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Understanding the ANC alliance shadow sparring – it’s all a little game!

By Andile mngxitama

(this piece was first published by the Mail and Guardian)

We are again entering another circle of rituals for positions within the ruling party which are simply misunderstood by the media. Instead of pointing out how the ruling alliance functions to reproduce itself, the analysts, including university professors, are colonised by the discourses manufactured by the contending factions. We need to move beyond meaningless labels such as “the Left”, and “nationalists”.

The current public workers’ strike, the escalating “radical” rhetoric of Malema and Co including the belated call to freeze the salaries of senior public servants and ministers by the SACP are the latest tricks in an old tug-of-war of power that the ANC alliance plays year in and year out. Two central questions escape our analysts. The first is that the struggles within the ruling party are not about different ideologies or policy positions but about who will access state power to benefit which faction. Secondly, the battles within the alliance provide the best mechanism to give legitimacy for the ANC in the eyes of the voters. This second point of course is not always grasped even by the actors themselves.

What we have in the ANC Alliance is a neo-colonial elite proper as seen by Frantz Fanon in his Pitfalls of National Consciousness. Fanon warned that the post colonial elite that fought against white settler colonialists only take power to occupy the same positions as the defeated colonialists. Nigerian scholar, Dr Chinweizu, says that Black leaders in power become “Black Colonialists”. It’s hard to think of how the ANC in the past 16 years has been different from other Black colonialists on the African continent. In a sense what’s going on is a battle between black colonialists, for the share of colonial plunder, nothing more. They eat well whilst they build the poor RDP houses – if at all.

The road to Polokwane that led to the ousting of Thabo Mbeki’s faction was just another ritual to power. However, the contending forces for obvious reasons manufacture discourses that suggest that what is at stake is something noble and always for the benefit of the oppressed and excluded. In the case of Polokwane, the Mbeki faction was accused of driving the “1996 class project”, which apparently turned South Africa into a neo-liberal state that benefitted the elites and punished the poor through the GEAR policy. The new contenders to power coalesced around Zuma and formed what others called the coalition of the “wounded”, they claimed to be the best representatives of the interests of the poor, they sold Zuma to the masses as pro-workers and “a man of the people”. He danced and sang and it all looked convincing. To round it off they claimed to be for a “developmental state”. In the eyes of the media the “Left” had won!

Once the Polokwane victors ascended the Union Buildings, the spoils were shared. Blade Nzimande got away with a ministerial position, Fikile Mbalula a deputy minister’s post, Zizi Kodwa became a senior civil servant. Others in the media such as Jon Qwelane got nice postings in faraway lands. Over night Malema become a millionaire. But there was always a need to expand the accumulation path to maximize benefits for themselves. It must not be forgotten that the Mbeki faction also used the state quite effectively for its self-enrichment and at times was crudely defended for doing so, such as in the Jackie Selebi case.

To get a slice of the mineral energy complex which had benefitted the Mbeki faction handsomely, Malema threw the first salvo for nationalisation of the mines. This strategy had been tried before with huge success that led to the emergence of the first black mining moguls through BEE deals facilitated by the old white mining bosses. It’s blackmail writ large. Give us or we will take! Now Malema has returned from kissing the boere to wanting land expropriation without compensation and of course the nationalisation of mines is again part of that rhetoric. Vavi comes to the mix through flexing his muscle as a representative of the oppressed workers.

What appears at first as a super brawl to the death is actual a mere game. As a Soweto youth said the other day, the intra Alliance battles are an enactment of the television wrestling game WWW Smackdown. Of course there are real casualties, but the outcomes are predetermined, by and large, and the sanctity of the alliance remains intact. Only the uninitiated believes that the “Undertaker” really hates “Jon Cena” in the make belief world of wrestling.

What is important about the alliance battles is that it crowds out real questioning of how they collectively run the government. No one takes responsibility, what we get are new rounds of battles and promises. Sixteen years later the ANC alliance has not ended racism or made a real difference in the lives of the majority. The contenders are now hard pressed to raise the tempo of their rhetoric. These promises for “radical” change will be forgotten as soon as the winners enter the union buildings. The voting masses are rendered powerless, and their representatives live large at the expense of the state.

At the next elections the alliance will canvass for votes as one united front. Predictably, nothing of significance happens to alter the socio-economic condition of the people, and then they turn themselves into an internal opposition. A disaffected worker led by Cosatu, will in the next election again be asked to vote for the ANC alliance. The threats are meant to convince the voting public that, in fact, in Vavi and Malema we have the real representatives of the people. All that is required is to give them another chance.

What is often not understood is that without these internal battles, the ANC alliance will simply die; exposed for what it really is. It is these internal battles and manufactured discourses that keep it going. As long as these battles are contained as family feuds the hegemony of the ANC is guaranteed and real alternatives are crowded out. This is so because the epicentre of politics of governance, corruption, and opposition reside within the same entity.

At the end of the day there is no Left or nationalism in the ANC alliance, there are only losers and winners. The winners go on to run the ANC’s project of neo-colonialism. No land will be re-distributed, if nationalisation happens or whatever version of it, it will be about benefiting the politically connected. It’s about time we moved beyond ANC alliance rhetoric and see it for what it is. I doubt if analysts will have the intellectual creativity and rigor to pierce through the veil of meaningless labels.


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 16th, 2010 @11:46 #

    So very glad this was crossposted - quite an insightful piece, I found. The tripartite alliance taking its cue from pro wrestling!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    September 16th, 2010 @23:16 #

    I don't always agree with Andile Mngxitama, but found myself cheering throughout this piece...


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