as "second in charge" under President Zuma, and as the country's de facto "imperial" prime minister. Cosatu foresees an "ugly power struggle" at the ANC's 2012 conference, when Jacob Zuma will either be re-elected as ANC president or voted out of office.
Cosatu blames in particular the ANC Youth League and Women's League for the instability. Reportedly, the ANCYL wants to replace ANC secretary-general/SACP national chairperson Gwede Mantashe with its own former president, Fikile Mbalula, now deputy minister of Police.
Cosatu has also called on Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel to hasten the assembling of his team because his mandate is being negated by Manuel's plans. Cosatu's report claims there is an underlying struggle within the state apparatus to demean Patel's ministry, which is "spearheaded by the running dogs of the erstwhile powerful forces that colonised key positions in government," and who may be trying to create a new centre of power in government.
While conjuring up an image of a well-planned coup, Cosatu admits that all it really knows about the plotters is that "a grouping is emerging, big or small," and "seemingly is a unity between some of the forces that fought for change and others who came later to the agenda of change after the defeat of their own ambitions."
The Cosatu report also admits that "the unity that prevailed during the battle to oust Thabo Mbeki and replace him with Zuma in Polokwane in 2007 is now fragmented." It concedes that the present instability in South Africa goes back for some years. "Immediately after Polokwane...there was a realignment of forces, with a confusing mix-up between those who fought for change and those who resisted change." Analyst Aubrey Matshiqi remarks in Business Day that "fighting for the soul of the ANC...is a stick fight in the darkness."
Moeletsi rejects the idea of a "unity" of forces, seeing it more as a stampede for power jobs. Cosatu, he says, has only itself to blame for the post-Polokwane fragmentation. It was one of the main players in the strategy used against Thabo Mbeki: instead of the ANC turning to traditional "consensual" politics, it lobbied with those opposed to Thabo for a majority, ejecting him first as ANC president and then as the country's president.
"Now Cosatu faces the consequences," Moeletsi told me. "All that is needed to get rid of Zuma is to pass a vote in the ANC's 85-member National Executive Committee. Zuma will be out the next day. He is in a totally insecure position.
"Polokwane opened a can of worms. What is happening is not a coup. It has nothing to do with policies and programmes. It is because some ANC members cannot predict their own future in office, and others are alarmed they will never achieve even a first tenure.
"In this climate of contestation, the ambitious ones appear to fellow-members to be plotters of a sophisticated coup. Rather, it is ambition run wild. There is a fear that jobs must be secured now, or possibly lost forever. This has made Cosatu paranoid. Its report says of the alleged plotters that ‘this grouping is buying time and meeting behind our backs.'
"Actually, in the scramble, the ANC as we have known it traditionally is almost being pushed out of politics. Members see a cabinet minister paying more than R2 million for his two official cars, and are saying: it is my turn now. This scramble is causing widespread anxiety in the ANC."
(Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda in particular bought two BMW 750i cars for R2.4 million, saying they were "the tools" with which he was "supposed to deliver on his mandate." Nyanda lashed back at Cosatu, as did Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who was accused by Cosatu of violating the constitution for firing protesting soldiers. According to media analyst Justice Malala, "the gloves are off" in the current infighting.)
Moeletsi declared: "The pity is that people in the ANC who have power are not motivated enough to intervene, not even at this moment of maximum confusion in the country's politics. They know they can survive comfortably, whether they stay in South Africa, or go abroad, say to an attractive job in the World Bank/IMF complex. They have options, but they don't exercise them."
Asked what he thought motivated ANCYL president Julius Malema, who wants no further cabinet and other top jobs to go to non-Africans, Moeletsi said: "He has no knowledge of economics, no qualifications, so the only option he can exercise is to play the race card - which is what he is doing."
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter