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The challenge of reinvention of liberation movements in nation formation vs the slate politics, division and factionalism

By Paul T. Shipale
The campaign for the Presidential and National Assembly elections has started in earnest, with all parties having gone through their electoral colleges, while many also launched their Election Manifestos. Already, some have started to campaign calling others 'confused', etc. however, is it really about confusion or a moment in the transition of the party from a nationalist liberation movement to 'partystate?

According to A Review Essay on the Challenge of Reinvention in the Postcolonial African National Congress after Apartheid by Laurence Piper, on May 28, 2014, the African National Congress, Africa's oldest and most famous liberation movement is going through such transition.

This is the key common theme of a number of otherwise diverse books recently published on the ANC by Susan Booysen, 2011, " The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power"; Anthony Butler, 2012, " The Idea of the ANC"; Stephen Ellis, 2012, "External Mission: The ANC in Exile": Jonathan Ball and Arianna Lissoni, Jon Soske, Natasha Erlank, Noor Nieftagodien and Omar Badsha (eds), 2012; " One Hundred Years of the ANC: Debating Liberation Histories Today".

In what follows Piper reviews the arguments of these books as part of a widely made case that the ANC is going through a transition from a nationalist liberation movement to 'partystate'. Thus, at the heart of Piper's analysis will be a distinction between the political and normative projects of the ANC, largely conjoined in the nationalist vision of the anti-apartheid struggle, and now disaggregated.

Simply put, during the struggle years, opposition to apartheid defined both the ANC political and normative projects. It sought to end the apartheid system and morally opposed its oppressive and exploitative character. With the demise of apartheid, the moral project has diversified. The divergent visions of the socio-economic future of South Africa pull in different directions and are exacerbated by emergent processes of class formation, and internal competition for office. These ideological and social divisions also add great complexity, and enduring uncertainty, to coalition formation within the party.

Central to the ANC's ideology of National Democratic Revolution is the notion that colonialism in South Africa was of 'a special type' that combined settler racism and capitalist exploitation. Hence liberation would require two phases, the political liberation from racism and a second phase of liberation from capitalist exploitation through using democratic state power. Where the advent of democracy in 1994 is seen by many ANC intellectuals as securing political power, it is widely recognised as not securing economic change. The debate centres on the extent to which the compromises made in negotiations leading up to the new Constitution of 1996 have 'deferred' economic liberation by protecting the inherently skewed ownership patterns of private property, and partly by reintegrating these into the international capitalist order.

Southall's chapter is one of the few that takes seriously the political sociology of the ANC, other than Philip Bonner's keynote address at the beginning of One Hundred Years of the ANC. Here Bonner argues that the history of the ANC struggle has been defined in no small measure by its ability to re-imagine itself in response to the contextual significance of four social groups: traditional leaders, the black middle classes, the urban masses, often lionised in struggle discourse, but whose influence, while often dramatic and important, was also episodic; and the rural masses who are more socially conservative, with negative impact on gender relations and ethnic or 'tribal' identity politics within the ANC.

According to Piper, the developmental model has seen inequality widened by jobless growth while poverty has been reduced mainly through an ever-expanding provision of social grants. Black Economic Empowerment policies have sought racially to transform capital, with some moderate success. Combined with the racial transformation and growth of the state, the effect has been to produce a rapidly growing state-linked black middle (and upper-middle) class as described by Southall. At the same time, urbanisation has grown significantly resulting in the growth in informal settlements of the poor in the cities. The question is; can the ANC reinvent itself to capture this growing energy? Or will new social movements and political parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) come to champion the urban poor?

In his keynote address published in 100 Years of the ANC, party intellectual Joel Netshitenzhe characterises the ANC as 'a critical ingredient of the glue that holds the South African nation together' (p. 15). This sentiment is echoed by Butler when he concludes that it is the ANC that must lead South Africa away from the threats of populist decline to 'liberation through modernity'. Perhaps most compellingly of all, Booysen demonstrates how and why the ANC is likely to retain political power for some time to come. Much clearly depends on the ANC's ability to deal with the internal pathologies of the 'party-state' and, at the same time, advance a growth coalition with business and labour inclusive enough of the middle classes and urban poor to work.

In 'From Right to Might: A Crisis of Faith, Not Power', Lissoni and her colleagues demonstrate, and most can agree that the former liberation movements have successfully reinvented themselves in the past. The challenges they face are what to do with state power. Partly this is a story about factionalism linked to internal struggles for power. However, partly this is also a story about ideological differences and contested visions of what to do to realise the 'second phase' of economic liberation in an era of neoliberal globalisation. The value and relevance of this at this moment in our country's history cannot be overstated.

It goes to the heart of the issues with which we, as a nation, are grappling. Central among these is the task of uniting all around a common programme of change that addresses the significant social and economic challenges that still hinder our progress towards a society in which all may experience a better quality of life. To avoid difference, disunity and destruction we need to foster a political and social climate that promotes unity and harnesses our productive and constructive energy. The question is; how do we interpret the imperatives of intra-party and wider democracy and their relationship to poverty.

How do we deal with an approach to social dialogue in a country which is premised on each sector demanding its pound of flesh, without regard to the hard choices that have to be made in different phases of our development trajectory? How do we narrow the divide between the gilded mansions and the craggy shacks in terms of income, access to health, education and the asset base? Most importantly, when , how, why, who, what and which divergence and rivalry opened the pernicious Pandora's box of exclusion, disunity, impunity and which-hunt in our political discourse which brought this selfdestructiveness seed of the prevailing sense of discord and distrust?

The answer to this question will show that all points of analysis will converge on a certain slate and lay bare the disturbing fact that some were clandestinely crafting an opposite path which brought about this brain fog, fuzzy thinking and collective memory loss of a sense of social justice, solidarity as well as unity of action and purpose, which transformed some into a den of political scoundrels where a dangling carrot is reachable when they punch below the belt and are rewarded handsomely, while others, see their social upward mobility covertly eclipsed. Surely, those who are now accusing others of confusion, are part and parcel as two peas in the pot of this brain fog and fuzzy thinking.

This was also COSATU's response to the ANC's discussion paper on Organisational Renewal, on 22 June 2012, when the affiliated union said, the main reason why leadership is weakened sometimes is when leaders become a product of slate politics, divisions and factionalism.

COSATU affirmed that in some cases leadership that emerges from a divided conference finds it very difficult to outgrow the factional past and dissolve the factions they led and or belonged to before the last conference. This is why we must reject the circulating of slates, which can lead to talented individuals who do not belong in a 'correct slate' or 'camp' being side-lined and their talents not utilised for the common good of the organisation and country. Instead members of the winning camp, in a real 'winnertakes- all' mentality, deploy themselves in both government and the organisation so that they can defend their slate in the next congress.

According to COSATU, unless we change this mind-set, we may find ourselves in a vicious cycle where the slate that won in the previous conference is perpetually fortifying its forts and defending itself from the slate that lost out. These energy- usurping processes not only defocus us from our real tasks but leads to paralysis, as no one is prepared to act against the camp that they will need permanently. Furthermore, this vicious cycle is a breeding ground for mediocrity, tolerance or even defence of the indefensible by loyal factions which then results in the people's vanguard movement losing the respect built by the generation before.

In this case, the organisation and leadership ceases to be principled and loses respect since it does not stand for anything but a factional agenda. This point was raised forcefully and penned by Joel Netshitendzhe, an ANC Party intellectual, on competing identities of a national liberation movement versus electoral party politics the challenges of incumbency. According to Netshitendzhe, the biggest fear is that slate politics, divisions and factionalism leads to 'local mediators to mass constituencies' who will arrive in a conference and instead of using it as a platform of reflection, will reduce it into a narrow leadership contest. In this case, in the post-conference you will have a defeated slate that launches its campaign towards the next conference. Eventually the party will use all its energies in internal battles.

COSATU then concluded saying that "We must not only give a cursory and ultimately unsatisfactory consideration of the questions posed about the history and political life-span of other movements throughout the continent and beyond: on how did they survive or fail the litmus test of being the torchbearers of their own societies? The people ought to seriously engage this discussion with openness, self-criticism and frankness. Anything to the contrary only delays us in adequately responding to the challenges we face and nipping some of these corrosive tendencies in the bud."

In another opinion by Zweli Mkhize, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and Premier of KZN, on 30 October 2012, in a presentation titled "Lessons for the ANC from Polokwane Conference", he said "Looking back at the 52nd conference of the ANC in 2007, after all tempers had cooled, it became clear that we had trodden on a forbidden path. For the ANC members who were devastated by the outcome of Presidential elections, it was honestly understandable.

The ANC had allowed the anger of its members to rise to unacceptably high levels on a matter that is part of the organizational culture such as leadership changes. The underlying tensions had not been addressed in time. If a conference is fed with divisions, it produces a fray of factional bundles that are difficult to resolve when there are losers and winners who share hatred and bitterness." Mkhize further cautioned saying "The pre- Polokwane divisions were immeasurably wide, the leadership contest was fierce and the scars were too deep. The topmost leaders had lost capacity to intervene and bring all sides to sober senses. The rules of civility in internal engagements were thrown out of the window and nobody had the courage to plug the haemorrhaging artery of the organizational values.

The seeds of the formation of COPE were germinating long before the conference and the recall of President Thabo Mbeki. The ANC has to take all necessary precautions to avoid that route at all cost in the future." Thus, we stand at the cusp of decision. Whether we tip in the direction of faster progress depends to a large measure on whether we unlock the talent of our youth. To achieve this, we need to harness that cocktail of youth, experience and ability that makes works of genius possible.

We need to pull together in a synergized fashion towards the same end goal that is accepted and embraced by all. Let us not try to score cheap political points in our campaigns but tell the truth and let the people democratically elect their leaders. One thing is for sure, it is not a matter of confusion but a transition from liberation movement to a party, and the SWAPO struggle has been defined in no small measure by its ability to re-imagine itself and is likely to retain political power for some time to come to lead the country away from the threats of populist decline to 'liberation through modernity' as 'a critical ingredient of the glue that holds the nation together'.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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