Saturday, 27 September 2008

Split in the ANC?

On 14 August 2008, I sent the following letter to The Star, South Africa’s leading daily, pointing to the possibility of a section of the ANC splitting on the basis of principle, rather than personal gain.

Once again, a brilliant article by Max du Preez (ANC fast sinking into a morass of hooliganism [retitled in this online version], 14/8).

For some time the conventional wisdom has been that a real opposition would form when Cosatu split with the alliance, and formed a Labour party. I wonder though if a more likely scenario is if the Third Faction (ANC members disgusted with self-serving factions) split to form a new party. The problem is that members of a liberation movement tend to have much more loyalty to the movement than is the case for a conventional party, so such a split would be extremely traumatic for the Third Faction.

Nonetheless, if we reach a point where it’s clear that the ANC leadership has sold out the revolution and is more concerned with plunder than good governance, I can’t see how anyone of good conscience will have any other alternative but to walk out. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that -- that the ANC is not quite as far gone as Du Preez indicates. Formation of a competitive opposition would be a positive development, but the cost to the country of rule by a criminal faction would be an extremely high price to pay to get there.

Now a web site has surfaced, called Friends of Democracy, hinting at such a movement in the wake of Thabo Mbeki’s forced resignation as president. A report in the Mail&Guardian, a weekly with good connections in the ANC, claims leading members of the Mbeki faction are behind the move.

Is this what I was predicting?

Not entirely, because this appears to be a personal loyalty thing rather than a split on principle – and the group behind the split appear to be one of the main factions, not Du Preez’s “Third Faction”. Mbeki himself was flawed in being over-concerned with loyalty and too little concerned with merit for example in his cabinet appointments.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting development. My personal view is that it may be a little soon for a serious challenge to the ANC; liberation movements elsewhere needed about 20 years for the gloss to wear off (partially arising from sufficient new voters without memories of the previous system).

Does anyone else think a split is inevitable? Mbeki himself in fact predicted that the ANC would eventually split, as reported in William Gumede's insightful and apparently well-informed book, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC (I reviewed the 2nd edition* at Amazon).

Watch this space...

*Zed Books, 2008