Signs that bullying ANC is running scared of opposition parties - Business Day, 4th March 2013.

In his fortnightly column in Business Day, the Institute's CEO, John Kane-Berman, says that there are several signs that the ANC is afraid of opposition parties.

The African National Congress (ANC) does not hesitate to bully business, usually successfully. At the same time, the party appears to be running scared of opposition parties. It also seems apprehensive about the loyalty of some of its own members.

Last month, President Jacob Zuma descended upon the Tlokwe (Potchefstroom) municipality in the North West province to arm-twist local ANC councillors into throwing their weight behind an ANC mayor they had unseated in November last year because they thought he was corrupt. For a head of state to descend to this level is astonishing.

It suggests two things. The first is that local initiatives within the party against corruption are unwelcome. Presumably the ANC wants any fight against corruption to be orchestrated to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand and hurt anyone in a high place.

The second is that, despite the damage done to local government by the ANC’s Soviet-style system of "democratic centralism" — where party headquarters rather than voters choose mayors — the party is determined to stick with it.

Hence, no doubt, the presence of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson at the Tlokwe meeting last week where the rebel ANC councillors, having been whipped into line, re-elected the mayor they had earlier deposed. As a member of the South African Communist Party, she would probably regard watching over democratic centralism as more important than meeting the fishing industry, which has complained they have never met her, despite all the industry’s problems.

Reinforcing the view that the ANC is becoming apprehensive is its behaviour in Parliament in November. Despite having an unbeatable two-thirds majority, it refused to allow a combination of opposition parties to table a motion of no confidence in the president, even though section 102 of the constitution provides for it.

There is probably little chance such a motion would have obtained even the simple majority necessary to require the resignation of the president.

Perhaps sheer arrogance was why it was blocked. But perhaps the ANC was also worried that some of its own MPs might absent themselves from the no-confidence debate, so handing Zuma rather a hollow victory.

There are other signs that the ANC is becoming apprehensive about the parliamentary opposition.

On February 19, the party’s chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, claimed opposition parties’ co-ordination of their strategies meant they had "surrendered their independence to their new political master in the Democratic Alliance" (DA). They had "sold their soul" and could no longer claim to represent the views of their constituencies.

Two days later, this accusation was echoed by Zuma. He said opposition parties had betrayed their voters by joining up for the no-confidence motion. The day after that, Keith Khoza, communication manager of the ANC, wrote in The New Age against the "choirmaster" DA that had subsumed other parties under its "neoliberal approach".

This was "a shocking betrayal of voters by their political parties". It amounted to "the back-door reintroduction of floor-crossing habits in the working of political parties".

Khoza said opposition parties had turned constituency offices paid for by Parliament into their own "operational centres". He went on: "There is a need for Parliament to put mechanisms in place to make sure that the public gets their money’s worth."

It cannot be coincidence that Zuma, Motshekga, and Khoza are speaking in unison against the opposition parties’ strategy of working together. Whether these parties are betraying their voters is for their voters to decide. For ANC officials to raise it is a red herring.

ANC threats — and actions during the recent strikes in De Doorns — to make the Western Cape ungovernable under DA rule show, yet again, that deep down, many in the ANC regard opposition as illegitimate. Before 1994, the organisation prosecuted the people’s war against black opposition parties. Will it now supplement its post-1994 ungovernability strategy with attempts to control the actions of the parliamentary opposition?

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