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ANC dissenters are being bullied into compliance

Rapule Tabane

Cosatu, the youth league, mining companies and FNB have all been beaten with the African National Congress' big stick, writes Rapule Tabane.

The ANC is taking its 'unity in action' plan seriously, silencing those who differ with it. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

We should not be surprised that the ANC leadership, freshly elected at Mangaung, is moving with speed and confidence to implement the youth wage subsidy and to declare teaching an essential service.

In our summary of the Mangaung resolutions in December we said that the ANC was "looking left and turning right", and it is apparent that the ANC leadership, in office for just over a month, is moving around, taking on everyone within their sights and cutting them down to size.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who has emerged more powerful than any other secretary general in recent times, declared triumphantly at a press conference this week that there would be no blood on the floor arising from the decision to take a harder stance on teachers. He was alluding to Cosatu's well-known opposition to this idea, which would limit teachers' right to strike.

It's likely that Mantashe's bold statement was a result of the fact that the ANC called the Cosatu leadership to Luthuli House on Monday to inform them of this decision, which arose from the party's lekgotla. I would go further and speculate that the ANC essentially asked Cosatu to shut up and thus deny the media their "blood on the floor".

Clearly the plan is to effect a day-to-day management of Cosatu on controversial issues, the ANC having long co-opted the other alliance partner, the South African Communist Party. And, as I've written before in these pages, it is ironic that all these proposals come at a time when Cosatu has more leaders in the ANC than at any other time. Ostensibly, these large unionist numbers were  intended to drive the ANC in a direction that suits Cosatu.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who turned down a seat on the ANC's national executive committee, has maintained a measure of independence, which enables him to speak his mind without watching his back. The brutally honest Mantashe does not mince his words, saying the ANC has interests much broader than those of the trade unions, and therefore it's tough luck – the unions will have to live with these decisions.

Post-Mangaung clampdown
What's going on is a general, post-Mangaung clampdown, also epitomised by the ANC's capture of its youth league. The league, begging not to be disbanded, has now been asked to give an undertaking that it will not misbehave in future. The ANC argues that the league is no more than a structure of the mother body and should not identify itself outside of that. That is well and good, but to try and get an assurance that the league will never criticise the mother body is akin to censorship and is nothing less than autocratic. It is stifling; it amounts to asking the youth not to be young anymore. It is asking them to be prefects, the way Malusi Gigaba's youth league was when Thabo Mbeki was the president.

I will not go to great lengths to describe how the bank FNB was bullied into stopping the broadcast of advertising linked to survey statements that were critical of the government, apologising and also giving an undertaking that it would not repeat such a "mistake".

Along with Mining Minister Susan Shabangu, Mantashe also recently warned mining company Amplats that its licence could be taken away if it proceeded with the retrenchments it had proposed, which sent a chill through the mining sector.

Mantashe saw nothing wrong with his remarks, insisting they were all part of public discourse: "The business sector has a right to criticise us. But it can't be described as [an] outburst or bullying when we express our view on that criticism. But if you think you are going to stand on the mountain and throw stones, you are staying in glass houses and when we throw stones back you cry and say your stones are broken, then there is a mistake."

Mantashe was being disingenuous, however, to characterise the FNB spat as an innocent tit for tat. The ANC did not merely denounce the adverts, it demanded that they be withdrawn. It had a stick with which to beat FNB because the bank does business with the government and could suffer as a result. At the same briefing, ANC national executive committee member Ngoako Ramatlhodi warned that the party was going to adopt an "iron fist" approach to quelling service delivery protests.

You have to feel it – it is here. It is the bullying and bludgeoning of dissenting voices. It is an artificial attempt to create a homogenous society wherein we all sing along to the same tune. South Africa is far from a dictatorship but, as Vavi famously warned, a dictatorship will not announce itself: "It won't, like drum majorettes, beat drums and parade down the street to announce it has arrived."

So we all must say that the freedom to differ, to march, to strike and so on, were all hard-fought-for victories, and we will not be dictated to by Mantashe as to what's acceptable or unacceptable behaviour.


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