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The ANC’s final ‘kick for touch’

Aug 08 2017 09:04
Daniel Silke

IT'S one thing for an ANC MP to want President Jacob Zuma to step down. But it’s quite another issue altogether for that same ANC MP to want his or her party to lose power, split or be irrevocably weakened. This is at the crux of the motion of no confidence slated for Tuesday in Parliament.

It really is quite simple. While there is a growing group of discontents among the ANC caucus, the mere fact that the motion is essentially an Opposition (Democratic Alliance) sponsored motion would be enough to keep most supportive of the mother ship (the African National Congress) rather than see Opposition score their biggest victory in post-apartheid South Africa.

To expect a ruling political party in any country with well over 50% of the national support to allow the Opposition to claim the scalp of a sitting president is naïve. That some ANC MPs will apparently side with the no confidence vote is an indication of severe internal strain – but a brave handful it would be.

The ANC is far from cohesive any more. The alliance itself is at its weakest ever. But it is the party in power. Yes, power has benefited connected elites and state capture has perverted good governance across the board resulting in deep fissures and factions.

Still, a damaged brand like that of the ANC still retains political power and any attempt to weaken it will be viewed by most ANC MPs as an effort by the opposition to force an early election in the hope that voters will switch sufficiently to end overall ANC rule.

ANC MPs may face a dilemma. They may be deeply disturbed at their own party’s decline. But it is unlikely they want to lose power. Their choice is therefore not whether to support President Zuma or not – it is to support the continuation of the ANC in power.

As if this is not enough reason to defeat the 7th attempt at a no confidence vote in President Zuma, the timing of the vote – some five months before the ANC’s elective conference - affords depressed MPs a more ‘natural’ chance to recalibrate its leadership.

Natural clean-out in December

MPs have little incentive to rock their career boat by voting against their own president when there is a distinct chance that a leadership clean-out may occur naturally in December. The ANC has a natural succession process and that should be sufficient to allow MPs and the broader membership a chance to elect a broad swath of new party bosses.

Had that conference been a year or two away, perhaps there might have been a desire to shake the proverbial tree, but it's only 150 days to that event anyway. A party will always prefer its own constitution and internal processes to deal with such critical issues rather than allow more public, politically partisan theatrics to dictate the course of action.

Thirdly, should the motion carry, the ANC would be forced to find a suitable interim leader in an immediate 30-day period which will be fraught with deep political drama and almost unbearable tension. It may be a time when already announced candidates vie for power, an interim compromise candidate like Kgalema Motlanthe once again steps in temporarily, or the ANC national executive committee who remain largely supportive of President Zuma take action of their own which can open the already festering fissures within the party.

The bottom line is that supporting the motion of no-confidence unleashes possible unintended consequences that can upend due process in a number of different ways and can cause irreparable harm to party cohesiveness.

While numerically, the opposition needs about 50 ANC MPs to turn rogue, it may well need many more should some MPs decide to be absent, ill or away on ‘urgent’ business. This makes a mutiny with the desired numbers increasingly unlikely.

While a secret ballot will afford some minimal protection to a band of dissenters, its secrecy is otherwise likely to have little impact on the final outcome.

But there is one exception. Should a block of ANC MPs feel as though the December conference will fail to oust a faction not of their choosing, this block could mobilise for a late-in-the-day mutiny to shake up their own party and attempt an internal revolt to short-circuit the December elective conference.

Dissenting MPs would therefore use Tuesday's DA-introduced motion to change the dynamic within the ANC and precipitate a political crisis in the process.

That is another risky strategy and one that would seem possible – but hardly probable.

The opposition has been right to take the motion to the National Assembly and the country. They have already sown seeds of deep unease in the once monolithic party of liberation. But the ANC is more likely to seek to reclaim control of this most unedifying period in its entire history, than allow its own future course to be dictated by its political enemies.

If it is unable to restore its own internal processes in dealing with its own leadership and internal failings, it will be weakened even more rapidly. The ANC has a chance in December to do the right thing.

This Tuesday it will kick for touch once again. But this might be the last time it finds its touch.

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