Splits in ANC Risk Its Grip on South Africa, Minister Says

  • Home Affairs Minister Gigaba says voters feel pessimistic
  • ANC losses in municipal vote carried ‘brutal message’: Gigaba

Splits within South Africa’s ruling African National Congress may cause it to lose power at the next national elections in 2019, according to a senior cabinet member.

“If the situation stays as it is, the risk of losing power is there,” Malusi Gigaba, the home affairs minister, said in an interview in New York on Monday. “The ANC is divided. The center doesn’t seem to be holding. We need to address that.”

Malusi Gigaba
Malusi Gigaba
Source: Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

At the center of the divisions is President Jacob Zuma, 74. He’s been implicated in numerous scandals, including a finding by the nation’s top court that he violated the constitution by failing to repay taxpayer funds spent on his private home. Critics accuse him of allowing the Gupta family, who are his friends and in business with his son, to use their connections for financial gain. Both Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.

While the ANC has dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid in 1994, it’s facing rising discontent over anemic economic growth and a 27 percent unemployment rate, among the highest levels globally. The party suffered its worst electoral result to date in municipal voting on Aug. 3, when it lost control of the cities of Johannesburg, the main economic hub, Pretoria, the capital, and Port Elizabeth.

‘Brutal Message’

“The elections drove a cold and brutal message that we can never take the support of the people for granted,” Gigaba, 45, said. “You have an unprecedented level of people who are feeling pessimistic, who feel the country is not going in the right direction. They say there are no jobs, there are high levels of corruption, crime is high.”

The party’s divisions have been worsened, according to Gigaba, by a police investigation into Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which may lead to his arrest. Zuma has dismissed Gordhan’s request to fire the nation’s tax chief for insubordination and delayed his attempts to install a new board at the loss-making state airline. Opposition politicians have accused the head of state of using the probe to install a more pliant Treasury chief.

To read more about the battle over South Africa’s finances, click here

ANC Fragmented

“The ANC is quite fragmented, especially coming out of an election where they didn’t do very well,” Nic Borain, a Cape Town-based political analyst and adviser to BNP Paribas Securities South Africa, said by phone on Tuesday. “Major blocs in the ANC are confronting each other, often around whether President Jacob Zuma should stay or go. There’s a middle group that feels that if they force either that he stays or goes, this could cause the ANC to split on the issue.”

The prospect of Gordhan being fired sparked a sell-off in the rand and raised speculation that the nation’s credit rating may be cut to junk by the end of the year.

The investigation of Gordhan centers on allegations that he oversaw the establishment of an illicit investigative unit when he headed the national tax agency. While the probe must be allowed to continue and follow due process, it needs to be done quickly, Gigaba said.

‘Poisonous Environment’

“It adds to the poisonous environment,” he said. “It needs to be dealt with. Let those who are investigating speed up their investigations so that the matter is closed. It must not hurt the economy.”

Gigaba dismissed a call last month by the ANC Youth League, which he formerly headed, for the party’s next major policy conference to be brought forward from late 2017, when it will vote to give Zuma another term or elect a new party leader.

An ill-prepared conference “would replace one problem with a new one,” he said. “The worst thing the ANC can do is rush into an elective conference without a proper analysis of the challenges it’s facing, occasioned by the recent elections. We shouldn’t jump the gun. We’d be making a terrible mistake.”

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