Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
8 October 2008

Lekota’s announcement: what now?

The announcement by Mosioua Lekota this morning that he will call a convention to form a new political party that will contest the election next year is obviously going to shake up South Africa’s politics. Lekota’s statement suggests that the new party will try and position itself as the “true” ANC while painting Jacob Zuma and his supporters as having betrayed the values of the Freedom Charter and the principles espoused by the ANC.

It is too early to tell what impact this move will have on the ANC’s electoral fortunes. Much will depend on how many people – grassroots organisers and other members – within the ANC decide to join this new formation and to what extent the new formation can convince voters that its members are acting out of principle and not because of sour grapes. Much will also depend on how the ANC leadership deals with this move.

Some might argue that the timing of this move to form a new party will hamper the new formation because they have very little time before the next election to establish a grassroots presence all over South Africa. Running an election campaign is a difficult task requiring special skills, hard work and lots of money.

But the timing might actually work in favour of the new grouping. If enough disgruntled ANC MPs and party members feel that they have been marginalised by the Zuma leadership, they might be prepared to give up their positions to fight for the new party as they might feel they have nothing to lose.

If this had happened just after the election (and given the fact that floor crossing is being scrapped) many ANC members might not have joined the new formation because it would have spelt the end of their jobs. But if the Zuma faction acts in an arrogant manner and fails to send signals to the Mbeki faction that their jobs are safe, many of them might jump ship. This will provide the new party with an instant grassroots presence and organisational structure that might be able to make electoral inroads.

This is a huge test for Zuma, Motlathe and Mantashe because I am sure the first reaction of the hotheads within the ANC NEC will be to act in an arrogant and dismissive way towards the new party and towards those who feel disgruntled by recent events within the ANC. If these hotheads are not reighned in, the ANC might hemmorrage members to the new party who will then have instant structures on the ground to help it mobilise for the election.

Meanwhile, expect the politics to get rather dirty over the next few months. Those who leave the ANC may well have some secrets that it might want to tarnish their old party and old comrades with. I would not be surprised if we have a few sensational leaks to the Sunday Times in the next few weeks regarding ANC corruption and finances.

The ball is now in the ANC’s court. How will the leadership deal with this crisis? If the Malema’s of the world have their say, they will deal with it in a disasterous manner, so if I was Lekota I would hope that – like with the firing of Mbeki – the reasonable people within the ANC are not listened to.

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