23/06/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 23/06/2017 06:29 SAST

Two Distinctive Groups Have Emerged In The Battle For The Soul Of The ANC

Given the obvious divide, at which point can we can we refer to the governing party as the African National Congresses?

Mike Hutchings/ Reuters
South African President Jacob Zuma addresses supporters of his ruling African National Congress (ANC), at a rally to launch the ANC's local government election manifesto in Port Elizabeth, April 16, 2016.

The battle for the soul of the ANC is in the open and two distinctive groups have emerged, contradicting each other in public only contributing to uncertainty. Given the obvious divide, at which point can we can we refer to the governing party as the African National Congresses?

Commentators have been alluding to a divided ANC for months – if not years – but evidence has emerged, more surely than slowly, that South Africa is run by two opposing groups under one banner. While both claim to represent the true ANC – and by definition the public – it is clear that their interests are not aligned, and it's therefore not surprising that a tale of two parties is playing out in the political landscape.

It has been a turbulent time in South African politics – something that has rubbed off on the markets and the social sphere. It was officially brought by two things: late-night changes to the executive and; the leaking of a massive cache of curious emails.

The roughly 200,000 emails make up the backdrop of South Africa's biggest political thriller, giving clarity to political decisions, appointments and in certain instances policy. The mining minister, known for unofficially announcing official decisions, revealed the latest version of the Mining Charter last week – a document said to be consulted with only a few.

Mosebenzi Zwane maintains he discussed the document with a number of stakeholders, including the ANC's leadership. Clearly, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa does not form part of said 'leadership' – telling the Gordon Institute of Business Science government, along with other stakeholders, "need to go back to the drawing board". It begs the question: who are the leaders that rubber-stamped the controversial document?

Subsequent meetings are expected at Luthuli House, the governing party's now unofficial headquarters, with the hope of finding a workable solution. But the messages that are being sent to the public are more confusing than the Public Protector's rational behind her directives to Parliament to amend the Constitution.

The question, rather, depends on which 'ANC' MPs are aligned to when the motion is tabled.

While Zwane was announcing the contents of the new charter, the finance minister Malusi Gigaba was giving assurances that changes to the Cabinet should not translate to policy changes. Rating agency Fitch responded to Gigaba's comments, saying the new charter is evidence of its fears around policy uncertainty – the basis of its decision to downgrade South Africa to junk.

Legislative Uncertainty

ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu has made it clear that MPs will not be voting against itself when another motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma is tabled before them. While the outcome of that vote largely depends on its secrecy, it is safe to say ANC MPs will not vote against the party line. The question, rather, depends on which 'ANC' MPs are aligned to when the motion is tabled.

Mthembu's remarks on the secret ballot should not automatically be taken as the caucus' approval of President Jacob Zuma's leadership. This has been made clear by Parliament's instruction to four portfolio committees to probe allegations of state capture and the frustration voiced by various MPs when the powers that be failed to appear before the Home Affairs committee – tasked with getting to the bottom of the Guptas' naturalisation.

Parliamentary probes into the troubles at state-owned entities and the grilling of senior management, and in some cases members of the executive, further suggest the ANC caucus is slowly choosing a side.

More confusing and contradictory statements and decisions are expected. They are further likely to increase as the ANC's elective conference creeps closer. While it might appear that one 'party' is acting in the interests of South Africa, while the other is acting in the interests of a small elite group, it is nothing more than a battle for political power between two factions, both of whom are trying to establish themselves as the legitimate ANC.

Apart from campaigning, officials are calling for unity in the alliance, while sowing divisions in the same breath. The battle is out in the open, and members of the same party unashamedly contradict each other in public. Whether this will be resolved with the election of a new leader, either by a motion of no confidence or an elective conference is unlikely. In the meantime, you are allowed to – grammatically and politically speaking – refer to the ANC in the plural.

This article first appeared on the blog Salt & Pieter.