/ 8 September 2023

The ANC’s internal cracks and the moonshot: What’s new?

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(John McCann/M&G)

While President Cyril Ramaphosa was exercising his negotiating skills to the maximum at the Brics summit, on the domestic front the ANC finds itself in a familiar position: having to keep internal divisions under wraps and corruption allegations at bay, while staying ahead of the opposition. An analysis of August’s news coverage of the party shows how its internal cracks are resurfacing, while the opposition struggles to launch its moonshot.

“Deployees” is the word with the strongest association with the ANC in my database of top daily news articles from IOL, News24 and TimesLive for August. This word, which emphasises the ANC’s power over its cadres in government, was used in a public spat between ANC Youth League president Collen Malatji and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. 

Malatji criticised Gordhan for allowing Eskom to spin off its distribution division as a separate state-owned company (SOC).  He argued, ignoring the nuances of the situation, that this was tantamount to privatising part of Eskom and said, “One day we’ll wake up and find that South Africans have been sold to another country.”  

Gordhan demanded an apology for this remark, saying, “The latest attacks from Collen Malatji, counter-revolutionaries and other discredited characters highlight the fact there are vested interests intent on crippling ongoing reform of SOCs to the detriment of millions of South Africans.”

Malatji’s clapback was, “Apology for what? No, we can’t apologise. We’re not going to apologise to any deployee of the ANC when we call them out.” He continued, “There has not been a youth league for too long and people were comfortable with not being held accountable. [Now] all deployees of the ANC will be held accountable and the youth league will play that role.”

Malatji’s repeated use of “deployees” is an obvious attempt to pull rank and suggest that ANC cabinet ministers should dance to the youth league’s tune. The public nature of the squabble suggests that policy fissures in the ANC are widening again, in this case between left-wing idealists wanting to keep the dream of a developmental state alive and pragmatists who support unbundling and partial privatisation as ways to rescue our state-owned enterprises.

This is not the only thing the youth league has been in the news for this month. Both “youth” and “league” showed strong associations with “ANC” in August’s news. Kholeka Gcaleka, who is on course to be appointed our next public protector, was once a leader in the youth league, calling her independence into question. We were also reminded that former youth league leader Peter Mokaba was the originator of the objectionable song “Kill the Boer”, which has made a reappearance as Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema’s theme tune.

The ANC was also strongly associated with the word “donations” in August’s news.  Although all parties recently declared their donations to the Electoral Commission of South Africa, as required by the Political Funding Act, the association between “ANC” and “donations” comes because a questionable friendship between the ANC’s deputy president Paul Mashatile and a businessman named Teddy Greaver has come to light.  Greaver is an executive director of Valumax, a company that donated R29.5 million to the ANC from May 2018 to February 2020, while Mashatile was the party’s treasurer general.  

This makes “treasurer” another of the strongest associations with “ANC” in August’s news.  News24 found that Greaver also made four payments amounting to R900 000 to Umcebo Projects, a company belonging to Mashatile’s former girlfriend, Gugu Nkosi. Valumax has also received tenders worth many billions of rand from Gauteng’s department of human settlements.

So, as usual, the ANC is portrayed as beset by infighting and shored up by shadowy financial transactions. What’s new? In a word, the moonshot, or, more formally, the Multiparty Charter for South Africa. South Africa’s fragmented opposition is trying to pull together a coalition to mount a serious challenge to the ANC’s dominance, but negotiations around the pact’s beginnings have hit rocky ground.

Four of the eight words with the strongest association with the ANC in August’s news refer to negotiations about coalition possibilities after next year’s elections. Two of these are “unseat” and “keep”, which are mentioned in phrases describing the mission of the pact as “to unseat the ANC and keep the EFF out”.

At present, the moonshot pact is made up of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Inkatha Freedom Party, ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus and three tiny new parties you might never have heard of before, Isanco, the United Independent Movement and the Spectrum National Party.  At present, these parties make up far less than the over 50% of the vote they need to govern the country.

Another word strongly associated with the ANC, “grand”, was used by DA leader John Steenhuisen to say “the belief that the DA was against publicly declaring that it does not fancy a grand coalition with the ANC nationally was untrue”. If that sounds like playing around with double negatives to you, then you’re not the only one. Some of the bargaining during the framing of the Multiparty Charter concerned whether to allow member parties a back door out to negotiate with other parties should the moonshot fail to reach 51% of the vote.

In the end, the DA appeared to close that back door, including a clause in the charter saying, “We will not entertain any working arrangement or co-governing agreements with the ANC, EFF or any rival formations.” Despite this, parties can quit the charter “if they provide written notice of their exit”.  

The DA may want to head for that exit next year in the likely event that the moonshot parties fail to reach a majority. As I have argued previously, a ruling coalition will most likely need to include the ANC, and an ANC-DA coalition may be the only way to save us from an ANC-EFF coalition. A “grand” coalition may be the only type that will work.

As it happened, the moonshot’s first test in Johannesburg was aborted when the DA refused to support a motion of no confidence in mayor Kabelo Gwamanda proposed by ActionSA. The bone of contention was the involvement of the Patriotic Alliance, which “works with the ANC in Joburg and holds two mayoral committee positions”. This is one of the instances making “holds” a word strongly associated with the ANC in August news.

The Patriotic Alliance was apparently willing to swop sides and join the moonshot pact and the vote of no confidence in Gwamanda, but the DA has refused to work with the party after it backed out of a previous coalition with the DA in Johannesburg. And so the motion of no confidence was cancelled.

So the ANC, with all its problems, is limping along while the opposition is struggling to get their act together ahead of next year’s elections. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Let’s pray that some new ideas and new life are breathed into our political scene before the elections come.

Ian Siebörger is a senior lecturer in the department of linguistics and applied language studies in the faculty of humanities at Rhodes University.