Signs of disillusionment with ANC
By Norm Dixon
There is evidence that the African National Congress government's pro-big business economic policies are causing growing disillusionment amongst the black working class and poor. While South Africa's second democratic election is less than a year away, the government is unlikely to suffer an electoral setback because there is no left alternative.
Opinion polls show a steady drift in support from the ANC. A poll released on May 24 showed that its national support had dropped to 54% — down from 58% in a November poll, and well below the 63% vote it won in 1994.
While support for the ANC has weakened, South Africa's discredited, right-wing opposition parties have not benefited.
The apartheid-tainted National Party, which won 20% of the vote in 1994, is polling just 10%. Support for the "liberal" Democratic Party, which represents wealthy, suburban whites, has increased from 3% to 5% at the expense of the NP. Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Zulu-chauvinist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) remains at 5%.
Opinion poll results indicate that those disillusioned with the ANC are likely to abstain in 1999, rather than vote for apartheid-linked parties. The combined "don't know", "won't say" and "won't vote" responses range between 15% and 23%.
Because the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions remain committed to their alliance with the ANC, a viable left alternative to the ANC is unlikely.
The refusal of a substantial number of unhappy ANC supporters to vote, rather than voting for another party, may boost the ANC's overall percentage compared to 1994. The Centre for Policy Studies estimates that the ANC could even top the two-thirds majority of the national vote required to amend the constitution.
ANC support in the two provinces it does not govern has risen sharply. In Western Cape, ruled by the NP, it has jumped from 29% in 1994 to 39%. In KwaZulu-Natal, won by the IFP in 1994 with 51%, the ANC now commands 38% of the vote, jumping from 26%.
However, the ANC is in real danger of losing control of Northern Cape province, where its support has dropped from 46% to 30%.
The ANC may be forced to rely on support from minor parties to remain in charge of the all-important Gauteng province — which contains South Africa's industrial heartland around Johannesburg and Pretoria — where its support has dropped below 50% (down from 58%).
In Eastern Cape, the recently formed United Democratic Movement (UDM), led by former Transkei bantustan leader Bantu Holomisa and apartheid-era NP cabinet minister Roelf Meyer, is polling second after the ANC. ANC support there has plummeted from 77% to 57%. In North West province, the ANC's support has been cut from 74% to 65%.
Disillusionment is greatest among the most politicised — liberation movement activists, community organisation activists and militant trade unionists.
In March, it was revealed at the ANC Gauteng provincial congress that membership in that province had slumped from 120,000 in 1994 to only 44,000. Provincial secretary Paul Mashatile reported that "many of our branches are not functional, and some have virtually collapsed".
A report prepared for the provincial executive identified ANC policies that "show little resemblance to the strategic tasks of [improving] housing, education, safety and security, health and job creation" as one reason for the desertions.
The report warned that the right-wing UDM may take advantage of the disillusionment because "it essentially is composed of former ANC members who have the same organising capacities like ourselves; the UDM can go into our constituency; and because it has the rhetoric of being the custodians of ANC policy which it claims the ANC is not implementing".
There are increasing reports of local ANC leaders defecting from the party. In May, five office-bearers of the ANC Youth League joined the IFP. They included the ANCYL branch chairpersons from Pietersburg, Northern Province and Mamelodi West, near Pretoria. The ANCYL secretary in the former Gazankulu bantustan also left. ANC officials in the Eastern Cape have defected to the UDM.
In late May, five branches of the ANC-aligned South African National Civics Organisation near Johannesburg announced they were splitting from SANCO because they no longer would continue "being babies to the ANC".
The branches criticised the government's failure to address the needs of the poor and unemployed and slammed ANC local governments for cutting off services to those who could not afford to pay their bills.
Last September, respected anti-apartheid activist Mzwanele Mayekiso, president of the Alexandra Civic Organisation and a SANCO executive member, was expelled after opposing the election to government positions of people who also hold SANCO leadership posts. This led to a conflict of interests and an "inability to represent effectively the interests and aspirations of local communities", Mayekiso said.
Similar concerns have been raised regarding COSATU's close political relationship with the ANC.
While COSATU has loudly criticised the ANC's economic policy — Growth, Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR — its opposition has largely been verbal and conducted within alliance structures. Criticism is usually tempered with pledges of support for the ANC at the 1999 election.
On March 26, National Union of Mineworkers president James Motlatsi, while pledging the union's support for the goal of an ANC two-thirds majority in 1999, warned, "Our most difficult task is going to be to prevent mass abstention by voters who believe that the government has failed them in some way".
Motlatsi told the NUM congress on March 26 that the ANC cabinet is "playing the tune composed by big business" that a completely free market would bring jobs and prosperity. He charged that the "highly popular" Freedom Charter and the Reconstruction and Development Program had been dropped due to disapproval by big business.
Motlatsi added that the "membership of the tripartite [ANC-SACP-COSATU] alliance has counted for little" in the ANC's policy deliberations.
Rank and file members of COSATU affiliates most affected by the government's funding cuts and privatisation drive are pushing for more action to defeat GEAR.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) is conducting determined struggles against privatisation of water and sewerage.
On June 10, a national strike by 280,000 teachers led by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (and supported by the Congress of South African Students) over mass retrenchments of temporary teachers and class sizes was narrowly averted.
Public service unions are facing the prospect of cuts to the government work force of 300,000. Most recently, the government has angered two of COSATU's biggest affiliates, the NUM and the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), by passing legislation to "corporatise" the electricity utility Eskom, in preparation for its privatisation.
Reacting to this pressure, the COSATU leadership announced in May that it would not repeat its 1994 decision to "deploy" leading unionists as ANC candidates in 1999.
Many of those deployed into parliament, like trade and industry minister Alec Erwin and telecommunications minister Jay Naidoo, have directly implemented the ANC's austerity and privatisation policies. Another union parliamentarian, Marcel Golding, has since left parliament and become a leading businessperson.
NUMSA general secretary Mbuyi Ngwenda told the Weekly Mail and Guardian that there is a debate in COSATU over how to relate to the ANC in government. Some members are urging a rethink of unconditional support for the ANC because of its failure to "deliver", while others say "the key question is how to give the ANC a two-thirds majority so that it can consolidate political power so it can deliver".
There is a small but persistent point of view within COSATU that the union federation should form an independent workers' party.
This tendency received a boost in February when John Appollis, a noted socialist militant and secretary of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union Witwatersrand region, called on COSATU to admit it was unable to influence government policy, break with the ANC and create a left-wing party that would remain loyal to the goal of socialism.
In March, a group of CWIU members left the union to form the Oil, Chemical, General and Allied Workers Union, which is committed to the creation of a workers' party.