South Africans have long been calling for a realignment of the political landscape and the establishment of an alternative to the ANC; of late this topic has taken on new impetus with rumours of an eminent breakaway from the ruling party. The majority of the population have gradually come to realise the need for realignment, starting as early as 1998 when the first signs appeared that corruption and nepotism were becoming the order of the day.
The strategy employed by the Tripartite Alliance was to contain the resentment of the people by using COSATU – and to some extent the SACP – who would strategically join the bandwagon to attack the policies of the ANC Government, but on the eve of every election would encourage people to vote for the ANC.
That strategy worked until the 2004 election, and I dare say they might attempt to do the same in the forthcoming election. However, in the last few years the COSATU leadership has come under pressure for being more interested in politics and ANC battles, than promoting the interests of workers.
There is a big debate among the workers themselves, and the public at large, about the role COSATU should play, and that debate has reached fever-pitch with COSATU’s entanglement in the ANC infighting. It has already claimed the head of COSATU AND SADTU President, Mr Madisha, and soon Mr Nondwangu, NUMSA SG may also become a victim of this.
COSATU is caught in a trap of its own making and it looks like their leadership has dragged the federation into a factional battle within the ANC. A situation has now arisen where COSATU members who are also members of the ANC might receive conflicting instructions of how to behave in each organisation. The COSATU leadership seem determined to prescribe to the ANC, who has historically been the leading partner in the Tripartite Alliance. COSATU has reneged on its neutral role in the Alliance by siding with one ANC faction.
The interesting question is whether the workers will heed the call to vote for the ANC and be treated like convenient voting cattle.
Which brings us to the eminent establishment of a breakaway party from the ANC. Should such a party be established, the leadership of COSATU and the SACP will see in hindsight their own role in contributing to the creation of such a breakaway, because they chose sides. If such a party is established the major partners in the Tripartite Alliance who will suffer most are the ANC and COSATU, because many workers who previously tolerated COSATU’s pro-ANC stance and preoccupation will now begin to expect neutrality from the affiliate unions as well as the federation itself. It will soon lead to significant numbers of workers threatening the establishment of their own unions and federation, if COSATU does not comply. If COSATU heeds that call, both the ANC and the SACP will be weakened.
It is worth remembering that this dilemma of the Tripartite Alliance was precipitated by Mr Zuma selling the soul of the ANC to its alliance partners in order to gain office and avoid prosecution.
A new political party splitting from the ANC is potentially good news for democracy, because it would undermine the bad culture of centralising power in a one-party state and expecting mindless compliance from everybody. In the long run this breakaway party could play a role in realigning the political landscape and ensuring that we have a healthier balance of power. It has also already helped to confirm to many people that the ANC is not infallible.
Our analysis of the changing socio–economic-political order in South Africa, indicated that from 1994 there would be discernible political shifts along interest group divides, distinguished by common concerns and aspirations. Eventually this process will move towards the crystallization of two major political streams. One that expresses the ethos of the beneficiaries of the established order, and another that expresses the aspirations of the emerging major social groupings that are marginalized at present. This will necessitate the emergence of two major political formations representing these interest groups. The focus for an emerging political formation will be to articulate the concerns and aspirations of the vast number of marginalized people of all colours and races in South Africa; thus there is a need for an economic policy which will centre on investing in enterprise development, to alleviate unemployment among others, and narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots.
This breakaway party should join the current debate in the country, where people are calling for the establishment of an alternative. The time to form such an alternative by like-minded political parties before the next elections is too short, but there is no doubt that after the 2009 polls the discussions on such an alternative will be a priority.
However, people will be watching whether this isn’t a Trojan Horse formed in order to capture disappointed ANC voters who are moving towards other opposition parties, only for this new party to enter into a cosy coalition with the ANC after the elections. It is up to them to demonstrate their bona fides.