Just how broad a church is a broad church?

The ANC and the Congress Movement has always liked to refer to itself as “a broad church” – which basically means that people of different ideological persuasions should be able to find a home within the movement.

The Ruling Alliance is giving new definition to ‘broadness” – and no, this is not a joke about expanding waistlines in the ruling party (which is, frankly, no joke at all.)

Both Genghis Kahn and Mother Theresa would have found a home somewhere in the ‘Ruling Alliance’ – that is: the African National Congress (with its Youth League and Women’s League and uMkhonto we Sizwe vets), Cosatu (and its myriad affiliates) and the South African Communist Party (with its Young Communists League).

Last night the ANC Youth League came out in support of the solidiers who had clashed with police in Pretoria two weeks ago. This after the ANC’s Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Defence, threatened them with the full extent of the law – and quite right she was, too.

But the point is, it’s such a clever trick!

You can have ministers and leaders as diverse as telecoms minister Siphiwe Nyanda and SACP secretary general and Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande grossing out on the most expensive luxury cars in the world and you can have Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general of Cosatu, attacking them for it. All comfortably within the same government.

This really does give new meaning to having your cake and eating it.

When a political movement is able to claim that it represents everyone, it represents no-one. Without a set of policies upon which a party can agree, the party replaces “politics” with “power”. If the ANC is not working for a set of policies and ideas then the hidden drivers can become power, wealth and patronage. What else is Julius Malema doing around the same table as Cyril Ramaphosa? What do they have in common? It seems to me that all they have in common is the hope that the Ruling Alliance stays the ruling alliance.

In the real world humans have a host of competing interests; and democracy, parliament  and the law is a system for mediating those differences.

So what interests has the Ruling Alliance got in common for which it is prepared to suppress differences of ideology and policy? 

There are only two possible answers:

  1. The Ruling Alliance suppresses differences because the broad agenda of transformation is too important to derail for tactical differences and clashes of class and ethnic interests.
  2. The Ruling Alliance suppresses differences of ideology, politics and policy because the benefits (in terms of money, property, power and/or prestige) of participating in government is more important for the individuals and groups concerned.

This is a straightforward clash between being motivated by individual greed and being motivated by concerns for the wellbeing of the struggling majority of South Africans.

I have no doubt that both these tendencies are true and struggling for dominance within The Alliance – and even within individuals within The Alliance. Ultimately one or other of such tendencies must become dominant.

The Polokwane revolution and the new Zuma administration presented themselves as favouring the former (saam staan for transformation) tendency. Not much supports this contention. I, for one, am waiting with (a)bated breath to see which way this thing is heading.