from Africa in Transition

South Africa’s ANC and an In-House Critic

November 3, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Since the 1994 transition to “non-racial” democracy and Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president, South Africa has been governed by “the triple alliance.” This alliance is made up of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

Under South Africa’s system of proportional representation, SACP and COSATU candidates ran only on the ANC’s electoral list. They did not have separate lists. Negotiations among the three entities, usually behind closed doors, determine where on the consolidated list a candidate might be placed. As in other proportional representation systems, the higher up the list, the more likely a candidate would win office.

This triple alliance has come under increasing attack, often from veterans of the South African liberation struggle. The latest critic is Kgalema Motlanthe, a member of the inner circle of the ANC who has served as vice president and, briefly, as South Africa’s president. In an interview with Business Day, he criticized COSATU for expelling its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and its largest union, the National Union of Metal Workers. He went on to say that internal democracy within the ANC is “impaired,” and that the party is driving young activists toward Julius Malema’s more radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Motlanthe’s criticism recalls that of Frank Chicane and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Though the latter was never a member of the ANC, the archbishop was an icon of the liberation movement. In recent years, Archbishop Tutu has criticized the Zuma government for denying the Dalai Lama a visa, calling the ANC as bad as the old National Party of apartheid days.

Insider criticism of the ANC and its partners reflects concern about over-centralization, isolation from its popular base, and a retreat from the idealism associated with Nelson Mandela and the achievement of non-racial democracy. Many South Africans expect a realignment of political parties that will reflect issues with which South Africans confront, now a generation after the coming of “non-racial” democracy. Motlanthe’s criticism is a sign of movement in that direction.

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