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The ANC is starting to fragment on the back of the governing party’s inability to reduce poverty, deliver jobs and effective public services. The party will continue to fragment as it remains divided and is unlikely to secure a two-thirds majority of votes as it has done in the past

The almost irreversible fragmentation of the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement, has begun. It does appear the ANC does not have the quality leadership at the head of the party, neither does it appear open enough to bring in fresh leadership and ideas, or is it willing to genuinely introspect, to be able to reverse the decline.

The ANC, the party of liberation, is starting to fragment on the back of the governing party’s inability to reduce poverty, delivery jobs and effective public services.

The ANC may have reached its electoral peak. In future, the ANC may never again secure the two-thirds majorities it grabbed in previous national elections.


South Africa is entering the 20-year post-liberation mark when many African liberation governments turned governments, who fail to deliver adequately on promises, either break-up, splinter or fragment when members and supporters leave it for new parties.

Traditionally, it has been assumed that a break in the ANC – when it occurs, will assume a ‘big bang’ dimension. In such a ‘big bang’ scenario, it was assumed that the ANC will break into Left and centrists’ factions, with the ‘Left’, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and/or the South African Communist Party (SACP), going their own way, while the centrists, including the African nationalists and black business, in alliance with populists and Africanists groupings remain as the rump of the ‘ANC.’


However, it is more likely that the model for the fragmentation of the ANC will be the fragmentation of South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), where disillusioned members splintered into the AMCU (Association of Mineworkers Construction Union), and into other smaller unions. The rate of smaller groups breaking from the ANC is now likely to occur at a higher rate.

Recently Julius Malema, the expelled former President of the ANC Youth League announced he will form a political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). In April, some MK Veterans formed a new party, South Africa First. In 2011, some members of the SACP in the North West province, broke away and formed their own communist party, the Lebaleng Communist Party.

Ahead of the 2011 local government elections, scores of disgruntled ANC-SACP-Cosatu members stood as independent candidates, or formed new parties at municipal level. These former ANC members’ turned independents and their new parties may form the nuclei of future new national parties.

Although Agang, launched on Saturday by former Black Consciousness leader, Mamphele Ramphele, is not strictly a break-away from the ANC, many disgruntled ANC members have joined.

Smaller Leftwing parties, outside the mainstream ANC Left, may also emerge to recruit disillusioned leftwing members of the ANC alliance. An example is the formation of the Workers’ and Socialist Party (WASP), which claims to have made political inroads among disgruntled communities in SA’s mining areas, following the Lonmin Marikana mine massacre.


The break-away of the Congress of the People (COPE) from the ANC in 2008 in protest against the election of Jacob Zuma as ANC President started the fragmentation of the ANC. Although Cope have plunged into chaos after infighting between its two leaders Mosioua Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, the formation of COPE broke an important invisible wall: it made it acceptable for ANC members to seek a political life outside the ANC.

Although the ANC choreographed unity after the re-election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president at the ANC’s December 2012 Mangaung national conference, the ANC is perhaps as at its most divided since 1994. The president may have won the leadership of the ANC’s 4000 electoral college consisting of the leaders of branches, structures and affiliates of the ANC, he may have lost the vote of the broader membership and support base of the party.

The final ANC national executive committee elected at the ANC Mangaung had no members from the 5 provincial branches who either directly opposed the president or almost equally divided between those opposing him and those supporting him – a historical first for the party.

Not only may these provincial branches distance themselves from key decisions of President Zuma, they may oppose the implementation of such decisions.


For another, there are an unprecedented large number of senior ANC figures, who all had presidential or deputy presidential ambitions, who have opposed Zuma’s re-election and who are now out in the cold. They include Tokyo Sexwale (housing settlements minister), Mathews Phosa (former ANC Treasurer), Fikile Mbalula (Sports Minister), and Kgalema Motlanthe (Deputy President), and Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu general secretary, and Julius Malema, the now expelled ANC Youth League leader.

When the Congress of People (COPE) broke away from the ANC in 2008, there were only two prominent ANC leaders, Mosiuoa Lekota (the ANC former National Chairperson) and Sam Shilowa (the former Premier of Gauteng Province).

ANC leaders, including Zuma appear to have accepted that the party has lost large numbers of the black middle class, hence party leaders continual attacks on the suspect ‘loyalty’ of the black middle class.

For the first time, there are powerful individuals and constituencies within the ANC who feel they are marginalized. Clearly, if all the disgruntled and purged leaders and constituencies band together they could create an unprecedentedly powerful opposition (more powerful than COPE at its peak) whether within our outside the ANC, hitherto not yet seen. Even if these groups do not form a formal opposition, they may at best be very lukewarm to campaign for the ANC in the 2014 national elections – which may undermine the party’s electoral performance.

The tipping point have been reached where the gap between the ANC leadership and the daily grind of ordinary members may have now become such a wide gulf that many ANC members who may have deep affinity with the party may now not be able anymore to identify themselves with both the leaders and the party.

A toxic combination of factors led to the splintering of the NUM. The social gap – between the leaders of the (NUM and ordinary members became so large that the ordinary miners could not identify with their leaders and trade union anymore and therefore sought new leaders and established a new organization.

President Jacob Zuma’s questionable friendships and personal behavior, and invisible leadership – and the un-ANC behavior of many of the ANC’s leadership, is making it easier for members, supports and voters to leave the party.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions may fracture over disputes over the trade union federation’s support for Zuma. A fracturing of Cosatu may bring additional trade union-based breakaway parties from the ANC.

South Africa is entering a period of realignment of politics where the ANC’s majority is likely going to be dramatically reduced, and where we are going to see a number of smaller breakaway parties emerge from within the ANC – from the Left, centre and populist wings; break-aways from the opposition parties; and entirely new parties from both the Left and centre of SA’s politics.

*William Gumede is author of ‘Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times’ (Tafelberg). This opinion first appeared in ‘The Sowetan,’ Johannesburg.

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