The unlikely rise of the Gauteng ANC

ANTHONY BUTLER: For now, the Gauteng tail keeps wagging the ANC dog

The top leadership has been noticeably centred on the province since the Zuma presidency

First published in BusinessLive and Business Day

28 APRIL 2023 – 05:00

Something unexpected may be happening in the ANC leadership. The conventional wisdom among political analysts is that the governing party is undergoing a long-term divergence between party mechanisms of leadership selection and policy determination on the one hand, and the dynamics of the wider society on the other. 

SA has been urbanising rapidly, and in consequence, has become more preoccupied with the problems of city dwellers. However, the ANC remains dominated by branch and regional networks in mainly rural areas and slow population-growth provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. 

Strangely, though, the ANC’s topmost leadership has become noticeably Gauteng-centred since the much lamented departure of lamentable former president Jacob Zuma. Consider the composition of the “Top Seven” of the former liberation movement, headed by Gauteng-born and raised ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.

His deputy, Paul Mashatile, is a former Gauteng overlord. Most of the rest of the Top Seven are members of the “Mashatile faction” or the “Gauteng faction”, or both, and seem set on replacing the province’s Ramaphosa with the province’s Mashatile when the time comes (or perhaps before). 

This problem of Gauteng arrogance was exemplified by the national executive committee (NEC) statement on coalition government this week. The December ANC national conference directed the NEC to develop a strategic perspective on coalition government, a task that was assigned to former Gauteng chair and premier David Makhura.  

According to his detractors, Makhura exemplifies a time-honoured ANC tactic of donning thick-lensed spectacles in the hope of being taken for an honest intellectual. His task on this occasion was not hard, though, because he could simply lift ideas from a book on coalition government, Coalitions of Inconvenience, published in 2021 by an excellent Gauteng think-tank, the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection. 

Makhura came up with a reasonable set of proposals to reduce instability in local government coalitions, including a common minimum programme that would be made public, and some attempt to find ideological and policy commonalities.  

Although the report is nominally about municipal coalitions, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula, who takes himself more seriously than anybody else since his election to the position, made it clear that the coming general election is his real priority. 

There is no chance of the ANC securing constitutional adaptations needed to introduce formal changes in the process of forming national or provincial governments, such as mandatory submission of a formal coalition or confidence-and-supply agreement. But it could certainly regulate the way in which the party’s own provincial and local structures approach coalition agreements. 

Yet the ostensible grounds provided for a new coalition policy comprise mostly debacles of metro coalition government that the Gauteng ANC — and its local EFF buddies — have themselves created, many would say deliberately. Nobody seriously believes feeble mayors installed in Ekurhuleni, the West Rand or Johannesburg were meant to succeed. Instead, the deals struck have been great for the two parties in the province, which have been free to share the spoils of government behind the backs of the various feckless mayors they have elevated. 

The EFF is leveraging its power in Gauteng — where the provincial ANC needs its help to survive in office — to secure access to position, power and resources in national government. Worse still, Mbalula now insists that the Gauteng-skewed leadership impose its dictates about coalition partnerships on other provinces. Even ANC behemoths such as the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, which have many more delegates than Gauteng and view the EFF as a mere irritant, will be forced to obey national (meaning Gauteng) dictates.

This then is the puzzle. How long can the Gauteng tail continue to wag the ANC dog? 

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

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