Losing his Mojo or just losing his mind?

ANTHONY BUTLER: ANC internal democracy at stake as cadres mull authoritarian rule

Group suggests that since the ANC is going to lose next year’s municipal elections, it should prevent the poll from taking place


US President Donald Trump’s proposal on Wednesday was brilliant in its simplicity. Observing his lead eroding as the votes were tallied, he suggested the supreme court should simply suspend the count.

This idea is also popular in parts of the ANC. A self-styled “ANC Cadres” group, led by retired defence intelligence head Maomela “Mojo” Motau, has circulated a document grandly entitled “ANC Turnaround Strategy 2025: Changing the Course of History”. 

Peering ahead to next year’s municipal elections, the cadres observe that the outcome might be “much more humiliating than we think. The battering can actually spell the end of the ANC as a major political party.” They recommend the Trumpian remedy. Since the ANC is going to lose, it should prevent the elections from taking place. Democracy should be replaced by rule through the diktat of unelected committees.

The authors also want “closer ties” to China, Russia and Southern African liberation movements. In other words, they want authoritarian foreign regimes to help them run SA, because they have no idea how to do it themselves. The group is perhaps not drawn from the more intellectually gifted ranks of the ANC. Threatening to ditch elections is not a good strategy, unless you can make it permanent.ADVERTISING

It is true SA citizens are a bit fed up with democracy. Fewer than half of eligible electors voted in 2019. A 2018 Afrobarometer survey found that more than two-thirds of young people were willing to give up elections for a government that could provide jobs, housing and security.

In reality, however, the cadres’ proposed form of authoritarian rule would not work. It depends on ruthlessly efficient committees of ANC activists running government affairs. Control enforced by the defence force would stand little chance if taxi bosses or Cape Flats gangs took up arms and even ADT, also known as the military wing of the DA, enjoys logistical superiority over the state.

The fact that the ANC is even entertaining the cadres’ anti-democratic proposals could buoy opposition parties, which are already far better placed than most observers recognise. The DA has cut its losses after its experiment in accelerating black leadership. This will cap, but not much reduce, its vote share. The EFF will be boosted by the likely criminal prosecution of some of the current leadership. 

Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA is now a real contender in the three metros in the north of the country. This party, seriously underestimated by our complacent incumbent cartel, is targeting education policy. President Cyril Ramaphosa is hamstrung by the SA Democratic Teachers Union, and the DA is mesmerised by former model-C schools. Yet there are 9-million children in dysfunctional public schools, creating a huge voter pool on which Mashaba can draw.

ActionSA also wants to “clamp down on the influx of undocumented migrants through our porous borders”. According to Afrobarometer data from 2018, about half of SA citizens oppose political asylum, believe foreigners should not be allowed to work in the country, and favour placing refugees in internment camps. Covid-related economic impacts are likely to deepen these vote-drawing, if reprehensible, sentiments.

The ANC cadres are not really threatening that ageing major generals and rear admirals will invade the Union Buildings, perhaps propelled by Zimmer frames or armoured wheelchairs. It is also hard to imagine that the curiously youthful “culinary detachment” of the Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans will engage in such a dashing military manoeuvre.

No, the democracy the ageing ANC Cadres really want to hijack is the residual internal democracy of the liberation movement. If the ANC’s legitimate leadership cannot firmly put down these tin-pot internal rebels, the real electors outside will notice. It will be another nail in the electoral coffin of the liberation movement the cadres falsely claim to represent.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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