14 January 2010

Struggle for unity in action

Test of reality for ‘united, joint action’

Karima Brown, Business Day, Johannesburg, 14 January 2010

THE slapdown by the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) of the ruling party’s January 8 statement is the latest example of how vexed the relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and its leftist allies has become since President Jacob Zuma ’s inauguration, less than a year ago.

The ANC statement suggested municipal employees should not hold positions in political parties. 

Yesterday’s warning by Samwu, that it would resist the ANC’s efforts to “de-politicise” the union, is part of a cacophony of alliance- related strife plaguing the Zuma administration.

At issue in the alliance is the degree to which the ANC’s allies have a say in crucial issues such as Cabinet appointments, policy formulation, the appointment of key public servants to institutions such as the Reserve Bank, the mandate and future of state-owned enterprises and other strategic posts in the state.

All of this has le d to considerable argument among alliance leaders.

Last weekend, Zuma derided notions of “co-governance” with his leftist allies, saying only the ANC rules in the government. At last year’s alliance summit, the ANC also reasserted its leadership of the alliance, following disagreement over the National Planning Commission and control of economic policy in the Cabinet.

However, while the fact that the ANC is the alliance leader is true on paper, in reality the alliance has become central not only to policy formulation but also to governance itself. The ruling party’s December 2007 Polokwane resolutions, those of the two subsequent alliance summits and an economic indaba set out the ANC’s intentions to strengthen, co-ordinate and implement policy and deployment issues together with its allies.

While reaffirming the independence of each of the components, the Polokwane resolution binds the ANC to “united action” for a “joint programme”.

Prior to last year’s elections, the 2008 alliance summit outcome put the alliance at the centre of power.

The allies also agreed to formulate policy and monitor its implementation through joint policy committees and other mechanisms, which resulted in the formation of the Alliance Political Council. This is a new body comprising the national office bearers of all three allies.

Transitional teams comprising the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) were set up to drive the reconfiguration of the executive.

But soon after Zuma appointed his Cabinet, with the inclusion of senior SACP and Cosatu leaders, tensions began to resurface.

That eroded the congenial spirit that had existed prior to the elections, suggesting that unhappiness over the extent of the left’s influence in government is tied directly to power in the state and patronage networks, particularly at provincial and local government level and has very little to do with ideology.

It was the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) that fired the first salvo when it accused the president of having appointed “minorities” in all the key economic portfolios.

The critique was interpreted in several quarters as a direct attack on senior communist and labour leaders, orchestrated by those who had been left out. This was the catalyst for the fight between the SACP and the ANCYL over issues including nonracialism, nationalising the mines and whether the allies “co-govern” with the ANC.

At provincial and local level, where alliance relations have historically been patchy, the situation worsened. In several provinces the ANC and its allies clashed publicly over provincial appointments.

When Phumulo Masualle, the SACP national treasurer, was elected Eastern Cape ANC chairman, the battle lines were drawn with some ANC leaders fearing that it could have a domino effect in other provinces.

As the ANC lekgotla gathers this weekend, it will have to re-examine exactly what “united, joint action” in the tripartite alliance really means.

Going back to the days of Thabo Mbeki is not an option. Zuma, a polygamist, will know that unhappy wives can make for an unhappy home.

As head of the alliance household he will have to do an egg dance to keep the family together.

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