In simple English: hold your horses. The ANC has warned its members in the national and provincial legislatures to avoid being “goaded into precipitate action” when provoked by opposition parties, particularly the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
This advice, cautioning against reacting without considering the possible consequences, is contained in a discussion document for the party’s October national general council.
“The disruptions in Parliament and some [provincial] legislatures, campaigns to occupy land and others that border on illegality are all meant to, or do in fact, have the effect of undermining the legitimacy of the ANC, of the government and ultimately of the state,” the document said.
The national general council is a midterm policy review conference that is used as a platform for critical political engagement by ANC branch delegates, national and provincial leaders, the ANC’s youth, women and veterans’ leagues as well as its alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu.
Opposition parties accused the ANC of trying to turn South Africa into a police state after Parliament’s presiding officers – all of them ANC leaders – called armed police officers to forcefully remove EFF MPs for disrupting proceedings.
Since it won 25 seats in Parliament in last year’s general election, the EFF has frequently disrupted President Jacob Zuma’s sessions as well as proceedings in certain provincial legislatures. The ANC sees the EFF’s strategy as a tactic to delegitimise the ruling party, with the aim of eventually toppling it from power.
In the discussion document the ANC cites as an example similar tactics in some postcolonial societies, which resulted in governments being overthrown and power being seized by force – or, at least, the state increasingly relying on security agencies and repression.
Worried about disorderly behaviour
Though seemingly unconcerned about the likelihood of a coup d’état, the ANC is worried about the EFF’s disorderly behaviour: “Some of the disruptive and near-illegal campaigns may have the effect of initiating mass uprisings or other actions that may goad the state into precipitate action, as has happened with the unseemly disruptions in Parliament and, on the extreme, the Marikana tragedy.
“Whether this would be by default or by design on the part of the adventurists is a matter of conjecture. The obvious intention of these forces is to improve their electoral prospects and, by democratic means, to displace the ANC as government across the spheres,” said the document.
In a frank assessment of its performance, the ANC this week admitted it has lost the moral high ground. It blamed corruption, factionalism and patronage among its leaders as central to the many challenges it is facing. It also singled out the media for what it sees as their consistent negative coverage of the party.
The Zuma administration has come in for criticism on several issues, including electricity shortages, the slow pace of economic growth, the killing of striking mineworkers in Marikana by police and the spending of R246-million on Zuma’s private Nkandla home.
EFF leader Julius Malema has welcomed the ANC’s apparent change of heart in dealing with his party. “We have been saying to them they must stop calling police to Parliament. Political issues must be resolved politically,” he said.
“They [the ANC] are looking at what is working for them now. The ANC has run out of think-tanks. They deal with complex measures through emotions and they end up putting themselves in trouble.
“The thing is that the ANC is meeting the real opposition for the first time in 21 years, and doesn’t have the experience to handle that.”
Mobilising against wrongdoing
The ANC has also admitted that it has failed to resolve the divisions in Cosatu, which saw the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi expelled. Vavi and some Numsa leaders have since been mobilising workers and left-wing organisations against the ANC and what they see as wrongdoing in the government.
The ANC wants delegates at its national general council to discuss tactics to combat the rise of a “self-declared leftism”, which it says is inimical to social transformation.
“This will require a keen understanding of both the objective conditions that give rise to this phenomenon, as well as the subjective factors, including the posture of the tripartite alliance as a whole and the conduct of the leadership that encourages it.”
It also wants to probe how Cosatu “has found itself in such a rut”. The document cites the estrangement between union leaders and workers, “blatant thievery” as well as “business unionism”, where union investments are poorly managed and leaders are “co-opted” by capital, as key reasons for the trade union federation’s problems.
ANC branches are expected to discuss these points and formulate united positions that will be advanced at the national general council. Though this gathering cannot change policy, it has the power to take decisions that will be tabled at the ANC policy conference and, if adopted, ratified by the party’s 2017 national congress.