Rochelle de Kock
AS the ANC celebrates its centenary this weekend, beside it will be its alliance partners who have anchored it since their flirtatious romance blossomed into a formidable marriage in 1990. Typically, the honeymoon years of the three-way partnership were pleasant. The goal was simple: liberate black people and economically emancipate the broader society, as articulated by the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) policy.
However, less than a decade into the union, when former president Nelson Mandela’s term was ending and the euphoria of liberation started to wear off, the ugly cracks began to surface and a tripartite alliance emerged that could not agree on vital issues of leadership and policy.
The ANC, now the ruling party, did not implement the NDR policy as its partners had hoped and suddenly views of how to develop a democratic country differed.
“The programme that united us was the NDR … and if you want to evaluate the relationship among the alliance partners, you must look at the implementation of that programme,” SACP Port Elizabeth district secretary Zukile Jodwana said.
“There are still too many contradictions and members of the ANC who do not grasp what the alliance hopes to achieve.
“To date, we have not achieved all the resolutions we set out to achieve, like economic emancipation for all.
“Pre-1994, we had a common understanding and interpretation of the NDR, but post-1994 that interpretation changed and others viewed the SACP as an element that had run its course and was no longer significant.”
While the ANC continues to preach the significance of its alliance partners, the SACP’s gripe is the limited influence the communists have on decision-making in the party.
The party whose assassinated leader, Chris Hani, was once tipped to be strong enough to deputise for Mandela, says that despite some of its members holding powerful positions in the ANC, it was still not able to drive change through the ruling party.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, relations had worsened in 2009 when members of Cosatu and the SACP – Mvuleni Mapu and Melekile Hani – were suspended and fired from the municipality, ANC regional secretary Zandisile Qupe said.
“Relations became sour when we started dealing with deployment of cadres because we had our own preferences as the regional executive committee and they had their own preferences.
“That was the time when [Nondumiso] Maphazi was asked to resign in November 2009. It was the first deployment process.” However, Cosatu regional secretary Gerald Fundani argued that in the past “it was not the ANC that deployed comrades, it was the alliance. Political deployment was discussed at an alliance level and at the time members of all three partners guided the direction in which the movement should go.
“Political deployment is a big factor because you find that [now] comrades deploy those who would return favours with tenders and so on. They are not looking at the cadres’ abilities; no wonder they are incapable of providing service delivery as institutions,” Fundani said.
The squabbles had re-emerged after a short period of harmony in the run-up to Polokwane two years previously when the SACP and Cosatu were seemingly singing from the same hymn book with a majority faction of the ANC which wanted then- president Thabo Mbeki fired.
Cosatu and the SACP were then a useful tool for the faction to raise Jacob Zuma to the top. But shortly afterwards, the fundamental differences in policy and deployment resurfaced and again threatened to break up the union.
“We also experienced problems in 2010 when there was bad behaviour from some of the members in the alliance and since then there have been rocky relations. And we went into the elections last year with many challenges that we hoped to salvage after the elections,” Qupe said.
“Province even came to intervene, but then came the issues that some members of the ANC were accused of being behind the plots to kill Hani, and others accused the ANC of not wanting to deploy their cadres,” Qupe said.
Meanwhile, Cosatu’s problem was that “comrades have become greedy and have forgotten what makes them part of the organisation. We’re seeing a trend of stealing money from people and that affects the existence of the alliance,” Fundani said.
This was a grievance that Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi publicly spoke of, annoying the ANC so much that it decided to institute disciplinary charges against him in June 2010 – an unprecedented move in the alliance.
Cosatu’s response was: charge Vavi and it’s war.
The ANC backed down, averting an ugly run-in with a partner that has two million voting members 11 months before the local government elections.
“The ANC cannot say it will ever go into the elections alone because that would be suicidal. The ANC is where it is because of the work done by components of the alliance and vice versa,” Qupe admitted.
Jodwana also argued that despite being the ruling party, the ANC was not the political centre, but the alliance was. “Where we differ is when some members of the ANC say the party is the political centre. When it’s election time, Cosatu rallies its two million members to vote for the ANC, so they cannot do it on their own.”
So, despite its power, the ANC is firmly at the mercy of its alliance partners, a reality often evident in economically threatening mass action every time the party makes decisions unpopular with its partners.
While the alliance will no doubt share some good laughs as it goes down memory lane this weekend, it will also be a moment of reflection.
“We must be careful of how we look at the centenary. When people don’t have food on the table and jobs and when the gap between the rich and the poor is growing, you do not celebrate a birthday without looking at years passed and the years going forward. We must ask what we have really managed to achieve. I’m not suggesting that the ANC has done nothing to improve the lives of the poor, but we need to go beyond what has been done,” Fundani said.