The end of the ANC?

As the ANC sinks deeper into crisis as a direct consequence of its leadership’s vindictive sacking of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, disillusioned members and supporters are weighing up whether to form a new party.

Yet, can a new breakaway from the ANC succeed when previous splits from it and the current opposition parties failed?

For starters, the success of a breakaway will depend on whether Jacob Zuma, who still faces 12 formidable corruption charges, could provide so far unseen political maturity and leadership, by abandoning his destructive obsession with becoming the country’s next president.

In spite of his cult status among some ANC members, others are resolutely opposed to having him as the new president. They are unhappy with his and his aides’ intolerant behaviour, while they, blinded with revenge, ousted Mbeki, who in any case had only a few months to go on his term for similar behaviour, setting in motion the possible breakup of the ANC.

That’s William Gumede writing in The Guardian.

I’m no expert on South Africa, but the monolithic ANC strikes me as an unstable political equilibrium. Disenchanted party factions face a huge incentive to break off and seize the median voter. But if the party is destined to unravel, why doesn’t it do so immediately? Is this a coordination problem? Or a set of imposed constraints?

I am all but certain there are a dozen theories of political coalitions that would illuminate the situation. Any suggestions from readers?

7 thoughts on “The end of the ANC?

  1. It’s clearly a collective action problem, and I guess Hirschman’s “exit, voice and loyalty” may provide some interesting insights. Also, on proportional, party list systems (like SA), it’s rather difficult for political mavericks to emerge and challenge the political deadlock. And, in case someone does, be it alone or in coalitions, it’s often a no-return, all-or-nothing choice: if you lose the election, you may end up with no support whatsoever, no money and a weak organizational structure.
    All in all, it’s a risky bet, mostly for politicians who feed themselves on politics, which is often the case in Africa, and it may be easier to exercise your voice within the party rather than exit it.

  2. i agree that it’s an unstable equilibrium, but there’s a powerful force (well, two forces) maintaining that equilibrium: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. No party that breaks away from the ANC could be successful while Tutu and Mandela still exert such powerful influence over the country, even though both have stepped aside and don’t take part in the day-to-day activities of the nation or the party.

    After Tutu and Mandela pass, which I can see happening on the same day (perhaps may 10th?), I think that the coalition will crater and there may not even be an ANC left, there will be so many new parties. But as long as the founders are there, the huge, unwieldy mess isn’t going anywhere.

  3. I’m in agreement with Ryan; it should fall apart, but won’t as long as Mandela and Tutu are in the picture.

    It’s not terribly different from what’s happening in the Republican party in Texas these days. The only thing holding the social conservatives and the oil money together is George W. Bush, and when he’s out of office, they’re going to implode on one another, probably in the 2010 primary when we elect a governor.

  4. I think it’s not so much Mandela and Tutu, as both have expressed their doubts about the direction of the ANC and its leaders before, but rather about the “magic” of the liberation movement and its ideology. During Apartheid days, it was virtually impossible to challenge the movement because any disagreement within would have damaged the cause. The ANC is in many ways not “used” to open opposition, they try to keep all dissent within, so they can deal with it quietly. (According to Mbeki, this is part of the African style of politics, namely an emphasis on consensus.)
    This is the ANC, the one-for-all party, THE successful liberation movement – I guess for a lot of the SA politicians, especially of the “old cadre” of Apartheid times, the ANC is more of a family, they have a very close emotional connection to it.
    I think, it just took them some time, and we’ll see a new party by the end of the month.

    As different polls have shown (for example AfroBarometer), the dominant role of the ANC is not inevitable, it’s more a question of a party providing better opportunities.

    By the way, I really liked “Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC” very much.

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