Unlike post-Polokwane and post-Manguang, there will be no Congress of the People nor Economic Freedom Fighters formed after Nasrec. Instead the “unity deal” made at the ANC’s 54th National Conference will either make or break the ANC leading up to the 2019 National and Provincial Elections.

The reality is that the ANC could easily achieve above 60 percent in next year’s elections but at the same time it could also achieve well below the 50 percent mark. The margin is this wide because we are unsure of how exactly the next year in the ANC will play out in the run-up to those elections.

If the national executive committee (NEC) under President Ramaphosa is able to unite the ANC then it is almost certain that the ANC will secure their base and win back the Black middle class again. However, if the in-fighting continues then not only will the middle class continue to stay away from the polls, the base key provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West will almost certainly be threatened as well.

It would seem that this “unity deal” struck at Nasrec is even worse than the break aways of COPE and the EFF. Implosions happen from the inside and while those disgruntled after Polokwane and Managing left the ANC, those remaining behind were able to work together and consolidate. Now, after Nasrec, even provinces which were viewed as united before the national conference, for example Gauteng, are coming loose at the seams.

If one were to look at the 2016 Local Government Elections results one would have seen that the ANC remains strong in the North West, the Free State and Mpumalanga. In all three these provinces, the ANC won all the municipalities with a majority and only in Rustenberg in the North West is it in coalition with the African Indepedent Congress and the Botho Community Movement while in the Free State only in Metsimaholo it is in coalition with the South African Communist Party. These are the provinces that comprised the so-called “premier league”.

All the other provinces, lost at least a municipality to the opposition, including Limpopo. Election results usually indicate the strength of the ANC within a region or province and therefore we can see that even if there are factional differences within the ANC, as was for example in the North West and Free State, ANC members can rise to the elections occasion and work towards victory. The unity is practical.

Yet the last four months in the ANC has seen every effort made to work towards division rather than build on the unity deal made at Nasrec. Despite the shadow of controversial conferences looming over the national conference which saw provincial executive committee delegates from KwaZulu and the Free State being barred from voting at Nasrec, the unsavoury recall of former president Zuma and subsequent cabinet reshuffle, eighteen months shy of the end of their terms in office, was bound to send a divisive thrill down the spine of the ANC.

The losers at Nasrec were expected to bite their upper lip while the victors went on a triumphalist spree. Ministers in the CR17 camp such as Susan Shabangu who was a complete disaster in the mineral resources portfolio and who had a deafening silence during the femicide while being minister for women affairs was promoted to social development. With the health and education systems collapsing, Aaron Motsoaledi and Angie Motshekga had only their loyalty to the CR camp to thank for saving them from the chop. 

Yet the acts against unity did not stop there. CR lieutenants in KwaZulu-Natal were encouraged to approach the courts to take action against the sitting of that province’s provincial conference. When NDZ people in the Eastern Cape did the same, approach the courts based on the Sbu Ndebele report, people cry fowl. In fact in the Eastern Cape, despite the protestations from Premier Phumulo Masualle, a member of the NEC, to keep the unity of the province, the PEC in that province insisted on baying for the blood of those who had lost the provincial and national conferences and be fired as MEC’s.

In the North West, the appointment of a new premier is now going in for a whopping month. This is an explicit example of just how divided the NEC is and how lip service is paid to unity. There is less than a year before the next election where whoever is now appointed to the post will come to the end of their term. Yet it seems that the divisions lie so deep that they, both the NEC and members in the North West, cannot afford a person to serve literally for months. Ironically, it was the collapse in governance in the province that sparked protests against the former premier.

Gauteng, which is supposed to be the province that attracts the middle class and is supposed to be the most sophisticated, is more and more slipping in division as signs of mass gatekeeping rear their ugly heads. The investment of the Alex mafia is paying off with more and more dissatisfaction. Even worse still, everyone else seems to be the problem for members in Gauteng except themselves. All along the rest of the country thought that Gauteng was united but this did not prove true during the local government elections and nor is it playing out to be true now as more and more people vie for positions in the PEC.  

The challenge with provinces such as Gauteng, the Northern and Eastern Cape, for example, are challenges that a province such as the ANC in the Western Cape had to deal with a decade ago. In the Western Cape as more and more municipalities were being lost people were more interested in contesting in higher structures in order to access power and patronage. It therefore comes as no surprise that the majority of people who are contesting in Gauteng are people who have lost their municipalities to the opposition. The same played out in the Western Cape and eventually the ANC lost the province because only ten people could be appointed to be MEC’s.

The second phenomenon that is prevalent in provinces such as the Northern and Eastern Cape is that instead of working together towards unity in the province, one faction thinks that if they send the leadership of the other faction to the national structure that they will be able to run the province in peace. Not so. The same occurred in the Western Cape where no efforts were made towards unity because each faction was satisfied with what they were being served. Today, it is different in the Western Cape, of course, members are forced to work with each other.

With all the court challenges and with all the disunity in the ANC, less than a year to a national and provincial election, no one need tell the ANC that they are in trouble. Yet it would seem that the only people who do not realise this is the ninety people who make up the national executive committee. They continue to be indecisive about unity and think that it is something to be sung and spoken about instead of practiced. We would be forgiven to have thought that this NEC would be stronger than the one which preceded it. 

Wesley Seale is a PhD Candidate at Beijing University in China 

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