ANC must seek cohesion

A lack of tolerance by the central party structure appears to be restricting provincial freedom and creativity, argues Jabu Sindane

THE African National Congress national working committee’s intervention in the Bushbuckridge border dispute last month raises many questions of the constitutional and political importance of inter- governmental relations.

For instance, to what extent:

* Can a political party use its internal machinery to address constitutional problems like border disputes?

* Does such intervention impact negatively on similar border disputes?

* Do the provisions of the Constitution pose a challenge to and shape the structure of the ANC in the provinces, both at party- political and government level?

The Constitution provides for provinces to pass their own legislation and write their own constitutions. It also allows the premier to appoint and dismiss members of the provincial executive council and so forth.

That some decisions of provincial governments are met with disapproval can be attributed to the ANC being a centralised political party.

The incidents below clearly illustrate the tensions generated by the national Constitution versus the expectations of provincial governments.

The first was former MEC Rocky Malebane- Metsing’s clash with his Premier, Popo Molefe.
After Molefe dismissed him, the ANC dispatched a delegation to the North West province, and, following the intervention of President Nelson Mandela, Molefe reversed his decision.

Had Molefe refused to comply with the wishes of the ANC national leadership, he could possibly have lost his position or been redeployed.

Other examples which highlight this type of intervention are the Terror Lekota/Ace Magashule episode in the Free State and the deal between the Mpumulanga Parks Board and the Dolphin group of companies.

Provincial government initiatives based on national constitutional provisions can be challenged by central party structures.

Ronald Watts, a leading scholar in multi- tiered systems of government, contends that the ANC is not unique in this respect.

As in India and Malaysia, where a single party brings together diverse interests and dominates elections so that it controls both regional and central governments, national cohesion and co-operation between regional governments has been achieved. This, in all probability, is what the ANC seeks to achieve.

Watts argues that in India, the Congress Party had been a powerful force for harmony between the union and state governments.

However, after the first 15 years, a new and influential group of political leaders, deeply rooted in Indian society, started to emerge from the states resulting in a shift of power and influence from the union government to state governments.

The Congress Party gained a federal character as regional linguistic elites began to crystallise.

The ANC was a highly centralised party without a regional policy when it started national constitutional negotiations.

When it was unbanned, it had numerous regional structures. However, following the adoption of the interim Constitution it reduced this number to nine provincial structures to reflect the shape of the country.

Some ANC national leaders in central government would naturally be alarmed when confronted by their own comrades at structures like the Inter-Governmental Forum who demand increased powers for the provinces. Especially if their demands leave the premier of KwaZulu-Natal wondering whether he was at the wrong meeting because his political party and province should be asking for more provincial powers.

Opposition parties in Gauteng loudly applauded Premier Tokyo Sexwale when he demanded more provincial power for the police. This debate had also taken place between the KwaZulu-Natal province and Minister of Safety and Security Sydney Mufamadi.

Provinces have demonstrated that, given the space, they can be innovative. They have embarked on projects aimed at attracting investments and several have special arrangements with their counterparts overseas, with minimum overt involvement from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In 1996, the North West and Free State executive councils agreed on several areas of co-operation to enhance economic progress, including sharing casino opportunities.

However, the lack of tolerance by the central party structure as indicated by various interventions of the ANC national leadership in provincial political decisions could impact negatively on provincial governments and jeopardise their creativity.

With Bushbuckridge, the ANC’s national structure may need to allow Mpumulanga and the Northern Province to revisit their 1995 agreement, draw lessons from its contents, explore other options and draw up another agreement involving the affected communities in the process.

The ANC’s national leadership should play a supportive rather than a leading role in the process.

A multi-tiered system of government is not the easiest of systems to manage. Countries in which the central structure failed to exhibit tolerance of the problems and tensions which come with this system of government ended up defying their constitutions - the source of their system of government.

Ugandans are fond of reminding South Africans that their former president, Milton Obote, became so intolerant of Uganda’s first independence Constitution which gave states federal powers, that in the fourth year he wrote a new Constitution by himself.

He then announced in Parliament that the first Constitution was no longer valid and that all MPs, including his Cabinet members, would find their new Constitution in their pigeon-holes. Thus the origin of the term “pigeon-hole Constitution.”

Jabu Sindane is a senior researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council

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