For better or for worse, the national leadership of the ANC has decided to dissolve the provincial executive committee of the organisation in the Western Cape. Ironically through the media, the now disbanded provincial leadership had to learn, like the rest of us, that their time in office had already expired and that the functioning of the structure as well as the “growing internal disintegration turn [sic] to play itself out in the public, making it difficult for the PEC to discharge its duties.”
Contrary to what some analysts have suggested, infighting and factionalism in the ANC’s Western Cape province did not start in 2009. One can trace divisions from the late nineties and the party going into provincial government through a coalition with the New National Party did not assist in any way.
The research has shown that there was a period when a ceasefire in fighting was called during the first coalition phase, 1999 to 2004. However, immediately after winning a majority in the province, the second coalition 2004 to 2009 and now equipped with resources to dispense patronage, the factions fell out again.
The results of this infighting was evident in the 2006 Local Government Elections with the factions in the City of Cape and Province being out of sync with each other. The collapse of the party came at the 2008 provincial conference. The results of successive elections in the province 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016 and no doubt 2019, all indicate the electorate’s displeasure with the infighting.
While the ANC in the Western Cape has been able to court the vote outside the City of Cape Town as well as the Coloured middle strata in the City, its base remains African townships throughout the province. Barring the gains made by the EFF in these past elections and which now poses the greatest threat to the ANC in their strongholds, the ANC’s base vote, both the Coloured rural vote as well as the African vote, has weakened as the infighting strengthened.
But the typical ANC voter in the Western Cape, in the main, is not voting for other parties but rather simply staying away on elections day. Certainly, one or two percent of the ANC vote went to smaller parties such as the ATM, LAND, ATA but the data indicates that the biggest decline in electoral support for the ANC, a national phenomenon at that, was due to ANC voters staying away from the polls. This is how ANC voters display their dissatisfaction.
Put differently, no other party, especially in the Western Cape, has been able to win the hearts and minds of the African voter in the province. The Coloured middle strata and rural vote has given the DA a chance but are generally not impressed with the party. As the 2019 elections showed in metro areas such as Athlone and surrounds, Parklands and the Southern Suburbs, the ANC does stand a chance to recapture the minds, if only they got their house in order.
As a consequence, the ANC, especially in the Western Cape, continues to represent some of the poorest of the citizens in the province.
The national leadership of the ANC will therefore do well this time round to appoint fresh faces to the provincial task team. Hopefully, they will not commit the same mistake as they did in 2009, when the national structure dissolved the provincial leadership at the time, by appointing people who have been part of the infighting since the 1999 days. What we should see is a fresh crop of cadres that were nowhere near the leadership of the 1999-2009 period. Anything other than that would be repeating the mistakes of 2009 and the provincial conferences of 2011 and 2015.
This new crop of leaders will then be able to bring new ideas to the ANC in the province and re-connect with the voter, especially in ANC strongholds. This will ensure a committed programme of action which will see the rebuilding of the organisation and lead to better electoral confidence. The ANC in the Western Cape has no other choice. For the past twenty-five years they have had no competition in their areas besides voters staying away. Now with the EFF around, there is an alternative and voters want change.
Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes University.