Ruling alliance in happier times

Commentators and politicians are outdoing themselves announcing either the end or the permanence of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance.

This is Jacob Zuma on the subject – at the Kwazulu-Natal ANC General Council on Friday:

I have read so many alliance obituaries. If leaders express their views, people think that we are fighting … The alliance will be with us for a very long time. (Catch that here)

And this is my (humble) opinion on the subject:

This strike –  as a culmination of other things but also in and of itself – is the death knell for the ruling alliance. (Catch that here)

This business about claiming that the alliance is about to break or will last until the Second Coming is something of a secret code for insiders in the political analysis business. “Insiders” are smugly convinced that the tripartite alliance benefits its constituent elements and these constituents will therefore never leave – and we love to use the analogy of a marriage where the couple fights endlessly but is bound by children, finances and habit so tightly that the partners will be together until death parts them.* I discuss some of the ties that bind here.

“Outsiders” – including those who have never belonged to any of the organisations concerned, as well as foreigners and supporters of parliamentary opposition parties – listen to the noise coming out of  ‘the alliance’ and they take the noise-makers at their word: the alliance is heading for the rocks; it is obvious to anyone with eyes and ears.

The “outsiders” have it.

Philosophically, I am one of those who believes we are what we do. Thus, it is not what Zuma, or Malema or Nzimande or Vavi claim, it is what they, and their organisations, do that counts.

The ruling alliance is not, primarily, a name. It is a description of a shared history, set of values and, most importantly, an accepted set of policies and an agreed upon process for deciding about such policies; and is also the formal forums and organisational structures through which such decisions are taken and implemented.

The only thing of significance that “the ruling alliance” did was throw Mbeki out of office and replace him with Jacob Zuma. Everything that has happened since needs to be seen through the “you are what you do” prism. The constituent organisations have done nothing together except violently disagree, actively try to undermine each other (and each other’s leadership ) – and they have agreed upon nothing and done nothing in concert.

Except for the media appeals tribunal (catch my criticism of Jeremy Cronin’s defence of that here) which, bizarrely, is the single thing that the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have agreed upon – although Cosatu is wavering even on this as the damage done by the public sector wage strike to their relationship with the ANC deepens and intensifies.

It is as if they are saying: “We (as ‘the alliance’) have nothing to offer – but we have a plan to slap anyone down who point that out.” Frankly, I am not surprised.

* (note) What the “Insiders” are actually referring to is a sense of identity invested in the struggle against Apartheid under the broad leadership of the ANC and, crucially,  that traces its ideological lineage through to the “Congress Movement” – from the United Democratic Front, the Natal Indian Congress, South African Congress of Trade Unions, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of Democrats, the Transvaal Indian Congress and the African National Congress.

(Hmm, I am adding this half an hour after posting the above, just to make myself as clear as I am able, and in case anyone missed the point: If the structures don’t exist, if the decisions are not taken or implemented, if there is real and intense conflict over policy then ‘the alliance’ has already ended – and it makes no difference what the various leaders and commentators say. This is the de facto situation, even if it is still possible to argue that, de jure, the alliance continues on and on.)

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