The ANC is caught between a rock and a hard place

By Sipho Seepe Time of article published Nov 14, 2021

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OPINION: Instead of sulking, the ANC should ask itself why other parties may not want to work with it. It is possible that the party is being rejected for the very reasons that the electorate punished it in the polls. It can benefit from such a serious self-introspection.

Social media has widely shared former Ghanaian President John Mahama’s concession speech following his humbling defeat by his rival Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in 2016. The sharing of the speech is both timely and mischievous. It is timely in that it coincides with the outcome of our municipal elections. It is mischievous as it attempts to compare the response of President Cyril Ramaphosa to that of the erstwhile Ghanaian President. While Mahama is contrite, Ramaphosa comes across as petulant and in denial. Be that as it may, Mahama’s response to defeat provides valuable lessons for the ANC, or any party for that matter.

The first lesson is that the African voter, "though mainly uneducated and simple, is more sophisticated than we thought." Losing parties must take to heart that voters are discerning individuals. Attempts to second guess their choice is insulting.

The second lesson is that "the success or failure of a leader depends on the kind of people he or she surrounds themselves with. The praise-singing sycophants who act on the dictates of their stomachs are only specialised at telling you what you want to hear."

The third lesson, often overlooked, is that "not all those who criticised us hated us. Sometimes the best way to express your love for someone is to be critical of their actions."

The ANC’s response to the seeming rejection by opposition parties to consider going into coalitions with it is unfortunate if not infantile. It would seem that the above escaped the mandarins that occupy Luthuli House. Instead of sulking, the ANC should ask itself why other parties may not want to work with it. It is possible that the party is being rejected for the very reasons that the electorate punished it in the polls. It can benefit from such a serious self-introspection.

Instead, the party’s strategy, as intimated by its President, is to place the spectre of by-elections on the table even before attempting to persuade other parties that it could be a reliable partner.

While by-elections are provided for in law, punting them so early in the game amounts to putting the cart before the horse. This has the effect of sullying the negotiations process. For negotiations to succeed, all players must act in good faith. There should be no suspicion that the ruling party is on a mission to collapse negotiations as a pretext to initiate by-elections. But going for by-elections so soon after its dismal performance may prove to be too risky for the ANC.

First, the party would be approaching the by-elections as a wounded and limping organisation. The certainty and the reliance on past performance is gone. The drubbing it received, never mind the fact that it still got more votes, has destroyed its internal confidence, let alone the lack of confidence expressed by the voters. The prospect of losing again is within the realm of possibility.

Second, this past elections did not take place in a vacuum. The very conditions that led to the party’s loss have not disappeared. The voters’ sense of having being short-changed by the party due to poor service delivery does not magically disappear because elections have been held. The unchanged material conditions remain a constant reminder to the voter. Factionalism has not been addressed which was also a major factor in their performance. The party’s apparatchik have cited Eskom’s failure to provide reliable electricity as one of the main contributors to the party’s poor performance. As matters stand, Eskom does not seem to have the wherewithal to get itself out of the present quagmire.

Third, whereas the party has easily been able to raise funds the first time, funders are likely to have second thoughts the second time around. Any impression that the party wants to have a rerun of the elections is a consequence of the party failing to win outright majorities may dent it irreparably.

Fourth, voters might be displeased with the party’s attempt to change the will of the people. Voters have decidedly spread their votes among different parties as a way of forcing parties to work together. The resort to by-elections could come across as insulting to the electorate. The party could be read as saying – well you voted but we do not like the outcome, we will invoke the provisions that will give us the outcome we want.

To be fair to the ANC, the party has stated that it is prepared to sit on the opposition benches. Doing so however will not guarantee it any return to power. It does not take much for voters to get used to the new players and to start getting used to the former ruling party being consigned to a role where it plays second fiddle. Returning to power is very arduous a task that the party has not mastered.

For now the ANC is caught between a rock and a hard place. It has to choose between the DA and the EFF. For its part, while comfortable with Ramaphosa and his faction, the DA does not need the ANC. It can run the ANC through Ramaphosa. EFF presents a serious challenge for the ANC since it might be forced to implement the conference resolutions that it has so far thrown into the dustbin. Those that hold the financial strings have already expressed displeasure with such a notion.

Lastly, voter participation has been raised as a major concern. There is no guarantee that a rerun would turn huge numbers. If the party were to win a rerun against a lower voter participation, its victory will be hollow. There are too many risks involved in giving up on the negotiations.

* Professor Sipho Seepe is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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