Dumisani Tembe

By Dumisani Tembe

The possibility of South Africa without the African National Congress (ANC) being the governing party is here. The ANC has already lost control of key economic hubs of the country such as Gauteng Metros.
Projections by several research institutions indicate the ANC is likely to hover around 40% in the forthcoming general elections: thus, unlikely to form a national government on its own. 

The transition to a South Africa without the ANC as the governing party is likely to be chaotic. Here are some possible scenarios both within the ANC, and South Africa’s democracy institutions. 

The first chaotic possibility, with certainty – the ANC will continue to degenerate. This is because the ANC is now turned upside down. As the Gauteng’s ANC provincial secretary, Jacob Khawe, recently indicated, the ANC is now posited to serve the individual leaders and their associates in the party rather than the leaders serving the ANC.

In this leadership personal appropriation of the ANC without compensation, they chaotically contest for top positions at the expense and detriment of the very same ANC that they all need. As they seek factional victory at all costs, they are prepared to annihilate the organisation as long as the competing faction also does not win. 

As manifested by the recent spate of unnecessary opinion, and counter opinion pieces, some in the leadership of the movement will continue to insult one another. They will continue to seek to outshine and outclass one another as the real ‘revolutionaries.’ They will seek to outdo one another as ‘radicals’ when the ANC is politically at its weakest moment since 1994. In short, the ANC will continue to cannibalise itself with no prospects of recovery in the near future. 

The ANC self-annihilation will continue to play itself out in the public domain. This will not only result in the ANC losing electoral support, it will also disintegrate its own structures, resulting in loss of membership. 

The second chaotic possibility, also with certainty – the ANC’s unwillingness to become a formal organised opposition within legislative oversight bodies. After more than two decades of being in power, the ANC struggles to adjust itself to the role of the opposition whenever and wherever they lose elections. 

This is demonstrated by the ANC’s behaviour as they lost power in the city of Tshwane and Joburg after the 2016 local government elections. Currently, the ANC seems to be struggling to adjust itself in the City of Joburg as the official opposition. 

This is likely to be the case in the National Assembly should the ANC fail to gain the absolute majority and form a government after the next general elections. Should an alternative coalition form the next government to the exclusion of the ANC, there are strong possibilities that the ANC will not behave any different from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in parliament. 

This situation could be more complex because whilst the ANC may experience decline of the national vote, it is nevertheless likely to retain certain provinces. These may include Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free state, and the Northern Cape. In fact, these provinces may give the ANC a lifeline. 

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is likely to present a formidable electoral fight in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). This is not because the IFP will be gaining strength, but because the ANC is increasingly getting weak in KZN. Meanwhile, Gauteng is a fragile territory for the ANC. 

This imbalance of power between a possible alternative national government to the ANC, and a possible dominance of ANC in mostly rural provinces, will create a consternation between a possible national coalition government and the ANC. 

This will lead to the third chaos – bureaucratic paralysis. In areas where an alternative coalition government is formed to the exclusion of the ANC, the bureaucracy that has always served the ANC, will struggle to adjust to the new emperors. It is likely to be filled with anxiety, be jittery, and immersed in uncertainty. This might result in bureaucrats adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude, while possibly applying malicious compliance on their work. 

This is where the fourth chaos comes in – a frosty relationship between the new political executives and senior bureaucrats. This will be a relationship of mistrust, and it will cost the state substantive financial resources. This is likely to be the case because as the ANC would exit the system, many of its political executives are likely to extend lengthy contracts of its senior managers. This means, the new rulers might have to pay such senior managers lots of money, or arbitrarily terminate such contracts and risk lengthy and costly labour relation litigations. 

There is also the possibility of grand scale looting of state resources. As the uncertainty arises, theft of state resources may spike as some will seek to maintain their lifestyle as they possibly exit the system. Law enforcement agencies, and the National Prosecution Authority may not have the capacity to curb the grand looting. This power transition, therefore, will manifest a dysfunctional state of government. 

This dysfunctionality is informed by the fifth chaos – fickle and fragile anti-ANC coalitions. In the next general elections, the ANC will not experience an absolute defeat and be wiped out of power. Neither will there be a political party from the opposition that overwhelmingly wins elections. There is no single political party that will be able to single-handedly form a national government. Both the ANC, and the opposition political parties may still form a national government based on the coalitions they enter into. 

The ANC may still form coalition with other parties with the aim of hanging, with a thread, onto power. But an alternative anti-ANC coalition may emerge simply for the quest of eliminating the ANC from power. Either way, these will be fickle and fragile coalitions. Rather than substantive coalitions driven by a common vision for the growth and prosperity of society, these will be coalitions of political elite convenience. They will be political elite coalitions of self-preservation.

The sum total of the transition from an ANC government to an anti-ANC coalition government, will be a chaotic period. This is because as weak as the ANC is, there will be no single alternative political party that will enjoy an overwhelming victory. Thus, rather than a single centre of power in the new government, there will be fragile pockets of power due to weak coalitions. Even if the ANC forms a coalition with other parties, it will be a weak coalition. Both the government and oversight institutions such as parliament and provincial legislatures, will be weak. 

As chaos ensues, the masses will remain in the development margins. Mass mistrusts of both the political system and the political leadership across the board will be the order of the day.  In this period, seeds of new energies for grassroots mobilisation and movement will be planted, and the struggle for a better life will soon start afresh. 

As Bob Marley said, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”. In this case, those who will start fighting now, are most unlikely to be the same as those who fought for the liberation before. In fact, the new liberation fighters, might actually find themselves fighting the former liberation fighters and their new post 1994 partners.
This is not history repeating itself, but a new generation taking over from where the previous generation abdicated.

Dumisani Tembe is a Political Analyst at Kunjalo CDR. Twitter page @KunjaloD

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