Monday, October 13, 2008

Is an ANC Split Good News?

Undoubtedly it's fascinating to watch the South African political soap opera right now. Certainly the shake up has been the fresh ingredient that we've needed for some years, even if it serves to give the public a fresh view on where we are as a country and where we need to be.

In my opinion, the ANC's troubles are simple: their 1994 promises were extravagant and misleading, suggesting a kind of growth that was never going to be possible, let alone using the flawed socialist tactics employed. The ANC now walks under that repercussion, and not only them but every other scapegoat available, whether foreigners or sporting emblems. That a party that seemed so strong in one moment could be so fiercely divided is a remarkable turn of events.

Without much thinking, it would seem that both South Africa and the ACDP would welcome a split. The reasons are numerous. First of all, it would break some of the ANC's momentum in building one-party government. Despite their "consultation" propaganda, the experience of ACDP councillors, MP's and MPL's is that the ANC steamrolls legislation through the various councils and blissfully ignores the comments and contributions of the other parties. Without their two-thirds majority, the ANC would have to engage in an unprecedented amount of dialogue, consultation and compromise with the other parties, leading to more balanced legislation that does indeed reflect the country's views more accurately (which it certainly doesn't now). Voters who had normally marked an ANC box without thought may now have to pay more attention to what their party stands for.

A split would have huge ramifications for the ANC's once stable financial base. My suspicion is that many of the "old school" BEE benefactors would stick with the "old school", namely Mbeki and his cohorts. This wouldn't solve the ACDP's constant quest for investment, but it might limit the ANC's ability to churn out large events with t-shirts for everyone.

That is only half the story. How will the ANC handle this kind of conflict? Will we see unprecedented hostility in parliament, such as that being seen in Zimbabwe? How far away could we be from seeing Malema's words put to work? In fact, if you think the ANC has a problem with slow delivery now, imagine if they have to turn their attention to actually compete for an election. As an example, the US elections steal huge amounts of time, investment and effort from actually getting the job done. In some senses the ACDP would rather that the ANC falls asleep at election time.

Of interest in the ANC's disquiet is a possible return to a sense of tribalism, something that they seemed to have steered clear of for so long. Perhaps the ACDP's multiracial support and leadership will stand out more clearly if the ANC walks down this road?

I must admit that a possible split does not cast fear into me. Our democracy is some 14 years old, and the fact the ANC has been willing to induct change is good news (think Mugabe). While attention-seekers like Malema can make disturbing comments, perhaps our structures are strong enough for now to withstand that kind of flexing. At this point I do hope the split goes ahead, but as ever, let's keep our eyes open and watch the signs.

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