ANC needs MKP to avoid the ill-fated path walked by the Indian National Congress

Members of the ANC ponder the consequence of no party receiving an outright majority. l DAVID RITCHIE

Members of the ANC ponder the consequence of no party receiving an outright majority. l DAVID RITCHIE

Published Jun 9, 2024


By Olwethu Mhaga

The much-anticipated and hotly contested 2024 South African general election has now come and gone. As a consequence of no party receiving an outright majority, South Africans have to contend with a national coalition government.

The prevailing wisdom, which has come to dominate our discourse on these national coalition negotiations, is that a grand coalition of the two largest political parties in South Africa, being the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance, will result in the stable and market friendly government that this moment demands.

This narrative, which has been fervently echoed by big business and the media establishment, as well as their acolytes, seeks to entrench their interests at the expense of the interests and message that the defecting voters were actually sending to the ruling party.

Now that the dust of this earth-shattering election has settled it is patently obvious that the monumental 17% drop in support for the ANC was the result of former oresident Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) contesting the election.

In an incredible debut that surpassed and exceeded all expectations, MK gave a masterclass on winning the hearts of disaffected ANC voters en masse. As explained by the former president’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, many MK voters wore ANC T-shirts but nonetheless voted for the new party in protest.

No other party in the democratic era of South Africa has dealt such a devastating blow to the electoral prospects of Africa’s oldest liberation movement. The fact that MK was able to do this in less than a year makes their impact all the more significant.

Indian 2024 General Election

Concurrent to the 2024 South African election was the Indian general election. India boasts the title of being the world’s largest democracy with over 640 million votes counted over a period of six weeks and in seven phases.

The outcome, announced on June 4, 2024, saw India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and his party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secure a third term, albeit with a significantly reduced majority and in coalition with his partners that form the National Democratic Alliance.

This makes Modi only the second Prime Minister in Indian history to secure three consecutive terms as Prime Minister.

Much of the focus of the coverage of the results has been on Modi and his BJP’s significantly reduced majority. However, a real lesson for the ANC lies in the diminished electoral prospects of the once dominant Indian National Congress (INC).

Despite leading the opposition Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.), which comprised 26 opposition parties, they were unable to obtain a majority and only managed to return their position as the official opposition to the BJP.

Indian National Congress

Similarly to the ANC, the INC in many ways led the Indian struggle for freedom against colonisation and helped usher in the country’s current democratic era.

After obtaining independence in 1947, the party dominated Indian politics for 50 years. Of the 18 general elections that have occurred since independence, the INC has won seven in an outright majority and another three in a governing coalition, in totality governing over 54 years.

However, in recent history the INC has suffered a number of humiliating and heavy defeats. In 2014, the once political juggernaut only managed to win 44 of the 543 seats that form the Lok Sabha (India’s lower house of parliament).

In the subsequent 2019 general election they failed to make any substantial gains and won only 52 seats. Considering their recent misfortunes, it is no wonder that they see securing 99 seats and reclaiming their position as official opposition in the 2024 election, as a success.

Despite the brave face this is an incredible fall from grace for a political party that was once undefeatable and boasted iconic leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and revered Prime Ministers such as Jawaharlal Nehru.

The causes of these substantial declines are multiple but having studied the issue, political scientist Dr Ronojoy Sen, of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the University of Singapore, found that “breakaway parties have either decimated the Congress or significantly reduced its strength”.

The number of breakaway parties and factional splinter parties that have stemmed from the INC are astonishing and they have had the cumulative impact of decimating the party’s once unassailable majority especially with the rise of the now dominant BJP.

Conflicts between leaders, regions, factions even resulted in the creation of multiple congress parties with letters indicated in brackets to indicate the leader such as Congress (I), Congress (O), Congress (U).

The party’s inability to sufficiently deal with the internal factionalism that inevitably arose from a big tent party that sat at the centre of Indian politics was ultimately its undoing.

Coalition of ANC and MK

It is abundantly clear that MK is a breakaway protest against the ruling party and many of its members, leaders and even president remain members of the ANC. The former president and leader of MK himself has said “Ndizofela kuyo” (I will die in it) when addressing supporters and speaking about the ANC.

If the ANC wishes to avoid the progression towards future continual losses now suffered by their Indian counterpart, it should begin taking the necessary steps to halt the bleeding and reintegrate this faction that has severed a limb from the ANC. I believe that process begins with joining MK in governing coalition.

Despite the establishment media’s greatest efforts, and they have been substantial and coordinated, the South African general election made it clear that a majority of voters believe in the ANC, it just depends on the particular faction. In that regard, this breakaway is a plea by members of the ANC for their concerns to be heard.

Approaching this argument among brothers and sisters with arrogance could ultimately be the ANC’s undoing.

Back when I was a member of the ANC youth league, I wrote in the 110 Anniversary Edition of the ANC Today a piece entitled “Making Factions Work”.

In it, I argued that factions have always been in the organisation and as a solution to manage them I argued the ANC could either follow the path of the Japanese Liberal Democratic party, which has effectively ruled Japan almost continuously since 1955, by institutionalising and managing factions, or the path of the INC which continues to suffer defeats. I hope they will now heed my advice.

Stumbling Blocks

Much has been made about the stumbling blocks that impede what should be an inevitable union but they are by no means intractable.

For example, if MK really wishes to see President Ramaphosa ousted, then by the look of things they simply have to bide their time. The president has overseen historic losses for the ANC in the two national elections he has lead. Any leader would be weak after such a result especially when presiding over an organisation which was always divided on his leadership.

The criminal prosecution of former president Zuma presents a scenario where history can be a compelling guide. I have often wondered why then president of the United States, Gerald Ford, would sacrifice his chances at election by pardoning his predecessor Richard Nixon following his resignation as a result of the Watergate scandal.

However, subsequent events around the world have illustrated that there was perhaps profound wisdom in the decision. Often prosecuting a popular leader has the effect of increasing their popularity like President Lula da Silva of Brazil, or incense a significant portion of the population raising the prospect of widespread violence like we are currently seeing in the US and of course here in South Africa.

Sometimes it even triggers cycles of retribution where subsequent leaders prosecute their predecessors in retribution. It is by no means clear that insisting on prosecuting incredibly popular former leaders for financial crimes is the correct decision for the health of a democracy.

Allegations that MK are anti-constitutionalists and anti-market (read socialist or communist) have also been levelled at the ANC itself and honestly should not be an impediment to working together. In fact, MK represents interests within the ANC that have always been dissatisfied with the compromises that define key parts of our Constitution.

Many within the ANC still believe that the party is pursuing an economic agenda that is antithetical to the interest of the poor black majority. The key for the ANC is to seriously deal with these concerns, not simply ignore them.

The simple point is that considering the precarious position the ANC finds itself in, it cannot afford to antagonise more of its voters and members by joining with a party that has explicitly run a campaign against its agenda while ignoring a significant protest of its own.

Such arrogance would continue its path of continual decline. Or maybe that’s the point.

* Olwethu Mhaga is an admitted attorney, political commentator and develops content commenting on contemporary issues and interviewing political and business leaders. He is a former secretary general of Students for Law and Social Justice and a News 24 Young Mandela.