James Madison, an American statesman and Founding Father who served as the fourth President of the United States from 1809 to 1817 considered factions in 1778 as the biggest danger to democracy. He defined them as ‘a small, organized group of people with a common interest, usually within a larger group.” Madison argued that factions could very quickly develop into majority factions, which is where the majority of the population is coming together to fight the government on an issue. This could lead to majority tyranny, which tends to be a terrifying concept for the founders. Both supporters and opponents of different factions are concerned with the political instability produced by rival factions and operate from the premise that they are protecting the larger organisation from the other group. Over time, the battle between factions results in people’s disillusionment with all politicians and people turn to blame the government for their problems.
In the last few years the language of factions has taken over the political discourse both within the African National Congress (ANC) and the broader society. Unlike an ANC that was historically seen as leading through a broader consensus within its ranks, about who should lead and which collective should support the leader, today, rivalry and contestation has resulted in a polarization and an entrenchment of groupings and faction which hope to wrestle power against the other groupings and factions.
How did we get here and how do we get ourselves out of it? Firstly, we must state that Factions are as old as societies themselves and given what we have observed about the nature of man over time, factions are inevitable. As long as men hold different opinions, have different amounts of wealth, and own different amount of property, they will continue to fraternize with people who are most similar to them.
Firstly, let us identify forces that feed cynicism and exacerbate factionalism in the South African body politic.
- Money in politics. This means those with big pockets are attempting daily to sway public policy and public resources in their favour.
- Then there is the money for the control of Media outlets and public opinions. So, you have all this avalanche of media messages of just how bad one faction is over the other. That certainly makes ordinary people feel bad about both the politicians and the country they lead.
- Journalist have not always played a great role in reducing cynicism in politics, but have served to fuel them. It is very hard to get good stories placed.
Factions, however, and the tools used to blow them up have historical lessons for the ANC and South Africa. The Indian Congress Party (Congress Party) lost elections after 30 continuous years in power between independence in 1947 and its first taste of electoral defeat in 1977. During this period, the electoral support of the Congress Party was averaging 73% across several general elections. The primary cause for the 1977 electoral defeat of the Congress Party was attributed to factions. Factions colonized the Congress Party, paralyzed its structures and demobilized certain interest groups in the party.
The first sign that your organisation have been taken over by factional interests is when the centre does not hold and new centres emerge and or those at the known centre begin to take decisions that are influenced by particular groupings. The problem is that If lower organisational structures and members of the party suspect that a decision by the higher structure was generated through a faction they become reluctant to abide by it. When members and lower structures suspect that the best interest of the organisation is relegated to the backyard and factional interest finds pre-eminence they lose confidence in higher structures and this manifest itself in subtle, sometimes open, revolts against the decisions of higher structures.
Democratic centralism, which is a guiding principle of the ANC, requires that all members and lower organisational structures must have confidence in the capacity of higher organisational structures to take grounded and politically sound decisions that are in the best interest of the organisation. Once this does not happen then the organisation is in serious trouble.
The ANC however is not an island, it is an organisation that must at all times have a country in mind in terms of how it conducts itself. We are 23 years into a new nation. 23 years that dawned with a breaking away from the old and a rebirth of the new; we came from a country that many have characterize as a country of two nations. One poor and predominantly black and one rich and predominantly white. We have seen the most consequential transformation programmes that have seen a rise of the black middleclass not witnessed in Africa in over 60 years of Freedom, our Universities are overflowing, our companies remain the most productive, our country, both socially and economically remains a beacon of hope for all Africans, particularly those who have made our country their new home.
We must at all times quantify our successes together, celebrate these successes together, and think carefully if we want to throw this all away at the altar of factions. Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another? Or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled ANC and country forward?
The work of rebuilding this country requires a united and a strong ANC. As ANC we must focus on ensuring that the government we lead, at all levels, especially at local levels have the most effective programmes to give this country the leap forward it needs. Our municipalities must work on budgets filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan.
We have employed close to 8 million South Africans since 1994, our schools have produced millions of high school graduates, our universities are a reservoir of excellence and we continue to break the ceiling for black women and the barriers from black man in Industries. There is today no profession that does not have black representation, from Cardiology to Accountancy, from Engineering to Actuaries, the black professional middle strata can fill a small country. Multiplying these successes must be our focus because these and many other issues are what we all agree on and we must therefore march in the direction of common targets and goals.
Despite all these successes, as a result of factions, ANC’s place in history looks considerably different than a few years ago. We face a reality that we may not be able to take the NDR to its logical conclusion, a National Democratic Society.
Unity in the ANC is the bedrock upon which the ANC was founded and is the prerequisite for all that the ANC has accomplished and for all its future aspirations.