ANALYSIS | Roger Southall: Former SA chairman predicts end of ANC and history is on his side

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It is still early to predict the death of the ANC. Yet all the signs of terminal illness are there, writes Roger Southern.


Former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, one of the most sensible voices of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), has recently given voice to heresy. He said the ANC’s time in power coming to an end. The party that has dominated South African politics since 1994, winning five successive general elections, is facing a crisis of its own making. This is the result of poor governance and endemic corruption. A steady decline in support raises the real prospect of winning less than 50% in the next general election in 2024.

Like Motlanthe pointed outSouth African politics are changing

which must necessarily result in a realignment of political forces.

No ANC figure of his stature has so far admitted that the ANC as such might cease to exist. South Africa without the ANC is considered unimaginable.

Motlanthe served as chairman between the expulsion of Thabo Mbeki in September 2008 and the elevation to the post of Jacob Zuma following the general elections of April 2009.

Defeating the ANC would run counter to the ideology of the liberation movement, which suggests that liberation from settler rule, colonialism or apartheid is the end of history. Since the ANC is projected as the people’s party, it is assumed that the rule of the ANC ushered in the rule of the people and the oppressed. Liberation is thus conceived as a final state. No other future can be imagined; no other future can be considered legitimate.

Yet South African history shows that political parties do not last forever. They fragment, merge and change identity as the political landscape changes.

Faced with the consequences of his poor governance, many ANC leaders worry about his declining popular support. If he loses his absolute majority in 2024 National Elections, the ANC will have to enter into a coalition with another party. Yet history shows that South African parties that seek to govern by forging unity out of diversity tend to fragment when faced with fundamental political or economic crisis. Let’s summarize.

Split partisan politics in history

At the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910by Louis Botha Het Volk of former Transvaal combined with Prime Minister by Barry Hertzog United Orangia of the Free State and Cape Afrikaner link to form the South African Party. Subsequently, when South Africa entered first World War in 1914 an outraged Hertzog, who was vehemently opposed to siding with Britain, left the South African Party to form the first iteration of the Afrikaner-based National Party.

In the 1920 electionthe National Party won more seats than the South African Party, which was forced to absorb the Natal-based, pro-British Jingoist Party unionist party remain in office. However, after alienating the white working class by suppressing the 1922 Rand Revolt – when resistance by white workers to the mine owners’ plans to replace them with cheaper black labor culminated in an armed rebellion – the South African Party lost the 1924 election to an alliance of the National Party and the The Labor Party.

Returning to power by an absolute majority in 1929, the National Party came up against headwinds from economic depression. Jan Smuts, the South African party leader and prime minister, came to his rescue in 1933, entering into a coalition with Hertzog. This led to the “merger” of the South African Party and the National Party into the united party in 1934.

It was a betrayal of the ultra-British wing of the South African Party, which decamped to Natal Dominion Day. More importantly, the formation of the United Party was also a sacrilege for the extremist wing of the National Party, which, under the leadership of DF Malan, broke through the floor of the House of Assembly and formed the opposition, the Parti Gesuiwerde Nasionale.

Subsequently, after Hertzog lost a narrow vote to keep South Africa out of World War II in 1939, he gave way to Smuts as Prime Minister. Hertzog supporters joined the Parti Gesuiwerde Nasionale, which became the Parti Herenigde Nasionale, or followed other “Hertzogites” into the smaller Parti Afrikaner. An electoral agreement between the Parti Herenigde Nasionale and the Afrikaner Party was to subsequently lead to the defeat of Smuts and the United Party government in the 1948 election.

Leading member of the ANC and former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe.
GCIS/Flickr

The National Party retained power for most of the next 40 years. Yet he found it necessary, for both political and economic reasons, to make adjustments Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerdapartheid policy. He suffered successive breakaways to the right. The first, led by Albert Hertzog (the former prime minister’s son) in 1969 saw the formation of the Herstigte National Daywhich had little impact.

A more serious challenge was presented by Andries Treurnichtthe formation of the Conservative Party in 1982, which became the official opposition in 1987. Its threat was such that it forced the National Party government, now led by PW Botha, to broaden its base of support. It is increasingly appealing to Anglophones alongside Afrikaners to maintain its majority.

Botha was replaced as leader of the National Party in 1989 by F.W. de Klerkthat led him through the transition that culminated in the negotiated end to apartheid. He retired in 1997.

Eventually, in 2000, most of the carcass of the National Party, which had lost power to the ANC in the first democratic election in 1994, was absorbed by the Democratic Party, which became the official opposition. . Democratic Alliance.

Post-apartheid political realignments

Many observers of the current South African scene will wonder whether this dizzying detour into the history of white political parties is relevant to the present. The answer is yes.

Successive secessions from the ANC – by the United Democratic Movement in 1997, the People’s Congress in 2008 and, above all, the Economic freedom fighters in 2013 – reflect the inherently fractured nature of South African politics, whether it was under white minority rule or, as now, under democratic rule.

This is why successive ANC governments have given such support to the Zanu-PF government in Zimbabwe. The ANC fears that defeating Zanu-PF in an election will debunk the myth of the inviolability of liberation movements in southern Africa.

It is still early to predict the death of the ANC. Yet all the signs of terminal illness are there. He became completely corrupt; this seems unable to reform; and it appears more and more unable to govern the countrywhether at the national, provincial or municipal level.

All its politicians are afraid of being the ones who break the ANC. Yet events – be it an electoral defeat, mass revolt, economic failure or other – are likely to force their hand. Potential partners will be reluctant to identify with a failing party. They may well require the formation of a whole new party, with a new name, a new program and a new brand.

This is a reminder that South African parties have changed over time as the country is difficult to govern. It is a nation made up of very diverse regions, peoples, religions and ideologies. A party in power has to somehow tinker with all of these things if it wants to stay in power.

It is no wonder that any ruling party in South Africa struggles to maintain internal coherence and unity over a long period. The long and short of this pot story is that no South African party has shown its ability to last forever.The conversation

Roger Southallprofessor of sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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