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2023-02-06 at 17:06 #392218Nat QuinnKeymaster
The disestablishment of the governing coalition in Johannesburg, and the possible (probable?) fates of its counterparts in Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, combined with the Economic Freedom Fighters’ withdrawal of support for the Inkatha Freedom Party in KwaZulu-Natal, indicate that something serious is afoot in South Africa’s politics.
Understandably, most of the commentary around this has focused on the consequences for the municipalities concerned. The collapse of coalition governments will undermine effective administration, and this is driven by an appetite for the spoils of power. A politics of opportunism dominates, whereas a politics of principle is required. Others have pointed to the failure of ‘political maturity’, and conversely the imperative of finding compromise and common ground. Constant throughout all of this has been the refrain that the ultimate losers would be the residents of the municipalities so affected.
There is truth in each of these contentions. Local government was conceptualised as the primary site for life-changing action – a ‘developmental mandate’ where people could get involved in matters of immediate concern to them and see the results of political action . Back in 1995, the ANC headlined its campaign ‘A Better Life: Let’s make it Happen where we Live’.
Unfortunately, local government, arguably more than any other arm of the state, has been a widespread catastrophe, with dire consequences for residents and for society as a whole.
It would also not be original to suggest that the toenadering at local government level looks rather like the precursor to a more general agreement between the African National Congress and the EFF. A national election is coming next year, and a large amount of polling suggests that the ANC might well find its representation reduced to under 50%. A deal with the EFF might be enough to stave off the ANC’s ejection from office.
If this is a possibility, it’s important to understand what it implies.
It’s impossible to say what the exact configuration of an ANC-EFF deal would be, but there are some pointers.
For one thing, the ideological impulses of the two parties are quite compatible. Both view themselves as liberation movements, prosecuting an historic struggle for the complete transformation of South Africa and the world. Both advocate racial nationalism, despite a nominal and increasingly tenuous commitment to non-racism on the part of the ANC. Neither is especially wedded to constitutionalism. The latter is far more pronounced in the EFF, but there have been ongoing rumblings from the ANC since the late 1990s that the Constitution is a hindrance to its ambitions, and lately open rejection of the constitutional order by some within it. Against the threat of losing power, the temptation for the ANC to shore up its position – to go-for-broke – by abrogating constitutional guardrails can be expected to grow.
The positioning of the EFF and ANC on the economy is another point of concurrence. Here again, the EFF is more coherent: it envisages a state-directed economy that will thumb its nose at the outside world, with benefits steered towards particular constituencies. The ANC may be more diverse in its outlook – or plurality of outlooks – but it shares the EFF’s overall preference for a statist economy. For some, this is a communist society, for others, a mighty East Asian-style developmental state; but ultimately, it is about the marriage of political control and economic rewards. This helps explain that despite the manifest failings of the state, there is a near-total exclusion of any consideration of policy avenues that fall outside this paradigm.
Hence the inordinate sums poured into bailing out South Africa’s state-owned enterprises, and the reluctance to allow the private sector into these institutions or to reconsider policies that raise their costs and undermine their efficiencies. Examples are the restrictive terms for private participation in the railways, or the ANC’s dogged insistence on using the power supply procurement system to advance black economic ‘empowerment’ and localisation objectives. This is despite the dire state of what should be enabling utilities (but are now major hindrances to the competitiveness) if not the very operation of the economy. Demanding race-based staff quotas on pain of crippling fines – as pending amendments to the Employment Equity Act propose – illustrate just where official priorities lie.
The idea of a ‘reformist’ wing in the ANC now lacks credibility, and the pragmatism (however reluctantly embraced in some quarters during the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies) has dissipated.
Beyond all of this, there is the simple appeal of patronage and enrichment – something that has become synonymous with the ANC, and to which the EFF certainly appears strongly drawn. (Indeed, Adriaan Basson notes ‘It is no secret that whenever the EFF has been close to power, they have had their eye on the municipal manager position. The reason is simple: to be close to the action when tenders are awarded, and projects are prioritised.’)
All told, there is more that unites the ANC and EFF than divides them. The Institute has long argued that the EFF is essentially a franchise operation of the ANC, in competition with it over control of its brand and legacy, and ultimately seeking a reunion in which its leadership will be prominent.
If this is successful, it is likely that the main issue will be one that has been high on the agenda in South Africa’s national discourse for some years, but has faded from prominence in recent months. This is Expropriation without Compensation.
EWC is a cause that would appeal to both parties at this juncture. It would make a profound ideological statement, underlining their radicalism, and would speak to South Africa’s painful past and illustrate their shared intent to overthrow the ‘property relations’ that exist in the country. As a policy, EWC would occupy a grey zone between respecting the constitutional order and dismissing it: it could find some justification in the Constitution’s limitation on the rights to hold property, but could be presented as a rejection of that document’s limitations on the political prerogatives of revolutionaries, or what one prominent ANC member called the country’s ‘fatal compromise’.
It is not inconceivable that the failed amendment of Section 25 might be revisited. The failure to pass the amendment in December 2021 was about whether the state would by constitutional fiat nationalise all land (the EFF position) or whether it would have this option through more ambiguous wording (the ANC stance, which was reflected in the amendment bill). The ANC was disinclined to commit itself clearly, because although there has been strong support within its ranks for state ownership of all land – custodianship, analogous to water and minerals – this is not a popular option among its supporters. It would be a dreadful message to business and investors.
As part of a deal with the EFF, should this be seen as necessary to retain the ultimate prize of national office, a constitutional change might be bargained for. In practical terms, this would not strictly be necessary, as the Expropriation Bill currently working its way into the statute books provides enough latitude to support a custodial taking of land, and in any event shifts the mechanics of expropriation decisively towards the state.
Nevertheless, under pressure from a seething electorate after a dismal record of governance over the past decade and more – not only in failing to address pressing public demands, but in maintaining the basic functionality of the state and the country’s infrastructure – taking this course could appear extremely attractive. Not only would the alliance provide a chance at extending incumbency, but the policy trajectory would open up spoils for patronage (fleetingly, as they will rapidly be consumed and the economic damage will become apparent). It might temporarily shift the public conversation away from the government’s capacity or incapacity to govern and towards the possibilities within its ‘new’ course.
Civil society and business should be aware of this. EWC never offered anything but a mirage – something that the government’s own record should have made clear. But for the ANC, the changing political landscape and its emerging relationship with the EFF might make that mirage seem particularly enticing.
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