Ace Magashule’s radical tone is being presented as a co-sponsor of the ANC in this election. It’s not only an election about Ramaphosa the reformer, it’s an election about Magashule – the populist maverick, writes Daniel Silke.
If there’s one thing that Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State has done, it has been to turn the 2019 election away from the virtual referendum it had become on Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” to a more focussed interrogation of the more nefarious aspects of the ANC. It also provides a real test for the tolerance levels within the governing party of Ace Magashule and the type of political orientation he allegedly represents.
In so doing, the 2019 campaign of the ANC has taken an unintended twist that now pits the more reform-minded Ramaphosa against an alternative ANC faction (or interest-group) – at worst seemingly keen to perpetuate the misrule of the past and, at best, eager to redefine radical economic transformation in their own terms.
Mr Magashule has not taken the allegations thrown at him lying down. Whilst he is yet to take legal action against the contents of the book, his most recent strategy seems to be centered around coming out with guns blazing – on the campaign trail. And, his tactic seems largely aimed at differentiating himself from President Ramaphosa by presenting a more populist, racially polarising message pretty much akin to the EFF or the Zupta faction of old.
What’s significant is that the ANC has always presented mixed messages. Indeed, its very strength has been in allowing its alliance partners an open microphone to speak to their respective constituencies and in so doing, present a compelling case for the broad church that was always the ANC.
In previous elections, we have seen both Cosatu and the Communist Party engage in policy and electoral rhetoric largely supportive of their own ideological positions – even if this differed from the more mainstream ANC position.
The final month of election 2019 is becoming very different. The SACP and Cosatu have largely gone silent. As key elements of the tripartite alliance, their voices have never been weaker. And, within the context of the ANC election campaign – which usually brings enthusiastic rallying cries, there seems precious little of their influence – at least on public platforms. Indeed, a more ‘workerist’ message is now being propounded outside of the ANC itself by smaller parties.
Instead, the triumvirate of elements that have been the backbone of the ANC has been replaced with two competing factions within the mainstream of the party.
Magashule carving out his niche
Magashule is now fighting for his political life. And he knows it. His own ‘fight-back’ is beginning to usurp the historical ANC approach of talking to workers and expounding their rights as well as returning to the party’s socialist roots – roots that now barely exist in the discourse coming out of Luthuli House.
Instead, the ANC is in this unusual – and highly problematic – realm of factional campaigning. Magashule increasingly embodies the anti-Ramaphosa and seems to be willing to run with this. His message this weekend in Cape Town of “Don’t waste your time on the white man again. The white man can’t improve the life of a black man” smacks of racial invective more closely association with the EFF in recent times.
Magashule is doing two things at once. He is carving out a political niche for himself as the chief proponent of the Zuma legacy of more radical expression. But, he also undermines the more conciliatory approach of Cyril Ramaphosa presented only a week prior to largely white farmers in the heartland of Stellenbosch.
The real rub here is that Magashule’s radical tone is being presented as a co-sponsor of the ANC in this election. It’s not only an election about Ramaphosa the reformer, it’s an election about Magashule – the more populist maverick.
Whereas Ramaphosa would’ve liked his 2019 campaign to be a referendum on his approach to South Africa’s rebirth, the election now has an alternative focus on Magashule’s approach – and of course, the Myburgh book provides a ‘curriculum vitae’ of sorts for those looking for signs of Magashule’s governance style.
Whilst it would seem that Ramaphosa’s faction has managed to reduce the public appearances of former president Jacob Zuma on the campaign trail, it’s much more difficult with the current – and more powerful – secretary general of the ANC. Magashule knows this. And he knows that these last four weeks prior to the vote are his chance to provide some type of leadership equivalence to Ramaphosa.
Alternative vision for the ANC
The real problem for Ramaphosa is whether this more radical style of rhetoric is designed to provide a more populist message to undercut the EFF or whether it is an alternative vision for the ANC under different leadership.
In both cases, the use of racial invectives undermines confidence in South Africa and questions the credibility of Ramaphosa to hold the middle ground as he begins to shore up his more fragile hold over the ANC. And, if this type of approach from Magashule persists, is it sanctioned by Ramaphosa as part of the new-style of mixed messaging now seemingly present within the 2019 ANC?
In the absence of clarity on these issues, the ANC is on shaky ground. At least when the unions held some sway, their message was ideologically clearer in campaigning. Now it’s the factions that do the talking with personalities replacing policy as the points of departure.
There is a danger now that President Ramaphosa can lose control of the key messages related to the “New Dawn” that largely characterised the last 12 months in the build-up of the campaign. Should this be the case, any majority for the ANC (narrow or larger) may be interpreted by both factions as a mandate for them to pursue their different political orientations.
Gangster State has therefore had the unintended consequences of muddying the ANC message. It has exacerbated the internal contradictions already apparent within the ANC – and at election time, it adds a layer of confusion to Ramaphosa’s campaign that neither he nor South Africa needs.
With Magashule firmly on the campaign trail – and seemingly speaking off-message – he either needs to be reined in by his president or the ANC itself must come clean on which message is the real message of this campaign. Double-speak using polarisation tactics to fight an internal ANC battle may not end prettily for anyone.
– Daniel Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.
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