Below is an interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Stephanie Naidoo had with Political Analyst, Professor Sipho Seepe, on his analysis of the current state of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC).
Interviewer: In your opinion, what needs to happen within the ANC; it has become a Party at war with itself. How does the ANC extricate itself from this mess?
Prof. Sipho Seepe: I think the ANC must stop the romance with the idea of the “broad church”, and also of the alliance. It needs to revisit what gave rise to both the broad church, and the alliance. Because, the conditions that gave rise to that, are conditions rooted in the past; under conditions of oppression, and under conditions of apartheid, and it was very clear that the common denominator, or the common enemy, was apartheid. Now, with apartheid gone, and living in the context of democracy, that threat is gone. So, the ANC must reinvent itself. And reinvention means, it must look at the forms of alliances it has created, because as matters stand, most of the strands that make the broad church, are often in contradiction. For instance, the ANC accommodates the views advanced by Communists. At the same time, it accommodates views advanced by Capitalists, it also advances views by Internationalists, and the Nationalists, Africanists, Liberals. So, all these “strands” pursue a particular interest, both economically and politically. The ANC has been trying to manage these different tendencies within its self, and most of the energy it spends is within that space; and with every result, the contradictions are so deep, that the concept of a broad church must be looked at.
The second issue it should also look into, is the alliance. The ANC is a multi-class organisation, and COSATU is a party for workers; looking at the working class. The ANC cannot accommodate all the interests of the working class because it must also give voice to the other classes that do not belong to the working class; that creates another contradiction. So, it can tell you that it is more inclined towards the working class, which is good because it is largely about the majority, which is African. But, still, you have the contradictions.
Then, you have a party like the SACP, who’s public posture right now, is no longer about anything outside the ANC. Whenever the SACP takes a position – it is always about Jacob Zuma, about the Guptas, about the ANC; and, it has been given too much air time. So, the ANC needs to ask itself, whether the marriage, has become of ‘marriage of inconvenience’. Those are fundamental questions that the ANC must ask. The second issue that it must address its self to is looking at the new interests and challenges that democracy spawns. The ANC subscribes to something it calls Democratic Centralism, which says that center will dictate. But when you have a large group like the ANC – it needs to wake up to the reality that under democracy, especially with rights that people have individuality and that are entrenched in the Constitution, some of those frustrate this sense of thinking that you can control everybody. So, it needs to look at those aspects before it can move forward.
It must then, also ask itself whether it is indeed empowered to deal with today’s challenges. The ANC has spent the last 105 years pursuing a political struggle. What we need now, is a party that will be allies, and capable of dealing with issues of economic emancipation. And the skills that it has used, and it has mastered, throughout the political struggle, may not be the skills that are required if one were to advance the idea of economic transformation. And lastly, it must also move away from the rhetoric that says “it will deliver everything; it will stop overpromising” because some of the problems that we have, come from that. Finally, it must deal, simply, with the issues of corruption, because it is corruption that has allowed its various strands to find common cause with groupings that are historically anti-ANC.
Where do you think that the ANC “went wrong”?
I would not say that it went wrong, but what it did, was not wake-up to the reality that democracy unleashes, or spawns, new contradictions and new challenges, and, some of the methods and approaches which it had under conditions of exile and oppression will no longer be applicable. But also, it must allow itself and some of its members to leave; not to remain in the ANC. What it does, unfortunately, is accommodate everybody; no political party can survive accommodating everybody. And, that is why parties that are stable, have a clear position, and they pursue it; they may make some adjustments here and there, but with the ANC, it is a mess of internal coordination. So effectively, it is a victim of both its past, and democracy.
In your opinion, will the ANC win the 2019 elections?
I have no doubt that the ANC still has traction on the ground. What will happen is, once it can resolve its leadership challenges – all the grouping in the ANC, including those who have lost; will wake up to the reality that you need to support the outcome, and that often happens in most organisations. But in the end, the parties tend to rally around the winner, and the most disgruntled people will then leave the party, and go and from their own, like we have found with COPE; the ANC has a history of also chastising the grouping that were Pan-Africanist, which ultimately led to the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. These things should be expected as part of an historical inevitability. So, the ANC must first stop deluding itself into thinking that the format and the structures that it has build under apartheid, are sustainable in the context of democracy. But, I do not doubt, that it could still contain a few number of strands, which would allow it to still be in control of the national government in 2019.
How do you anticipate opposition parties will respond to a slight drop in support of the ANC?
We already have a sense where coalitions are a probability, and those coalitions could also be ANC signing common coalitions on a common cause with other organisations; that is a reality. What defines a coalition will be whether the coalition will serve the interests of the constituencies that support those parties. At the moment, what we have is an anger issue between the ANC and the EFF. The EFF is not closer to the DA, it is closer to the ANC, but because of, what I may call, the “divorce issues”, issues are more personal – that is why Julius Malema, from time to time, says “if the ANC can get rid of Jacob Zuma, the EFF will have no problem in being in coalition, or returning to the ANC”, but this says, then the ANC will be a different ‘kettle of fish’.
I think, the ANC must pat itself on the back that it has spawned a number of parties. When the founders of the ANC came into being, they imagined a multi-party democracy, and the ANC, and a number of groupings in Parliament, today, are offshoots of the ANC. It is only the DA, and Freedom Front Plus, that you could say have not had a common cause, in the past, with the ANC. The others, starting with IFP, UDM, the EFF and COPE, were offshoots of the ANC. All of these groupings are groupings that emerged from the deep contradictions which democracy has unleashed within the organisation. So, if the original intention of the ANC was to create a multi-party democracy, it should say, its witnesses have also been strands to the visions that it had to create a multi-party democracy.