The ANC: The struggle for control

Stanley Uys says the Zuma ANC is like a lift going up in a building coming down

The power struggle being played out in the ANC surely cannot go on for much longer. Tempers are rising. For the present, the newly energised, Zuma-led ANC is like a lift going up in a building coming down. Possibly, sooner rather than later, something will snap. There are some signs that an ANC counter-coup is taking shape. But also that a huge new bureaucratic apparatus is arising, and instead of becoming casualties in a night of the long knives, the plotters could be caught in the coils of this apparatus, and blandly blocked in the name of "ANC policy."

Insiders no doubt know where the power struggle is going, but if it is pushing the ANC leftwards, perhaps with the help of China, it will be a new ballgame. In an exceptionally perceptive article, Not nationalisation, but Chinafication (here), Paul Trewhela touches on this. However, as Zimbabwe will discover, the Chinese can be like goats: after staying in a country for the required period, extracting the minerals they want, their legacy is - scrub, rocks and sand. If they are in for the long term, and press for "euro-centric" businesses to be edged out where this is manageable, then (as Trewhela puts it) "something extraordinary" will have happened to the ANC since Polokwane, December 2007.

The three major identifiable players in the power struggle are the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). The fourth player of course is the ANC itself, potentially powerful, although until recently not easily identifiable, as were the intentions of its leader, Jacob Zuma.

To define further the power-seekers: Cosatu has the street muscle for strikes and demonstrations to coerce the ANC. Theoretically though there are obstacles. Cosatu is a trade union federation with 21 affiliated unions and 1.95 million members, not a political party, and secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi too often speaks as if he commands a political party (hence the "theoretically"). Also, there are other trade union federations in the field, waiting competitively for Cosatu to make a blunder - if South Africa's economy shifts left, and fails, all trade unionists will take the knock.

Then there is Vavi's own warning that his federation needs "to avoid two extremes: being the government's lapdog and being a permanent opposition". Finally, there is Vavi's acknowledgement of "a massive rush to be rich, even within workers' unions." So unless Cosatu can indicate that it is winning the power struggle, and will be able to deliver on some at least of its members expectations, the power grab could lose momentum.

Cosatu pairs with the SACP in opposing the long-standing inflation targeting (seen by the opposition Democratic Alliance as "fundamental to our economic framework and...the foundation of our monetary policy"), privatisation, a two-tier labour system (to create a category of lower-paid jobs in order to create more jobs, especially for blacks), and much else of Mbeki's orthodox macro-economics. Last year, the SACP, somewhat despondent, circulated a discussion paper on whether it should stick with the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, Cosatu, SACP) or pack its biltong and go alone into the veld. Now it is triumphalist on heights that would make Mbeki envious.

As for the ANCYL, a key player, it delivered foot soldiers for pro-Zuma demonstrations, particularly during Zuma's court cases, but its president, Julius Malema, is routinely mocked by the media as a "buffoon," and this is lowering the stature and influence of the whole ANCYL (although Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya warns that "buffoons" cannot be dismissed lightly, and that the ANC has created a "monster" in Malema).

Whether the ANC engages in an old-style confrontation with Cosatu/SACP, or is ready to use its new bureaucratic apparatus, the settling of the contest will leave an indelible imprint (favourable or unfavourable) on the way South Africa, and in particular the black community, are governed in future. Both political methods and constitutional principles could then change quite radically. And it would not be surprising if the ANC produces a new weapon to repel invaders at Zuma's new presidency and at Luthuli House (ANC headquarters): zero tolerance. The bureaucratic apparatus would be ideal for this.

The Zuma ANC has an elected 86-member national executive committee, including the six top office-bearers: Zuma (president), Kgalema Motlanthe (deputy president), Baleka Mbete (national chairperson), Gwede Mantashe (secretary general and also SACP president), Thandi Modise (deputy secretary general) and Matthew Phosa (treasurer general). To this day, the top six have not articulated a common identity, and an informed analysis of who's who and what's what still has to be written. This is why the current strategy of the power struggle is confusing, at least to outsiders.

The three plotters (above) used Zuma's populism with spectacular success to tap into the black community's multiple grievances, but too many demos and strikes could turn counter-productive and lead to ungovernability. So Vavi has his cautious moments, knowing that the plotters need Zuma - "Zuma is not going to be a one-term president," he declared.

In that case, why does Vavi persistently insult Zuma? When Zuma assures business leaders that nothing will change in SA's economics, Vavi corrects him: everything will change. When the Financial Times quotes Zuma, Vavi retorts - Zuma is no ‘messiah". When commentators scoff that Zuma is just a Luthuli House stooge, Vavi exults: "That is exactly how it should be. We are the policy-makers in the Alliance, and the government implements. The government does not lead anymore." In other words, if Zuma is a stooge, he is Cosatu's stooge. With friends like these, Jacob, who needs enemies?

When Trevor Manuel (now minister of the new Planning Commission in the presidency) blasted business leaders for being "cowards," afraid of taking on striking unions, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said scathingly that he was the "shop steward of business," suffered from an "identity crisis", and had "no business trying to influence and steer economic policy." The SACP joined Cosatu in blasting Manuel. The working class, said Dlamini, had "suffered immensely from the neo-liberal policies he pursued under the previous regime".  Manuel's remarks were "deeply offensive and he should apologise." These relentless Cosatu/SACP attacks on Manuel and on Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni presumably will ease off now that Manuel is minister of a new Planning Commission and that Mboweni has stepped down (pushed?) in favour of Gill Marcus, a competent old communist disciplinarian.

A hint of how the bureaucratic apparatus would work has come from Gwede Mantashe. When Vavi said Zuma would not be limited to a single presidential term, Mantashe from within the ramparts of Luthuli House told Cosatu to mind its own business. Why was he so angry? Does Luthuli House have its own sell-by date for Zuma's presidency, or has he just had enough of loud-mouth Vavi? And when the SACP (remember, Mantashe is its chairman) boasted (May 24) that without contesting a single seat in the 400-member National Assembly, it had secured 14 percent of elected ANC MPs, and that "many SACP members" were now in senior positions in legislatures and executives (owing their first loyalty to the SACP), Mantashe spelt it out (July 10): the ANC is "the key strategic centre of power" and the practice of members of legislatures, like the National Assembly, advocating the policies of, say, the SACP or any other non-ANC party, will have to stop. All ANC MPs, whether SACP, Cosatu or ANCYL, are mandated only to promote ANC policies.

Thus the days of non-ANC members piggy-backing into parliament on the ANC, and orating as they like, are over. The point here is that if Cosatu/SACP remain well embedded in high political and public sector office, but the ANC through its bureaucratic apparatus opts for market-friendly macro-economics (as Mbeki did) and is able to block plotters, what would be the point of a coup? Cosatu/SACP all dressed up and nowhere to go?

There is a further aspect of the bureaucracy: what to make of Zuma's huge cabinet with its 34 ministers, plus 28 deputies? No doubt, with so many different backers, Zuma had to distribute patronage accordingly. But why were key economic ministries allocated to well-known leftists when everyone knows they will not be able to deliver more jobs and prosperity in the immediate future - the poisoned chalice theory? Yet consider the commitment made last month by Ebrahim Patel, minister of Economic Development, that one of his key tasks would be to keep the promise made by Zuma that by Xmas half-a-million new job opportunities will be created (2,380 a day) - in an economy that shrunk 6.4% in the first quarter of this year, shed 208,000 jobs, and is expected to shed a further 750,000 by December. Is the same "poisoned chalice" thinking at work, too, in Zuma's appointment of SACP chairman Blade Nzimande as Minister of Higher Education. In January, it is Nzimande who will have to explain to protesting students why their university fees have been increased.

Consider, too, Zuma's first cabinet, as announced on May 10: to start with, instead of hearkening to the clamour from Cosatu/SACP to get rid of Trevor Manuel, Zuma appointed him minister of a new Planning Commission in the presidency. This could be a feint by Zuma, a holding operation, until Manuel can be edged out without upsetting business too much, but Cosatu and the SACP take the new ministry seriously enough to say it is not the ministry to guide economic policy. The proper ministry is Economic Development, headed by Ebrahim Patel, who must take macro-economic policy away from Finance (held by Pravin Gordhan) and micro-economic policy from Trade and Industry (Rob Davies). For Cosatu/SACP, Patel is the key minister. Is he ready to dance to their tune? Will the bureaucratic apparatus let him do this?

Mantashe drew attention particularly to Zuma's new presidency-based ministry of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, headed by a newcomer, Collins Chabane. Every minister, deputy, official, etc. can be monitored by this ministry - shared apparently by Chabane with Mantashe, who already has established a precedent that he, a party official, can summon even cabinet ministers to Luthuli House for to account for their performance. Also, Mantashe's writ runs over the whole ANC. The lowliest ANC branch member can't nip out for a quick smoke without jeopardising his "deployment" in the bureaucracy.

If readers want to know fairly precisely what the new South Africa will look like, they need the equivalent of a crystal ball, and fortunately one is available: Mantashe's Why the ANC needs to monitor its public reps (July 10); Collins Chabane On the New Govt Structure (May 22), and Siyabonga Cwele, new minister of State Security, on Why South Africa Needs its spies (July 1). All three documents have been published in these columns. The three men between them will be able to turn South Africa into the most monitored country in the world: surveillance with a vengeance. Cwele adds that Intelligence must be at the centre of government, because the "threats" range across both the public and private sectors, from poverty and natural disasters to chemical and biological weapons and espionage and sabotage.  Intelligence? Its handlangers are informers, spies, the man at the desk next to yours. The targets? Well, plotters certainly among all the others.

The obvious question is who will enforce this zero intolerance when both the police and the army, as Democratic Alliance questions in parliament elucidate, are hopeless? Yet on paper the sheer scope of Intelligence is chilling. In a recent article, I asked why so many ministers in the cabinet, and deputies, were trained in the 1960-1990 exile years in Intelligence, and/or by the KGB and Stasi? I called them Zuma's pretorian guard (see article).

There is another informative document worth reading: Frans Cronje in the SA Institute of Race Relations publication Fast Facts. He believes Cosatu/SACP will lose the power struggle, suggesting that rather than them manipulating Zuma, it is the "wily Zulu" (not Cronje's words) who is manipulating the "left." The "leftists," says Cronje, never really captured the ANC. Polokwane was a palace coup by the ANC against their leader; those seeking to dethrone him "created a fictional leftist-centrist ideological split in the ANC itself".

In a survey, the SAIRR found "no identifiable leftist sympathies in the policy positions of most of the ANC senior leaders". Macro-economic policy would not change under a "leftist" Zuma administration. The report (to return to my opening paragraph) also "forecast a post-electoral fallout within the Alliance."

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter