Following the momentous events at Polokwane speculation abounds about the possibility of violence, with comparisons drawn between the situation in South Africa and that in Kenya. As elsewhere in the country there are deep divisions in the ruling party in KZN, fuelled by allegations of gross irregularities in internal party processes leading up to the nominations for party leadership, and the selection of voting delegates. While the threat of inter-party violence around the 2009 election remains, there are also fears of increased levels of targeted intra-ANC violence, and diffuse public violence. The manner in which the organisation – both in and out of government – deals with the polarisation within its ranks, and the circumstances surrounding it, has crucial implications not only for the party and for the country as a whole.

Background context :
Jacob Zuma’s victory is attributed to a variety of factors : Thabo Mbeki is perceived as being out of touch with party colleagues and supporters, and as having used the Scorpions to pursue a vendetta against Zuma, There is resentment about some of the people he appears to rely on, and he is accused of being power hungry – despite having given no indication that he would wish to serve a third term as president. In contrast, Zuma’s victory is attributed to his being in touch with people, a victim of what is seen as a highly selective Scorpions witch hunt, and a counter to Mbeki’s supposed attempt to cling to power.

However, there are serious allegations that the victory was far more than a groundswell of public support for Zuma, and that his campaign was a carefully crafted one, run along scientific lines, using huge financial resources (Zuma supporters allege Mbeki’s use of State resources in his own campaign). There are also claims that the campaign was not necessarily about ensuring that Zuma becomes President, in that some of those involved, who may not be ANC members, are merely using him as a pretext to pursue their own agendas. In other words, the struggle is not simply between two individuals : It is about the fundamental structure and direction of the ANC. There are honourable people, with impeccable ANC struggle credentials, in both of the ‘camps’ (broad alliances). That there are also sundry others, with extremely dubious backgrounds, is relevant, given the threat of violence.

Specifically, it is alleged by those who claim that the Zuma victory was not an accurate reflection of support for the candidates that in KZN a process of excluding Mbeki supporters, or those who refused to take a stand for either candidates, from local government and ANC branch structures has been underway for the past three years – and that similar tactics were used elsewhere in the country. Apparently these irregularities were drawn to the attention of the party’s leadership but no action was taken. It is further alleged that Mbeki’s dismissal of Zuma as Deputy President – which undoubtedly fuelled anti-Mbeki sentiment – was misrepresented to rank and file ANC supporters, in that there had been extensive consultation which had included Zuma prior to the shock parliamentary announcement. It is claimed that the provincial leadership had been fully briefed, and had been tasked with setting the record straight – but that it had failed to do so.

The nature of the threat:
Public threats have already been made by Cosatu leadership in KZN that protest action will accompany Zuma’s court appearance later this year. Fears have also been expressed about the outbreak of violence if Zuma does not become President (if, for example, he is convicted). Threats of this nature obviously hold ominous implications for the criminal justice system. While ANC leadership, including Zuma, has spoken out against these threats, it is not clear whether all their supporters will heed their call. There are various independent reports of accessibility of weapons. Strong leadership of the SAPS will be called for, given that the loyalties of members of the police – and the SANDF which acts in support of police – are divided.

Of great concern are alleged threats to persons, in different parts of the province, who have taken a pro-Mbeki stand, and who believe that justice was not done at Polokwane. They intend to ensure that debates are carried forward in party structures and congresses, and claim that some of them are under threat of death. They fear that persons associated with the volatile taxi industry – well armed and with easy access to trained hit men – may be used to eliminate them.

What’s to be done?
The allegations and counter-allegations which emanate from a range of influential ANC supporters may or may not be correct, but they fuel perceptions which may lead to action. .

Fortunately there seems to be a consensus at leadership level that, in the interests of stability, the Mbeki and Zuma ‘camps’ should be seen to be working together to ensure a smooth transition to the change of government in 2009. In this regard it is important that those who are impatient for the implementation of ANC policy decisions take into account delays occasioned by inevitable legislative and budgetary constraints, and not make unreasonable demands which cannot be lawfully met. Compromises from both sides will probably be called for, and President Mbeki will need to heed bona fide grievances of his opponents. The expertise of old colleagues trusted by both Mbeki and Zuma should be utilised. The full circumstances of Zuma’s removal from the Presidency should be aired, given the resentment it continues to generate. Transparency around party campaign funding is also called for.

Polarisation at all levels must be addressed. Those who wish to carry debates about the legitimacy of the Polokwane process forward in their structures and congresses perceive what has happened as a breach of the democratic culture of the ANC which should be preserved at all costs. It is important that their voices be heard without their having to fear for their lives. In the interests of transparency – and reconciliation – their allegations should be subject to thorough, in-depth inquiry, as should their claims of victimisation and death threats.

It is not enough to simply tell people to desist from violence. This province is littered with the corpses of people who died while their leaders preached peace. Actions speak more loudly than words and sanctions must be implemented against anyone making threats of violence (itself a crime). The issue of stockpiled guns is long overdue for urgent attention.

The nature of the threat – to human lives and good governance – transcends narrow party political interests, and South Africa looks to the new ANC leadership, and that in government, to resolve their differences peacefully. Close public scrutiny and constant vigilance is essential – including through holding political leaders strictly accountable for the conduct of their followers.

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