Ruling ANC has now become the new IFP

ow the ANC conducted itself in winning KwaZulu-Natal has serious implications. Are we now likely to see an ANC that is openly and consistently progressive and exercising political tolerance?

ow the ANC conducted itself in winning KwaZulu-Natal has serious implications. Are we now likely to see an ANC that is openly and consistently progressive and exercising political tolerance?

Critical reflections on the ANC's conduct in KwaZulu-Natal during the 2009 election campaign show up a party that is far from these progressive political values and practices that were once its hallmark.

In displacing the IFP, has the ANC not become the new IFP?

Let us critically look at the multi-pronged strategy the ANC followed in breaking the IFP's hegemony in KwaZulu-Natal. Key here was how the ANC used state machinery for service delivery, infrastructure development, and opening up institutions of traditional leadership.

Historically, the essence of ANC strategy in KwaZulu-Natal was to regard the IFP as a counter-revolutionary force that must, at all costs, be politically defeated.

When this could not be achieved, the ANC recognised the politically pragmatic necessity of working within the IFP's mass base and even with the IFP itself in the provincial government and municipalities.

The ANC has been quite astute in eroding IFP loyalty among the rural elite, mainly unelected and unaccountable traditional leaders. For decades, this remnant of feudal relations was the IFP's relatively secure base for influence and control.

The ANC has also had to respond to the violence-prone nature of the IFP. In doing so, the ANC itself was drawn into anti-democratic violent postures.

The success of the ANC strategy explains the recent petulance and restlessness of the IFP, which has led to several incidents of heightened political violence in which both parties are not innocent.

What then does the ANC response to this IFP restlessness tell us of the state of progressive politics in the ANC?

Like the IFP before, the logic of the ANC strategy is to increasingly regard KwaZulu-Natal as its own territory. Such logic is counter-intuitive to an open, pluralistic, tolerant, mass-based and thorough-going democracy.

Beyond KwaZulu-Natal, where in South Africa has the ANC employed mass participatory politics?

According to Michelle Williams's book (The Roots of Participatory Democracy: Democratic Communists in South Africa and Kerala, India, mass participatory politics is different from limited mass mobilisation that is normally used by political leaders to advance limited elite interests even under the garb of popular demands.

In contrast, mass participatory practices are about sustained mass empowerment that takes longer and are aimed at building the independent self-capacity and critical consciousness of ordinary people to organise themselves, use their power and act in their own interests.

The ANC is far from this: it is largely absent from the daily struggles for land, against evictions of the rural poor, for access to basic services and workplace struggles.

Consistent with the logic of owning a province, the ANC has deliberately entrenched the undemocratic and unaccountable power of traditional leaders in rural areas. It is now gatekeeper to any process of rural service delivery and development.

Such an accommodation with traditional leaders does not allow the ANC to go beyond limited mass mobilisation. It is important to note that IFP rule and the "consent" it garnered was secured through a combination of control of land by traditional leaders, Zulu (militaristic and patriarchal) ideology and warlordism.

Telling here is the way in which these same symbols were used to secure Jacob Zuma's leadership of the ANC in much the same way in which the IFP did to try to secure support for Buthelezi's leadership position in the political negotiations of the 1990s.

We have also seen the ANC tolerating controversial ANC provincial politicians who have effectively undermined the roll-out of antiretroviral treatment needed by people living with HIV-Aids in public hospitals.

We have even seen an ANC that defends MECs who are facing serious charges of corruption and maladministration.

The KwaZulu-Natal experience shows an ANC that is strategically incapable of rising above the narrow electoralist party that it has become.

Does this suggest that the ANC has an objective interest in maintaining the current social and economic order? Can we expect the current ANC to be anything but a self-interested elite that is satisfied with limited mass mobilisation? This remains to be seen.

l Jara is a member of the SA Communist Party. He writes in his personal capacity.