An Alliance Divided: Jacob Zuma's Diminished Support Base

By Sarah Logan

Last week saw the deepening of divisions between South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). This comes at a time when the party’s youth league (ANCYL) has also become increasingly antagonistic towards the ANC. 

After the COSATU, SACP and ANCYL buoyed Jacob Zuma's rise to the presidency at the party’s 2007 conference in Polokwane, their support for him as president of the ANC and South Africa has gradually waned. Now, factions within COSATU and the ANCYL are openly calling for leadership change ahead of the party’s elective conference in Manguang this December.

Frustration with the current ANC leadership stems predominantly from the belief that the ANC has failed to implement a number of resolutions and policy changes, of which the issue of nationalisation of mines and other key economic sectors is of particular importance to the political left. After having seemingly endorsed such policies at the Polokwane conference, the ANC leadership has since made it apparent that they have no immediate plans to introduce them, much to the consternation of their leftist partners.

As a result, factions have emerged within these organisations opposing the re-election of President Zuma and Secretary General Gwede Mantashe. They are pushing for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Fikile Mbalula, the current Minister of Sports and Recreation, to assume the positions of president and secretary general of the ANC, respectively, in the hope that such replacements will bring the ANC’s political direction more in line with their organisations’ left-wing policies.

Although once close allies of Zuma, the ANCYL president, Julius Malema, and the Secretary General of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi, have become highly critical of him, and have come out in notable opposition to his and Mantashe’s re-elections. Both have considerable influence and support within the electorate and are increasingly flexing their muscles against the might of the ANC.

This struggle for control over the direction of the alliance now underpins all political developments in South Africa, as was apparent in the protest march led by COSATU on 7 March, that saw many thousands of protesters take to the streets nationwide in what is thought to have been the largest mass protest since South Africa’s anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s.

Strikes were called by COSATU to protest against what they consider to be abusive labour brokering practices, as well as the government’s proposed e-tolling system, which will charge motorists in Gauteng for usage of the province’s open highways. Huge upgrades were made to Gauteng’s highways ahead of South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup, and the government intends for motorists to foot the bill, as it claims that its coffers cannot cover the cost.

There is much resentment toward the e-tolling system as it will take up a significant portion of many motorists’ salaries at a time when the cost of fuel and fuel levies have also increased considerably. Additionally, COSATU sees it is a matter of principle, that the usage of Gauteng’s highways should be the right of every South African citizen, regardless of their economic standing.

However, the protest was also a political show of strength from Vavi’s anti-Zuma faction of COSATU ahead of the federation’s national congress and the ANC’s policy conference, both in June, and the ANC’s pivotal elective conference at Manguang in December. Protests in Johannesburg, which dwarfed those taking place elsewhere in the country, were led by Vavi and posed as a reminder to President Zuma of the masses of COSATU supporters that may oppose his re-election should the ANC continue to leave their leftist promises unfulfilled, and the needs of poor, disadvantaged citizens unaddressed.

Malema, who has recently been expelled from the ANC for bringing the party into disrepute and sowing division within the party (but who nevertheless currently remains president of the ANCYL) arrived unannounced at COSATU’s Johannesburg march. Being hugely popular amongst the unemployed and working class youth, protesters cheered his attendance with chants of “Juju, Juju, Juju!” and demanded that he be allowed to address the crowd, despite the fact that Sindiso Magaqa, the ANCYL Secretary General had been the only ANCYL representative scheduled to speak.

Vavi, who shares a number of pro-poor policy views with Malema, permitted Malema to address the crowd, much to the anger of COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini, who was leading a concurrent protest in Durban. Although COSATU’s march was technically one of criticism of the ANC-led government, pitting alliance partners against each other, Dlamini has not been particularly critical of Zuma’s presidency and has, in fact, publicly stated that he supports his re-election.

With Dlamini backing Zuma’s re-election and Vavi calling for his replacement, division within COSATU is growing rapidly ahead of its national congress in June. So, too, divisions between COSATU and the ANC will increasingly come to the fore in the lead-up to the Manguang conference in December, especially if Vavi garners more support within COSATU than Dlamini. With the SACP pushing for the ANC to take a more leftist direction, and Malema and the ANCYL apparently supporting Vavi’s calls for directional change within the ANC, Zuma and Mantashe’s growing unpopularity within the alliance ensures that they will face an uphill battle for re-election.


Sarah Logan is currently practising as an attorney in Johannesburg, predominantly in commercial law, although her interests and true passion lie in working towards the attainment of democracy and good governance in Africa, and the achievement of the social and economic betterment of all of Africa’s people.


14 March 2012


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