ANC factions are too equally matched for the centre to hold, writes Dumisani Hlophe.
Cliques within the ANC battling for the control of the organisation will remain a permanent feature. They cannot be wished away. But they can be managed smarter and better. For this to happen, the leadership of the cliques should understand that the pursuit of individual interests, or clique interests, is not intrinsically antagonistic to the broader interest of the ANC, and the state.
The biggest factional problem for the ANC right now is not so much the cliques, but more that the cliques are contesting for political power within the ANC. There is a balance of power with a relative measure of political strength between the cliques.
That is where the problem is, and not the existence of the multiple cliques themselves. Mainly the centre does not hold, and there are too many centres of fragmented power due to a weak centre. The relative balance of power among these leadership cliques leads them to contest for power viciously against each other.
They all believe that they can win, hence are determined to destroy their rival clique. Thus, any prospects to negotiate an internal power arrangement is rendered obsolete.
Consequently, the common outcome is a stalemate at the expense of the ANC as a whole.
The party lost the Tshwane metro on this clique balance of power. Both cliques were so internally entrenched, believed in their own invincibility, were blinded by the quest to annihilate the other, and the result was a factional stalemate that cost the ANC dearly.
Another clique stalemate is unfolding in KwaZulu-Natal. The leadership elective outcome between the former chair Senzo Mchunu and Sihle Zikalala was a mere 105-vote difference in favour of Zikalala, not an overwhelming majority. The two cliques are of equal strength. Yet, the Zikalala clique went on a rampage against the Mchunu clique, removing him as KZN premier and reshuffling the ANC provincial cabinet.
The sum total of this is a continuous power struggle without negotiations, resulting in the current impasse, and a divided provincial ANC. Once again, the relative balance of power among the cliques leads to organisationally disruptive power struggles.
The rise of the so-called ANC Premier League from the provinces of Mpumalanga, Free State and the North West, is largely because the ANC chairpersons in these provinces, lead dominant cliques. While these chairpersons and their cliques are constantly challenged, the balance of power is predominantly in their favour.
Hence, there is relative stability in the provinces. In fact, Mpumalanga increased its ANC electoral share in the last general elections.
It appears therefore that the stability and relative unity of the ANC would largely depend on the emergence of a dominant clique at a national level. This clique could exist among other cliques, but it must be overwhelming in its dominance. It should command authority, legitimacy, discipline and cohesion within the ANC.
It should enjoy absolute hegemony within the ANC, and should enjoy its authority and legitimacy on the basis that it rose into its position through following ANC internal democratic processes.
It must also be seen to be doing what a collective leadership is expected to do by virtue of the leadership position it holds.
The hegemony of the dominant clique is not meant to be dictatorial but an embodiment and manifestation of a genuine democratic collective leadership of the ANC. While enjoying hegemony, it should never be too comfortable that it will rule the ANC for ever. Hence, it should constantly be challenged by both existing and emerging cliques.
Thus, it is important that the dominant clique should have a long-term plan for the sustainability of the ANC, organisationally, and in its role as the ruling party.
The latter entails the ANC’s role in the growth and sustainability of South Africa’s prosperity.
The Polokwane 2007 victorious clique could have emerged as that dominant clique described, but it was just too inward-looking and anchored in a personality cult around the leader.
Its existence post-2007, and enhanced at Mangaung 2012, remained largely personality-driven.
It did not develop a national philosophical identity or a national policy embodiment.
The National Development Plan (NDP) could have been the national developmental consciousness, but it became subsumed in personality politics.
Hence when the cliques arose to challenge the current clique in power, they challenged the individuals rather than the strategic direction assumed by the leading clique.
In this personality-driven clique, the contending cliques fight individuals without a strategic contextualisation of both the ANC, and the state leadership.
This leads to an organisational leadership and strategic direction deficiency where the leadership becomes a revolving-door syndrome while undoing the organisation as a whole.
It is inconceivable that the envisaged dominant clique could emerge any time soon. The current cliques at the national level seem balanced. Neither of the cliques that support Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma or Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa seem to enjoy unassailable victory prospects in the forthcoming December elective conference.
Whichever clique wins, it will not enjoy the strategic hegemonic role required to strengthen the ANC, unless it has a strategic plan to manage internal power struggles.
This requires that each clique develops a sense of statesmanship – a clique leadership that can objectively see issues beyond the immediate interests of the individuals and the group. That is, each should appreciate the fact that individual interests are not inherently antagonistic to ANC and national interests.
The interests of the individual, the group, or clique, are not inherently antagonistic to both the ANC and national interests.
The danger only arises when the pursuit of individual and clique interests is parasitic to the ANC and the state apparatus.
Thus, the winning clique, through its leader, should avoid the triumphalism tendencies.
It should avoid the tendency of banishing the losing clique to the doldrums.
Che Guevara states that whenever he and Fidel Castro’s forces defeated the enemy, they first gave medical attention to the losing forces.
In other words, when the victorious cliques win at electoral conferences, it’s not the winning cliques that matter, but managing the well-being and co-operation of the losing faction.
Thus, the dominant clique must prioritise reaching the hearts and minds of the losing factions. It must do all it can to absorb the losing factions.
Rather than the members of the winning faction, it is the defeated clique that may undermine the victorious clique. The winning clique must play a unifying role. This is important for the dominance of the victorious clique and its agenda.
In the final analysis, the ANC needs a dominant, authoritative, legitimate and charismatic clique for its own unity. Cliques need to be managed, not wished away. The unity of the ANC is a prerequisite for individual, clique, party and state success.
As contradictory as it may sound, the ANC and the country needs a faction for Africa!
* Hlophe is a governance specialist at the Unisa School of Governance. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent