Radical Groups in South Africa Pose Challenge for ANC Leaders

Loose alliance of militant leaders is openly critical of ANC chiefs

AS the African National Congress (ANC) moves closer to governance in South Africa, some of its more radical elements are preparing for continued resistance after the first democratic ballot scheduled for April 27 next year.

The once-exiled ANC leadership has been transformed into a government-in-waiting, but has left some of its allies trapped in a vicious cycle of deprivation and escalating violence.

The emergence of a loose alliance of radical elements from the ANC Youth League, the trade union movement, civic associations, and the communists is already discernible. They have become openly critical of the ANC leadership in recent months.

A series of events since the April 10 assassination of Chris Hani, an ANC leader who was credited with keeping South Africa's radical elements in line, has made the tension clear:

* The defiance of the ANC leadership by the ANC Youth League and its controversial leader Peter Mokaba, who persisted in using racist, anti-white slogans after the ANC leadership condemned such chants.

* The announcement by the powerful National Union of Metalworkers on July 3 that it intends to break an alliance between the ANC, trade unions, and communists after the first democratic ballot.

* A July 4 attack by junior ANC official Tony Yengeni on the organization's secretary-general, Cyril Ramaphosa. Mr. Yengeni said Mr. Ramaphosa "hid under tables" instead of confronting right-wing whites who stormed a Johannesburg complex on June 25 where political parties were negotiating South Africa's political transition. (Ramaphosa and other leaders retired to a safe room when the white militants charged the building.)

* The decision by the militant ANC Youth League to back international department head Thabo Mbeki as their candidate for the post of deputy president under ANC President Nelson Mandela. The move would strengthen Mr. Mbeki's chances against Ramaphosa in the contest to succeed Mr. Mandela.

"As the ANC moves closer to political power and has to mobilize its supporters for an election, it will have to concede increasing authority to the trade union movement, the civic [associations], and the youth," says Eugene Nyathi, director of the independent Center for African Studies.

THE ANC has indicated it will enter the first democratic elections as a "liberation movement." But political analysts say that in the past three years, the ANC has taken on all the characteristics of a political party.

"The ANC is already a political party in everything but name," says political scientist Tom Lodge of Witwatersrand University.

The strategy of the loose alliance of militant leaders may be to use the election campaign to build its power-base under the ANC umbrella. Then the alliance could try to take over the ANC from within after the ballot. If it failed to do so, this group could break away and form a socialist party in opposition to the ANC.

"It seems almost inevitable that the unions and the civics will part company with the ANC once it is in government," says a Western diplomat.

In the succession contest, opposing camps are lining up behind Mbeki, widely considered the ANC's most able diplomat, and Ramaphosa, its most skilled negotiator, for the post of deputy president, currently occupied by ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu.

The low-key jockeying for position has been precipitated by the death of former ANC Chairman Oliver Tambo. There is a strong push in ANC ranks to fill top posts before the first democratic ballot.

Mr. Sisulu is the natural candidate for the largely ceremonial post of chairman. He accepted nomination for the post of deputy president in July 1991 to avoid a potentially damaging showdown between Hani and Mbeki.

In the election for 50 national executive members, Hani topped the voting list with Mbeki a close second.

"The post of deputy president is not a certain ticket to the presidency," says an ANC official speaking on condition of anonymity.

"But it would put Mbeki back in the succession stakes since his sidelining by Ramaphosa in July, 1991," he says.

A June ANC executive meeting did not reach consensus on the ANC Youth League's proposal that Mbeki be nominated for the deputy presidency, and there was resistance from Ramaphosa's supporters, says an ANC official.

As ANC secretary-general, Ramaphosa holds one of the three top positions in the ANC hierachy. He is widely regarded within the organization as a skilled negotiator and administrator, but his profile as the architect of compromise has lost him some support among the powerful and more militant trade-union lobby.

Unlike most top ANC leaders, Ramaphosa is not a Xhosa but a member of the smaller Venda tribe, and does not have Mbeki's advantage of being descended from a respected ANC veteran. Ramaphosa also lacks the advantage of having been an exile.

"The older generation don't trust Ramaphosa. They are wary of his obvious ambition, which is not part of ANC style," says one ANC insider.

"In many ways, it is still a very conservative organization, and modesty is seen as a virtue," he says.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




Save for later


Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items