/ 27 September 2013

ANC crackdowns: Toe the line, or else

Anc Crackdowns: Toe The Line, Or Else

Julius Malema. Zwelinzima Vavi. The Tlokwe councillors. All dealt with, and firmly so. President Jacob Zuma has shaken off the apathetic image of his first term to deal brutally with dissenters in his second.

The crackdown is nothing new for the ruling party. It has been a feature of the ANC's bid to preserve unity since its inception, even under Nelson Mandela.

"It's about loyalty, not about policy," political analyst Professor Steven Friedman told the Mail & Guardian.

"[Thabo] Mbeki thought Cosatu was a bunch of ignorant buffoons, but never threw anyone out. Bantu Holomisa was thrown out for saying Stella Sigcau was corrupt."

Malema and his sidekicks were suspended mainly for bringing the party into disrepute.

"The ANC since exile still abides by this notion of democratic centralism," said academic John Daniel.

"What is expected and demanded is loyalty and toeing of the line."

When individuals flout that system, disciplinary action can be brutal.

Robert Sobukwe: 1950s
Sobukwe held a provincial leadership position in the ANC in the 1950s but differed from its multiracial approach, arguing instead for an Africanist-led liberation.

He criticised the ANC for being dominated by what he termed "liberal-left multiracialists".

The clash in views came to a head in a meeting in 1958, when Sobukwe and his fellow Africanists were summarily ejected from the gathering. The next year he led a breakaway from the ANC to form the Pan-Africanist Congress.

Gang of Eight: 1970s
This doomed group is still used by the South African Communist Party as a cautionary tale.

Led by Rivonia trialist Tennyson Makiwane, they opposed the SACP's growing dominance at the ANC's national conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, in 1969.

"The SACP relies entirely on using the ANC as its front organisation," they later said.

Then ANC president Oliver Tambo was "busting a gut" to keep various factions together, according to Friedman, but the Group of Eight had crossed a line.

They were expelled in 1975. Five years later Makiwane was allegedly assassinated by a rogue Umkhonto weSizwe unit on suspicion of being a police informer.

Umkhonto weSizwe and Quatro: 1980s
Dealing with dissent didn't get much harsher than the firing squads at the ANC's Quatro camp in Angola during the 1980s.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that torture was "routine" and was ­official policy, as were executions "without due process" at ANC detention camps. What began as a cleaning out of possible spies became a tool to crush dissent.

"Our own security people became exceedingly arrogant, to the point where an innocent slip of the tongue or even a simple gesture could land you in a torture cell," wrote former soldier Mwezi Twala.

Former Cabinet minister Pallo Jordan spent six weeks in detention, for allegedly giving away the ANC's informant network by teasingly calling two men "amaPolisa".

Bantu Holomisa: 1990s
The charismatic former general rose quickly through the ranks of the ANC to become a deputy minister.

But things went downhill when, during his truth commission submission, Holomisa alleged that fellow Cabinet minister Sigcau was the recipient of a bribe when she was a homeland leader. He was forced out of the ANC in a process similar to Malema's expulsion and went on to form his own political party.

Through the following decades others were to feel the might of the ANC when they stepped out of line, not least the losing faction at the party's elective conference in Polokwane in 2007 and the losing faction at the Mangaung conference in 2012.

The real question for the current ANC is how it will deal with dissent.

"Are they handling the question of difference well? No, they're handling it very badly, because they're still stuck in a fantasy," says Friedman.

The fantasy, as he puts it, is a nostalgia for a mythical past.

"The idea [is that] they were united in the struggle, which is nonsense of course," said Friedman.

"But at least you could hold the whole thing together."