Ruling party’s populism – such a clever trick

Just how broad a church is a broad church?

The ANC and the Congress Movement has always liked to refer to itself as “a broad church” – which basically means that people of different ideological persuasions should be able to find a home within the movement.

The Ruling Alliance is giving new definition to ‘broadness” – and no, this is not a joke about expanding waistlines in the ruling party (which is, frankly, no joke at all.)

Both Genghis Kahn and Mother Theresa would have found a home somewhere in the ‘Ruling Alliance’ – that is: the African National Congress (with its Youth League and Women’s League and uMkhonto we Sizwe vets), Cosatu (and its myriad affiliates) and the South African Communist Party (with its Young Communists League).

Last night the ANC Youth League came out in support of the solidiers who had clashed with police in Pretoria two weeks ago. This after the ANC’s Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Defence, threatened them with the full extent of the law – and quite right she was, too.

But the point is, it’s such a clever trick!

You can have ministers and leaders as diverse as telecoms minister Siphiwe Nyanda and SACP secretary general and Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande grossing out on the most expensive luxury cars in the world and you can have Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general of Cosatu, attacking them for it. All comfortably within the same government.

This really does give new meaning to having your cake and eating it.

When a political movement is able to claim that it represents everyone, it represents no-one. Without a set of policies upon which a party can agree, the party replaces “politics” with “power”. If the ANC is not working for a set of policies and ideas then the hidden drivers can become power, wealth and patronage. What else is Julius Malema doing around the same table as Cyril Ramaphosa? What do they have in common? It seems to me that all they have in common is the hope that the Ruling Alliance stays the ruling alliance.

In the real world humans have a host of competing interests; and democracy, parliament  and the law is a system for mediating those differences.

So what interests has the Ruling Alliance got in common for which it is prepared to suppress differences of ideology and policy? 

There are only two possible answers:

  1. The Ruling Alliance suppresses differences because the broad agenda of transformation is too important to derail for tactical differences and clashes of class and ethnic interests.
  2. The Ruling Alliance suppresses differences of ideology, politics and policy because the benefits (in terms of money, property, power and/or prestige) of participating in government is more important for the individuals and groups concerned.

This is a straightforward clash between being motivated by individual greed and being motivated by concerns for the wellbeing of the struggling majority of South Africans.

I have no doubt that both these tendencies are true and struggling for dominance within The Alliance – and even within individuals within The Alliance. Ultimately one or other of such tendencies must become dominant.

The Polokwane revolution and the new Zuma administration presented themselves as favouring the former (saam staan for transformation) tendency. Not much supports this contention. I, for one, am waiting with (a)bated breath to see which way this thing is heading.

4 thoughts on “Ruling party’s populism – such a clever trick

  1. At the COSATU congress yesterday, Blade Nzimande talked of feeling ‘anger that our organization has suffered intolerable abuse and pain’ and happy that the ANC has been ‘rescued from the clutches of the 1996 class project’. He talked of a ‘new atmosphere of tolerance, openness and respect.’ But this was not evident at the ANC provincial conference in East London last week. The ANC conference last weekend in the Eastern Cape was hardly a demonstration of populist unity. There were clearly two factions competing and not showing much tolerance to each other. Far from being hegemonic, the ‘left’ faction only narrowly won the election for provincial leadership with their slate of candidates. So what happens to those who lost the election? Are they now considered ‘the enemy’?

    At a time when we are burying the remains of comrades which have been brought back to Port Elizabeth after 24 and 27 years, I find it hard to deal with this kind of division within the movement.

    JZ was sitting in the same cabinet and the same NEC with Mbeki for the past fifteen years. He was of course a senior leader of the movement. Was he silenced? Who in the ANC spoke up against these so-called ‘abuses’? Who else was a victim (not forgetting the countless peope who died of AIDS and those who starved or died of disease in Zimbabwe)? Who perpetrated these ‘abuses’ if not our own democratically elected leaders?

    This is appalling language, language only to be used about the former apartheid regime, not about our own comrades in struggle over decades.

    This is Nzimande who suspended committed socialist comrades from the Party for planning to hold an independent debate. Is he really a Stalinist? Many of us who are proud to be on the ‘left’, who were critical of Mbeki’s policies (and were sometimes shut up for this) and who continue to think independently, will be watching closely to see whether the ANC will be able to reconstitute itself as a truly democratic organization.

  2. Hey Janet, I’m delighted that you have contribute to this blog … I was getting desperate ….. I agree wholeheartedly. I am horrified at the tone of certain Cosatu neophytes attacking some traditions and leaders while carrying around big posters of OR Tambo (did you see that?) Perhaps there is some vestige of a sort of political chauvinism in me, but it is difficult not to see this as a hyjack attempt. Vavi espouses a politics (if not an ideology) that was foreign to the Congress movement as it survived into the 1980’s. The Polokwane moment was a number of different things – good and bad – but it was also the moment that proved the ultra-left wrong: entrism was not such a bad strategy for their programme after all.

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