The May Day celebrations were muted this year as ANC factions licked their wounds and tried to determine what the Good News message could be to members and the electorate after their acrimonious split at the party conference ten days ago.
A year of crippling strikes has already delayed construction of major facilities for next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa and been the catalyst for the split in the ruling ANC’s political ranks.
On one side are the employed ranks of the former ANC who favour strong economic growth. On the opposing side appear to be the majority of unemployed South Africans, who still number more than ten million. Trade union members are confused and at this stage split down the middle – but the formal alliance between the ANC, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party is over.
It is still unclear what the potential consequences are, but the new (still to be formally named) ‘ANC Labour Party’ has already voiced its concern that the splinter ‘ANC Socialists’ will disrupt the build up to, and the staging of, the World Cup.
“What the Socialists are suggesting is a dangerous political game and economic suicide. All South Africans should be working together to get the facilities up and running early. This is a showpiece for the whole African continent,” said outgoing South African President Thabo Mbeki.
With a general election only months away, both sides are still using the powerful ANC ‘brand’, it’s just too influential and no one party has the courage to ditch it.
If the strikes and discord continue for the coming months it will leave FIFA no choice but to move the Cup from South Africa to another country with existing facilities. The German FA has already offered to step in.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
The Tripartite Alliance
The Tripartite Alliance, an uncomfortable marriage between the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), and the SA Communist Party (SACP) – one of the last active Communist parties in the world – is an old relationship.
It was set up in 1969, while the ANC was still in exile. The structures are more formally cemented in the heady months after February 2000, when the then-President of South Africa, FW de Klerk, stuns the world by unbanning the ANC and other liberation movements, including the SACP, paving the way for SA’s first democratic elections. But cracks start showing soon after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, which sweeps the ANC, then led by Nelson Mandela to power.
1994: ANC sweeps to power
The ANC soars into power in 1994 – and reality dawns.
There’s a great difference between an alliance of parties in exile and opposition; and the reality of an alliance where one of the parties is the government of the day, facing all the hard decisions of running a modern country dependent on a first-world economy.
“From this point on,” wrote political researcher Dr Dale T McKinley, “the ANC’s Alliance partners, COSATU and the SACP, were no longer simply the other two-thirds of the Alliance as a liberation movement, but part of a governing coalition whose allegiance would be to the political party form of the ANC as government.”
1998: Alliance cracks showing
While apartheid was enforced, there was a common and clearly identifiable enemy. But, with apartheid gone, old grievances come to the fore. The National Union of Mineworkers, one of the more militant trade union bodies, argued for the dissolution of the alliance in 1993, even before the 1994 elections, on the basis that the trade union movement, to properly represent its members, would need to be independent of whatever political party was in power.
The argument is never formally adopted – but never quite forgotten either. Particularly as the ANC in power starts a steady move towards the market economy.
And promises are broken. Part of the agreed structure of the alliance is that meetings will be held regularly. But after 18 months of ANC rule, not a single strategic meeting of the alliance, at any level, has been held. Yet it will take another few years before the Cosatu and SACP leadership openly express their dissatisfaction.
The year 1999 sees the introduction of the National Growth and Development Strategy, which declares that growth is the number one socio-economic priority in South Africa. And before those ripples even settle, the ANC launches GEAR – the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme, which firmly embraces free-market capitalism.
1999: ANC returned to power
Yet, for a variety of reasons, both the SACP and Cosatu hold the alliance, and firmly back the ANC into another landslide win in the 1999 elections. Bolstered by its victory, the ANC sweeps aside worker wage demands and continues along its free-market road.
South Africa awakes again to the sight of violence in the streets, as workers vent their frustrations. Striking municipal workers trash shops and vehicles. Other unions follow. The rainbow honeymoon is clearly over.
The appointment of Thabo Mbeki as South African President in 1999, pours petrol on the flames. Mbeki’s cold and autocratic style of leadership further alienates both the SACP and Cosatu, as well as many within the ANC.
2004: Alliance in bitter public disputes>
In December 2004, business news service I-Net Bridge reports that the alliance is likely to face major strain in 2005 in what most analysts call ‘a marriage of convenience’. Cosatu expresses solidarity with its union counterparts in Zimbabwe, and openly questions the ANC’s policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’.
By this stage the dispute between the parties has become bitter and public, with ANC national spokesperson Smuts Ngoyama launching an angry personal attack on Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. All it needs is a spark…
2005: Jacob Zuma fired as Deputy President
Then, on 14 June 2005, President Mbeki announces to a stunned South Africa that Deputy President Jacob Zuma has been ‘released’ from his duties after a court finds his financial adviser guilty of corruption and fraud – and states that Zuma had a “generally corrupt relationship” with his adviser.
Anger breaks out in the populist wing of the ANC, and within SACP and Cosatu ranks, where Zuma is a respected and admired leader. The forces of the left have found their rallying point.
Mbeki dispatches senior ANC leaders around the country to calm the troops. But resentment runs deep. This, coupled to mounting anger among the nation’s poor at the lack of service delivery and high levels of corruption, particularly at local government level, plunges the ANC into bitter strife.
Reports the Sunday Times: “Zuma’s supporters expressed their dismay at Mbeki’s decision by disrupting June 16 commemoration rallies across the country. In Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, they pelted Premier S’bu Ndebele – a political ally of Mbeki – with bottles and stones, forcing him to leave the event early. At an ANC Youth League rally crowds chanted anti-Mbeki and pro-Zuma slogans, while the former deputy president did a prolonged lap of honour around the field.”
Then, in another bombshell, Zuma is charged with rape – with the alleged victim none other than an HIV-positive family friend and ‘daughter of the revolution’. South Africa watches entranced as the former Deputy President exposes his sexual habits – including his infamous shower after having sex with the HIV-infected young woman.
Ugly mob scenes mark the trial, with Zuma supporters threatening the life of his accuser and turning on anti-rape activists outside the court. But inside the courtroom, a different scenario unfolds. On 8 March 2006, Zuma is found not guilty.
2006: Succession battle launched
Zuma launches himself into the ANC succession debate, demanding – and winning – his reinstatement as deputy president of the party, if not the country. The battle for the soul of the ANC has begun.
In a week of high drama, first the Youth League, then Cosatu, then the SACP launch vicious attacks on Mbeki’s presidency. Reports Business Day:
“Cosatu warned against what it called a ‘slide towards dictatorship’ and the use of ‘state resources to settle political contradictions’. This is a veiled reference to the impending corruption trial of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, which the federation says is a ‘political trial’ trumped up to stop Zuma from assuming the party’s presidency next year. The SACP, which has also backed Zuma during his legal troubles, said Mbeki had amassed an ‘inordinate’ amount of power in his presidency and sidelined the ANC and its allies.”
With those words – that Mbeki had “sidelined the ANC and its allies” – the die is cast.
2007: ANC fails to defuse succession row
The country, increasingly rocked by strikes, civil disturbances and political squabbling, watches hopefully as the ANC gathers in December 2007 for its national congress. The hope is that a clear-cut successor to President Mbeki as head of the ANC and president-elect will emerge, thus ending the bitter, divisive battle for succession which has torn the party apart and rippled into almost every aspect of SA life.
By almost sheer force of will, Mbeki engineers the election of compromise candidate Kgalema Motlantheke, formerly general secretary of the ANC. Appointed by the slimmest of majorities, Motlantheke’s first gesture as President of the ANC is to extend the olive branch to all sides.
But, despite his obvious intellect and organizational strengths, he clearly lacks the popular support, charisma and, most importantly, the hard-core socialist leanings that both the SACP and Cosatu cadres are looking for.
Strikes sweep through the economy. Protest marches become commonplace on city streets, often accompanied by indiscriminate violence and looting, as police and security forces, themselves divided, dither in response. Civil unrest breaks out in squatter camps and informal settlements, as millions of unemployed people protest at poor service delivery, and their exclusion from the economy.
For the first time since the dark days of apartheid, multinational companies, including car giants BMW and Mercedes, raise the ugly prospect of disinvestment from South Africa.
2008: Cosatu backs SACP
As civil unrest spreads, economic confidence slips and the bitter squabble within the alliance hangs over virtually every aspect of South Africa.
And, as the deadline for completion of facilities for the 2010 Soccer World Cup looms, FIFA warns that it might have to move the event from South Africa. But not even this cools tempers.
Then, in 2008, comes a body blow. Cosatu announces that, should the alliance split, it will back the SACP to stand against the ANC in the 2009 elections.
2009: Tripartite alliance collapses
Inevitably, the split comes, at the ANC’s 2009 congress, ahead of the 2009 general elections. Cosatu and the SACP break away to form a yet-to-be-named socialist party, determined to overturn labour reforms and reverse privatization and other free-market shifts by the ANC.
A shaken President Mbeki and President-elect Motlantheke grimly face the prospect of a popular uprising against the party that everyone thought would lead South Africa for decades to come. And they face the shameful prospect of losing the prestigious 2010 World Cup, into which billions of rands have already been invested. This will be an international blow from which South Africa will struggle for decades to recover.