So, what kind of cooperation? - Part 6

07 Jun 2006

So, what kind of cooperation? - Part 6

By Dick Bayford*

Following the un-banning of the liberation movement in the Republic of South Africa in the early 1990’s, the Tripartite Alliance was formed, forging a broad coalition between the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Its primary objective was the attainment of political power through democratic means. Prior to the formation of the alliance, COSATU, United Democratic Front (UDF) and numerous civic organizations had been in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid within South Africa, whilst the ANC, SACP and other liberation movements operated predominantly in exile. COSATU and the UDF, during the apartheid era, were generally perceived as a front for the ANC trajectory of struggle within South Africa. It thus came as no surprise therefore, that when the UDF disbanded, its erstwhile structures fused into the Tripartite Alliance.

Although this particular alliance was founded under different socio-economic and political conditions, it provides a useful reference point when considering the ideal model of cooperation that would suit the Botswana political situation. Already, the negotiating forum has prioritized three models of cooperation for consideration, being; “umbrella body” – so called, electoral pact and alliance. It is not clear what is being envisaged by “alliance”; for this term is itself generic and might actually denote a coalition of any sort – inclusive of electoral pact or even a group membership relationship (such as the one contemplated under the BNF Constitution).

If the term “alliance” is construed within the context in which the South African Tripartite Alliance was conceived, it becomes important to first understand the historical development, evolution and nature of this alliance. It is only after there is a grasp of the fundamentals under- scoring the Tripartite Alliance that we may be able to determine whether this kind of model of co-operation best fits our circumstances.

Generally speaking, the differences that exist between alliance partners may be antagonistic or non-antagonistic, in relation to issues, which fall outside the alliance. In order to properly contextualise alliances, and their respective political justifications, we need to differentiate between revolutionary alliances, and non-revolutionary alliances. In doing so, an appreciation of the distinction between forces of change and revolutionary forces for change is essential. All revolutionary forces are forces of change, but not all forces for change are revolutionary forces.
Non-revolutionary alliances might take the form of structures set up to co-ordinate campaigns on contemporary or immediate issues. By their nature, such issues might be of the character that bring together revolutionary forces with other forces for change, in a broad patriotic front. The objectives for such fronts are normally common and immediate.

Within the historical context of the South African situation, three kinds of alliances are discernible. The first two are non-revolutionary. The first entails single-issue alliances, e.g. campaigns against violence (and other social maladies), and other popular causes; Secondly, patriotic front type of alliance, which came about as a rallying point of all those who were opposed to apartheid. A classical and prominent example of this kind of alliance is the UDF.
Formed in 1983, the UDF united a broad spectrum of anti-apartheid organizations under the leadership of the ANC. According to Professor Kenneth Good (Realizing Democracy and Legitimacy in Southern Africa; 2004, p154); “… the United Democratic Front … encouraged sustainable forward movement in which the broadest number of people governed themselves in the here and now. Together with the trade union action in the workplace, they aimed, as they said in 1986, to build a different politics grounded in participation. Their popular democracy involved people acquiring control over their own lives in their neighbourhoods, schools and factories”
The third from of alliance has been the revolutionary alliance. Theoretically, this coalition – it being a strategic one – is founded on broad consensus of strategy, involving high level of planning and implementation, directed towards the attainment of the National Democratic Revolution.

After the 1969 ANC Morogoro Conference, Tanzania, whilst still a party in exile, an alliance was established between the ANC and the SACP. This structure later included the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) – a predecessor of present day COSATU. The three organizations formed the Tripartite Alliance, which set for itself two fundamental objectives, the maximization of opposition against apartheid and, secondly; ensuring a working class bias in the policies and programs of the national liberation movement.

During this political phase of illegality and exile, an alliance between the ANC and the SACP was both objective and strategic. There was a great deal of over-lapping between these two organizations; and their leadership stranded their respective executive committees. The SACP membership comprised an elitist core that immensely benefited from leftist political orientation in the Soviet Bloc of the time and assumed key positions in Umkhonto-We-Sizwe (MK) – ANC military wing – and the ANC upper political hierarchy.

This symbiotic relationship greatly influenced the ANC policy formulation, which drifted towards that of the International Communist Movement of the time. It was because of this pre-disposition that the ANC declared, in its 1969, Strategy and Tactics Document, that,

“…The struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa is taking place within an international context of transition to the socialist system”.

But it has to be borne in mind that such pronouncement came at the backdrop of the Rivonia Trial of 1964 that saw decapitation of ANC internal structures and incarceration of its key leaders. The SACP on the other hand was banned as far back as 1950 and had been operating underground ever since. It was therefore better accustomed to underground politics, better organized and politically more cohesive than the ANC. Many ANC leaders of that time must have appreciated that an alliance with the SACP was crucial to the survival of their movement.

SACP and the ANC had prior to the exile period, in the 1950’s, been instrumental in the formation of SACTU – COSATU predecessor. After its formation, SACTU entered the then Congress Alliance – comprising the ANC, South African Indian Congress, South African Coloured Peoples’ Congress and the Congress of Democrats.

Many of the leaders of SACTU were drawn from the organizations that constituted the Congress Alliance. It is through this relationship that socialism was popularized within the South African working class – galvanizing them into a formidable agent of change.

An appreciation of this history is crucial to the players currently engaged in steering Botswana Opposition in to coalition politics, particularly if the model of choice is an alliance, of the Tripartite Alliance formulation – which is ANC dominated. Currently, under the new dispensation, members of COSATU and SACP contest elections on ANC ticket. They sit in Parliament as ANC parliamentarians, and take up cabinet positions as ANC office bearers. This kind of alliance is similar in a lot of respects to the Malaysian Alliance/National Front, in which the right of political nomination and appointment is reserved for the dominant party.
The question is whether, a BNF – led alliance is an ideal model of co-operation in the Botswana polity? In answering this question, one has to bear in mind the historical dimension, relative to the parties engaged in the negotiations, and also, what is known as the institutional dimension – the intra and inter party relations; and the legal and administrative structures of our polity.
* Dick Bayford is the President of New Democratic Front and a practising attorney. This article is a segment of a Discussion Paper he authored entitled, SO, WHAT KIND OF COOPERATION? – A RESURGENCE OF COALITION POLITICS IN BOTSWANA.