Fear and hope now define the ANC

There is a spectre haunting the ANC. And it isn’t the spectre of communism — although there sometimes seems to be an international socialist zombie stumbling around its national executive committee tripping over things.

No, the ghost at the banquet is the ANC itself, or rather, a version of the ANC that nags at those who are enjoying cake and champagne on behalf of the people suggesting that the threat to their legitimacy is real and growing.

The well-attended marches organised by Cosatu this week reflect widening fissures in the tripartite alliance itself and, just as importantly, between the alliance and the electorate. The protests were only about e-tolls and labour brokers in the most trivial and proximate sense. But Cosatu’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, called it “class war” and spoke of the “social distance between the leadership and those that they lead”.

The march, like the smaller and sometimes more violent protests that take place in benighted areas around the country almost daily, crystallises a sense of alienation from Luthuli House that now extends well beyond the white middle class. The store of liberation credit, so crucial to the stability of a government that has pursued some deeply unpopular policies over 18 years, is running dangerously low.

In the post-Polokwane era, the party is struggling where it has so often succeeded in the past, failing to use internal dissent as an energy source to maintain its credibility under changed circumstances.

Two distinct responses to the warning emerge from the party’s policy discussion documents, released in a rather sanitised form on Monday after leaks to the weekend press highlighted some of their more dramatic proposals for the structure of the Constitution and the economy. Broadly speaking, they can be characterised as voices of fear and voices of hope — perhaps a more instructive distinction now than the increasingly confused and unhelpful left and right.

The frightened consistently emphasise the importance of security, both for the party and for the country. They hunker down and face the threat from an unruly press, from civil society, from more competitive economies, from judges and, worst of all, from the ANC’s own internal critics, from behind hedges and defensive positions. As deputy general secretary of the South African Communist Party Jeremy Cronin once said of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF, they no longer “confidently foster a progressive hegemony” but confront a world of enemies.

Deputy chairperson of the ANC Jeff Radebe, who is also justice and constitutional development minister, epitomised this tendency when on Monday he called those who had leaked the documents “impimpis“, the hated informers who shopped their comrades to the apartheid machine.

It is captured in legislative proposals, including the Protection of State Information Bill and the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, and in pressure to rein in judges and the media. And, of course, it is stunningly obvious to the national executive committee members who had to surrender their cellphones to security officials before discussing the documents. Signal-jamming equipment was in operation, too, they were warned, just in case they tried use other, more subtle, devices of betrayal.

The party of fear emerges from the documents in several asides, many of them almost unnoticed amid the furore about the big proposals expunged from them after the leaks.

The department of home affairs, gradually recovering under Nkosa­zana Dlamini-Zuma from years of mismanagement, is a case in point, squarely positioned by the “Peace and Stability” document as a “security department” alongside its “developmental state” functions. “As a security department, home affairs will contribute to two overriding goals: national security and public safety,” it says.

Immigration, an increasingly tough political issue for the ANC, is clearly framed as a security problem, and new proposals for asylum seekers include locking up the
riskier-looking ones in detention camps.

Of course, home affairs has a long history of spooks in senior positions — past directors general include spy bosses such as Billy Masetlha, Barry Gilder and Jeff Maqetuka. The last minister to have the job, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, also has an intelligence background.

Unremarked is the fact that it is under the more service-oriented civilian leadership of Dlamini-Zuma that the department has begun to do better, not least in crucial security areas such as passport authenticity.

But alongside the tough talk, there is humane and sensible discussion about a policy for economic migrants. “Should South Africa allow irregular economic migrants from SADC [Southern African Development Community] to work in the country in the light of the objective realities on the ground?” it asks. But no substantive mention is made of the need to open up to more highly skilled migrants, whose presence would almost certainly create jobs.

Similarly, the communications documents emphasise wider access and make rather ominous reference to cyber security. The needs of the economy go unremarked. Security and protestations of social solidarity, it seems, are an easy discourse for the party. Growth is not. That might be why deep ambivalence manifests itself around Trevor Manuel’s National Planning Commission and its 30-year national development plan.

The documents draw heavily throughout on the diagnostic report of the commission and its proposals for long-term growth. These, broadly speaking, call for a more open and competitive economy and a “capable state” that strikes a better balance between investment and redistribution or social spending. The commission’s focus is on efficacy, accountability and clean governance and it clearly jars with the more bluntly interventionist “developmental state” ambitions that are now at the heart of party catechism.

Does the distinction signal “an ideological or conceptual disagreement [that should be] clarified so that we don’t cause confusion with a plethora of terms, or by introducing concepts that may well be in conflict with existing ANC policy?”, the “Second Transition” document on strategy and tactics asks.

The trouble is that the commission brings together the considerable intellectual capital of the ANC of hope and its work offers insight that the national executive committee struggles to ignore. Unfortunately, the political capital seems to rest with the party of fear.

Expect more marches.

Single three-in-one election proposal fizzles
The ANC has in the past few years mooted the idea of a single election day for all three spheres of government. At the party’s national general council in 2010 the idea was supported broadly, but the final recommendation for the policy conference signals a thumbs-down for the proposal.

The argument for a single election was that it would save money that could be better spent on other organisational priorities. The party also felt it could develop a more coherent approach to deployment and candidate selection, enabling it to send the right candidates to each sphere of government. It would also limit the damage that repeated candidate selection battles visit upon the unity of the party. A five-year break between campaigns would also allow the party to focus on governance and building the organisation.

But the argument against a single election included that regular election campaigns present an opportunity for the party to reconnect with its constituency. “While we may wish to have regular and widespread contact, it seldom happens on anything approaching the scale of an election campaign. There is more training and engagement with our people during elections than at any other time. We track the approval rating of the ANC government and it corresponds directly with the election cycles,” the documents argue.

It was also pointed out that provincial and national MPs’ expertise in helping local candidates would be lost as they would be concentrating on their own campaigns. “It is undesirable for ANC leaders to be preoccupied with their own selection at the same time that they have to play a constructive role in the selection of councillors.” — Rapule Tabane

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Nic Dawes Author
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