Winnie Now for a purge of the populists

Winnie’s fall could spell the end of the populist elite in the ANC, report Stefaans Brummer and Eddie

THE fall of Winnie Mandela may sound the death knell for the “populist” faction within the ANC and could have strong repercussions, reaching as far as the race for succession to President Nelson Mandela.

The extraordinary occurrence—Wednesday’s police raid on the house and office of a serving deputy minister, followed by the reaction from ANC government members and spokespeople that “this is a police matter” not to be interfered with politically—shows Winnie Mandela to be an isolated figure within the party.

A senior ANC source yesterday termed the events the culmination of a strategy to purge the party of its populist clique.

The source said the president had probably received information from police and ANC intelligence sources before the party’s national congress in December last year about growing levels of corruption within the “populist faction” of his party and the use of dubious funding to bolster a support base for the group.

Mandela countered by trying to issue a list of candidates for the national executive committee which would have excluded some of this clique from the election. But his move backfired; it was seen as undemocratic by rank-and-file delegates, prompting a reaction that gave the militants more support than they would have had under different circumstances.

Academics and party sources have pointed out that the crisis precipitated by the raid also puts deputy president Thabo Mbeki in a difficult position. While he is usually associated with the more conservative wing of the party, he has at crucial times relied on the support of Winnie Mandela and some of her more militant associates, who include ANC MPs Peter Mokaba and Bantu

Specifically, the ANC Youth League, when under Mokaba, backed Mbeki in his ascendancy over ANC secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa, Mbeki’s main rival as Mandela’s successor.

Mbeki has been reported on several occasions to have intervened with the president on behalf of his estranged wife.
When Mandela wanted to fire her after her criticism of the government at a policeman’s funeral last month, it was Mbeki who intervened. Again, when she left for West Africa last week in defiance of the president, the matter was delegated to Mbeki to deal with.

A spokesman for the president confirmed yesterday the matter was still in the hands of Mbeki, who would deal with it on his return on Saturday from overseas.

Mbeki’s spokesman, Rickie Naidoo, emphasised that corruption allegations were a matter for the police at this stage. Winnie Mandela’s trip to West Africa in defiance of the president’s orders was the government’s greatest concern. “This is an issue the government needs to resolve as soon as possible. When Mbeki gets back to South Africa he will meet Nelson Mandela to discuss the issue.”

According to political scientist David Welsh, “If Mbeki is seen to be protecting someone whose actions seem indefensible, it certainly will not do him any good.

“The succession race is far from decided; there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.”

The ANC source said Winnie Mandela’s traditional sources of support within the organisation were now in a shambles.

He said the ANC Women’s League was in disarray in the wake of the resignation of 11 executive members protesting Winnie’s “Road to Freedom” business partnership with Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. Although ANCWL regions have come out in support of Winnie, these were weak and constituted only a few individuals in each area.

The ANC Youth League—whose representative Lulu Johnson this week condemned the police raid and expressed support for Winnie Mandela—is now a “hollow shell”, he said. It has been further weakened by the controversy surrounding former ANCYL president Peter Mokaba’s National Tourism Forum.

At the time of the elections, and even during the ANC’s congress in December last year, the youth league was considered a powerful lobby, but it is now clear that it has no substantial organisational support.

He said much of Winnie Mandela’s populist support was underpinned by a patronage network that depended on her ability to disburse discretionary funds of the type provided by Pakistan prime minister Benazhir Bhutto. Without these funds, this network of supporters is likely to wither.

Mbeki’s role will be crucial in determining which way the pendulum swings. His line is known to have been that populists should be kept in the fold until their constituencies are won over. This is clearly a line that serves his own interests as well as the party’s. It gives his traditional allies some breathing space and allows him to call in favours when needed. But signs are that Mbeki is running out of space to use this tactic.

The ANC source said the balance of forces is unclear. In the absence of charismatic militant leaders like the late Chris Hani and strong structures within the “tripartite alliance” (the ANC, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu), there is space for demagogy at a time when the Government of National Unity is promoting restraint and urging people to pay rent and services charges so that it can get on with the business of reconstruction.

“There is space for a populist highlighting of grievances by a hungry black elite that has its own personal agenda.” The most vociferous support of this nature is likely to come from disadvantaged communities—such as the Phola Park squatter settlement—where Winnie Mandela’s NGO, the Co-ordinated Anti-Poverty Programme (Capp) disbursed funds.

The government needs to be careful about going on a strong “law-and-order” tack that fails to note the sense of disempowerment among marginal sectors of

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