The struggle against what the ANC has become is extremely difficult.
Too many people do not understand the situation. Supporters of the ANC imagine that they can overcome the present problems, that they will go away when Zuma goes, and therefore, that there is nothing to worry about right now. The ANC is in charge, and therefore all’s right with the world.
It’s an understandable delusion which is not simply due to stupidity or ignorance. Nobody wants to think that things are really much worse than they seem, and therefore they wish to believe what they are told. They are told by virtually everybody that while things seem bad, they could be worse if the ANC were not in charge – which is probably true at this moment. They are told that if they want to have the ANC in charge they have to take Zuma and his cronies along with it – which is certainly true. This viewpoint can consume the whole of one’s political understanding, in which case one becomes a staunch defender of Zuma despite not actually supporting anything that he stands for. (Much the same thing turns otherwise sane American voters into Obama supporters.)
It seems probable that this is the situation which the people who put Zuma into power wish everybody who opposes them to be in, and it is a sign of great political astuteness on the part of the plutocratic enemies of the mass of the populace. It is also a natural by-product of the almost universal practice among so-called political analysts of paying no attention to policies and only discussing the support-bases of individuals in terms of those individuals personal charisma – which is to say, the illusion of such charisma manufactured by the media and the party machines, insofar as these may be separated. This explains why this trivial and personal scheme of debate is the mode preferred by the plutocracy. It confuses the people, and that is what matters.
Many people certainly understand the situation up to a point. They recognize that what is happening to the ANC will not go away over time but will only get worse, and that the ghastly policies implemented by the ANC and endorsed by the Alliance are immensely more important even than the disgusting personal corruption of Zuma and the people around him. On some level they might even accept that the ANC cannot possibly be reformed with such people at its helm.
Yet even with all these conditions fulfilled, it remains a huge step to reach the conclusion that a fresh party must be established in order to supplant the ANC. That involves admitting that one has been wrong in the past, which is an astonishingly difficult stand for a serious political activist to take. Such people often leap onto other parties – often, embarrassingly, the Democratic Alliance – or place their faith in risible alternatives to parties (“civil society activists”) or just give up altogether, which is probably the fastest-growing form of political activism in the contemporary world.
Meanwhile, there are powerful arguments against doing anything to challenge the ANC on any meaningful level. To challenge the ANC, one must find an alternative perspective, a political standpoint from which it is possible to say “They are not like us, we are different, and our perspective is more agreeable to you than theirs is”. But even this simple stance is anathema to the contemporary political culture, because it essentially involves saying that there are alternative perspectives, and the contemporary culture is centralist and single-visioned; it admits only the notion that one thing can be right, and therefore it cannot incorporate anything fresh.
Most particularly, any serious challenge to the ANC must be from the left, because the landscape to the right of the ANC is jam-packed with political contenders, all of them vile and contemptible beyond belief. Therefore, it would entail a redistribution of wealth and power. This is opposed by the ruling class, and therefore it is opposed by contemporary political culture, which is under the control of the ruling class. To challenge the ANC seriously is therefore to be abused by the media and the punditocracy and the spin-doctors of the ANC and everyone to their right. (And those who pretend to be on the left of the Alliance will abuse you too, since they are ever eager to prove that they can serve the interests of the ruling class and thus escape being abused themselves.) That’s a scary prospect, which explains the fancy footwork of people like Kgalema Motlanthe before Mangaung; he was simply afraid of the pails of manure which the ruling class was preparing to dump on his head.
The ruling class controls the media, which means that a challenge to the ANC would face a powerful propaganda onslaught. However, it also controls the secret police, which means that a challenge to the ANC would certainly be extensively spied on and any infractions, however minor, discovered. Few people have nothing in their closets of which they are ashamed, and anything shameful would be on the front pages and endlessly reiterated. Even if nothing were found, the media can publish invented stories under the authority of mythical sources, and if all else fails the secret service can plant stories in foreign media which can then be repeated at home.
The ruling class also controls the judiciary and the prosecution apparatus. Hence, if stories linked to a challenge to the ANC appeared legally actionable, they would certainly end up being prosecuted, and no judge or magistrate would throw out such charges on first hearing. “Under-Secretary Of Leftist Party Charged For Land Theft Scam” is a much more damaging headline than “We Expose Leftist Party Land Theft Scam” simply because some people still believe the lies coming out of judges’ mouths, as opposed to the few who believe anything they hear from the media. And once somebody has been charged, that charge can be thrown in the face of their party forever – unless they happen to be Zuma supporters, whose charges all appear to have fallen into the memory holes and been sent up the chimneys of the media’s information-destruction apparatus. (How many times did we hear about the charges against John Block in the run-up to Mangaung, as opposed to how the media throbbed with glee against him only a few months earlier!)
What this means is that it is quite likely that a serious challenge to the ANC from the Left would be very easily and quite seriously intimidated by means which, under present circumstances, are more or less legal. (Of course telling lies about politicians in the press is technically illegal, but no judge has ever dared to convict and under the present order none ever will unless it is a lie told by an anti-establishment media outlet, of which hardly anything survives any more.)
However, it is also worth considering less legal actions. The Zuma gang have relied quite heavily on violence for the attainment of their goals. From the beginning they have deployed gangs of hooligans to threaten violence against their opponents and their rhetoric has always relied on the notion that if they do not get their way, they cannot answer for the consequences – that is, if their opponents do not give in, they will unleash gangs of armed thugs across the country. (This served as the now-forgotten background to Zuma’s legal struggles.) Initially this probably was more rhetoric than anything else – Zuma could hardly have bussed thugs across the country, and the aunties outside Pietermaritzburg High Court were hardly a threat to national security.
More recently, however, Zuma has the financial resources of Luthuli House behind him. Mantashe needs to deploy flying goon squads to enforce subordination at provincial and regional conferences or break up gatherings hostile to Zuma. There is also the growing force of hired bullies pretending to be former members of MK under the name of the “Veterans League” (paid for by the taxpayer but functioning as Zuma’s praetorian guard) and the situation has become much more dire. One recalls the thuggish marches around the “Spear” painting, which were used as opportunities for Zuma and his allies to stoke threats of violence. One does not have to support the odious agenda of the Democratic Alliance to recognize that both COSATU’s and Zuma’s own deployment of mobs to block that party’s legal marches are illegal and also anti-democratic.
And the DA and Zuma are, basically, on the same side! Hence, if a real opposition to the ANC were to arise, it is easy to see that these thugs could be used very effectively against them. After all, such thuggishness would probably be deployed most commonly in the townships, where no journalist penetrates without a political minder to provide the story in advance. How many people would want to attend a meeting in a church hall, or join a march to the local municipal offices, knowing that it was liable to be broken up by people in Zuma T-shirts wielding axe-handles? What’s more, the police would no doubt be on hand to arrest the non-ANC members, and what might happen to them behind the gates of the local police station is unpleasant to contemplate. It’s entirely likely that in some areas the result would be a miniature variant of the Inkatha wars in the Natal Midlands in the late 1980s – which Zuma and his allies know a great deal about.
Granted, given enough determination on the part of activists and enough resentment on the part of the public, it might be possible to win through. Ultimately Inkatha lost the wars in the Midlands, but at a terrible human cost. Sadly, one does not know how far Mantashe and his ilk would be prepared to take the process, but judging by their rhetoric they would not shrink from murder. What’s worse, there clearly are murder squads operating within the ANC, in KwaZulu-Natal, in Mpumalanga and in the North-West, and possibly in the Eastern Cape as well. No doubt most of these squads are chiefly concerned with commercial interests – with killing potential whistle-blowers and investigators into corruption. However, it is not hard to imagine that opponents of the ANC might fall victim to similar tactics – especially if they were defectors from the ANC (and most would be, inevitably, in a challenge to the ANC’s authority).
Of course this sounds like a paranoid reprise of the far left’s refrain of a decade ago. However, we do have to acknowledge that the last seven years have seen a major transformation of the political climate. When thugs invade Kennedy Road under the ANC banner, it is possible to believe that this has happened without anyone in the ANC’s head office knowing about it. (Not that this excuses the ANC from failing to investigate the incident, but at least they are not openly legitimating such behaviour.) When thugs routinely invade ANC conferences in order to ensure that the conference attendees vote correctly, acting under the orders of the ANC’s President and Secretary-General, that is a little different – much like the difference between the cautious neoliberalism of Mbeki and the open kleptocracy of Zuma.
None of this means that it’s going to be impossible to challenge the ANC by setting up an alternative political party. Indeed, it is our duty to do this, because nobody is going to do it spontaneously (as seventy years of Trotskyite failure demonstrate). But it is certainly going to be a long hard road to restore the conditions of five years ago – when it was possible to move the ANC itself to the left instead of to the right, had the left not decided otherwise.