Foreign Policy Blogs

Is the ANC in Crisis?

Given it's role as the largest anti-apartheid liberation organization, its central role in the transition to democracy, and its virtually insuperable status in the country's politics today it should come as no suprise that the African National Congress is far and away the most scrutinized (and criticized) political party in South Africa. From issues of politics and policy that some fault Thabo Mbeki's party for not addressing satisfactorily (crime, AIDS, poverty, continuing inequality) to internal strife (the myriad crises surrounding Jacob Zuma) to the natural backlash against the party in power, it is not always easy to sit in power, even if in each national election from 1994th ANC has actually consolodated its hold. Even as the party garners greater criticism, it seems to draw more support. At least in large part this can be explained by the lack of a viable opposition party.

This past week some of the ANC's brightest lights met n Durban to try to smooth out some ruffles that have emerged between the national party leadership and the party's hierarchy and rank-and-file in KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma's sacking hits closest to home. The leadership emerged proclaiming unity, but some observers, (see, for example, this analysis) take a more cynical approach, believing that the Durban meeting reveals fissures within the party and an ANC that is “troubled,” and perhaps in a state of crisis. Naturally, at least some observers, notably from the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) want to use the opportunity that the times provide to push the ANC to move its politics leftward.

I have long argued that if a viable challenge to the ANC ever emerges in South Africa it will not come from the old recidivist challenges from the white right, but rather will come from a splintering of the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance. Perhaps South Africa approaches a time when the ANC will either swing to the left or else it will fracture, with SACP-COSATU forming a new party.

But as a new boook by Padraig O’Malley, Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa, indicates, the ANC has always dealt with internal division. The party's leadership has always shown itself to be imaginative and clever when responding to crises. My guess is that Mbeki and company will be able to convince dissidents in SACP-COSATU and in KwaZulu-Natal that their interests are best served within the party, not operating from outside of it.