The ANC’s top six greet supporters. Picture: SOWETAN
The ANC’s top six greet supporters. Picture: SOWETAN

THE ANC is unravelling at an alarming pace. Because the organisation is so big and dominant in our politics, and because it is the governing party, it feels as if the entire country has been thrown into chaos. It hasn’t. But these are the mad last days of a once great organisation spinning out of control, and it is not an easy thing to live with.

The biggest consequence of this dysfunctionality at a political level is confidence. The lies, the mishaps and the contradictions have onlookers — citizens and investors — agog. At government level, the consequences are tangible and practical: policies can’t get through Cabinet; policy-making and decision-making are deferred or abandoned. Growth cannot get going.

How long will this chaotic death spiral go on? That is not a question anyone can confidently answer. If things continue at this pace, along this course, by 2019 it could all be over for the ANC. It could be pushed out of power.

This course is one in which the part of the ANC that is controlled by a powerful clique that includes the president, several key provincial leaders and the leadership of the leagues, also supported by the majority of the national executive and the majority of the Cabinet, has the rest of the ANC in a stranglehold. No decision this group does not approve can fly, no matter the context or the obvious political damage.

One of the key characteristics of this group is that it has defined its own agenda, outside that of the ANC, and frequently departs from agreed-on ANC policy and decisions. So, for instance, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi was told some time ago to remove Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson was told to do a cost-benefit analysis of the nuclear project. Brian Molefe was told to sign agreements with independent power producers. Muthambi was told set-top boxes must be encrypted. All have been ANC decisions. None have been implemented.

As an aside, it is a context like this that enabled Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to claim his personal memo to Cabinet on action against the banks was, in fact, the decision of the collective. As it is well-known that Zwane has the support of the president in his crusade against the banks, the gamble was to put out the view as a decision in the hope no one would repudiate it.

The behaviour of the Zuma clique is textbook factional behaviour. Here is a group, bound by a single objective — to hold onto power and keep it from others — that has developed its own quite separate agenda from that of the organisation at large. But textbook politics will also tell you that to succeed, you must be able to persuade society at large that your cause is theirs, and that your goals are theirs, too. In the Zuma case, this is becoming glaringly untrue.

The consequence is that as Zuma and his faction continue on their path to annihilate the Treasury, manipulate the prosecuting authorities, attack the banks and control procurement in state-owned enterprises, they will overreach. They have probably done so already.

The question is: do we need to wait for another three years until the general election for this to be plainly made clear? It is the most likely scenario. Various parts of the ANC have proposed ways out of the hole before then: an early conference; an agreed-on slate of leaders; a woman president; and a complete dissolution of all structures to start afresh.

None of these remedies has the potential to halt the unravelling.

There are now too many dynamics at play for unity and order to be restored. Early conference or late conference will make little difference. The ANC will emerge as a fractured, damaged and corrupted organisation, or possibly even split, and then limp on to the next general election.

It cannot come soon enough.

Paton is deputy editor.