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"It is certainly not our task to build up the future in advance and to settle all problems for all time, but it is just as certainly our task to criticise the existing world ruthlessly. I mean ruthlessly in the sense that we must not be afraid of our own conclusions and equally unafraid of coming into conflict with the prevailing powers."
Karl Marx, 1844


Published: 14 February 1998

As the papers reported the break-up of FW de Klerk’s marriage of 39 years on Valentine’s Day as a result of a new love, on the political field an old love that had fallen on the rocks was being rekindled. After close to twenty years following a violent break-up, the ANC and the IFP are again engaged in a mating dance. Like De Klerk, it would appear that much as the ANC and the IFP try to deny their love, the flame refuses to die. Even Jeremy Cronin, in an intervention in a weekend newspaper, could not but admit that with a love-affair of this intensity, well, “…who knows”.

But then what are the forces propelling this not-so-fairy love story? To understand this, we have to return to the early 1970s, when it was love at first sight.

The ANC and the Bantustans

By the end of the 1960s the ANC in exile had regrouped and it held its first Conference in exile at Morogoro. Following this review of strategy, the ANC turned to Gatsha Buthelezi in its attempts to re-established a political base in South Africa. This initiative led to the formation of in 1975. All this is history.

What was significant about this initiative was that two years earlier, in 1973, a new social force for change, based on the black working class, had emerged. The occasion of its birth was the Durban strikes of that year. Why then did the ANC turn to a strategy based on Bantustans even as such a potent force as the black working class had entered the political scene? The answer to this is that even after a decade of exile and the embracing of guerrilla war the ANC was still had much in common with the social forces that were to form the basis of Inkatha.

The institution of chieftaincy, on which built, was a strong part of the ANC tradition. Also, the black petit-bourgeoisie that formed the second leg of Inkatha’s social base was also a strong part of the ANC’s historical social base. The two organisation shared a common social base, and so it was love at first sight. The 1950s notwithstanding, the emerging black working class of the early 1970s was an alien social force for the ANC.

Enter the young lions

It was therefore no accident that it was not the organised working class itself that forced a change in the ANC’s politics. It was the student uprising of 1976, and influx of thousands of young militants into the ANC that put the marriage on the rocks. The young students alerted the ANC to a new and much more dynamic social force for change. But the students also brought with them irrevocable opposition to bantustan politics. The break-up of the love-affair was to lead to a bloody interlude in South African politics. As the dominance of the organised working class politics in the (internal) mass movement deepened, so also did the conflict between the MDM and Inkatha deepen.

The difference between the black working class base of the ANC and the black petit-bourgeois basis of also reflected itself in different policies. While the ANC’s rhetoric became increasingly socialist, Inkatha’s became more and more capitalist or “free-market”. It was for this reason that became, for the more ‘enlightened’ sections of the old ruling class, the bulwark against the ‘communistic’ ANC.

Re-enter the black petit-bourgeoisie

The ebb in the mass movement by the end of the 1980s, the collapse of Stalinist socialism at the same time, made possible the unbanning of the ANC and the political settlement that followed. These events also made possible the rapid consolidation of the political dominance of the black petit-bourgeoisie in the ANC. Gone was the socialist rhetoric, in came the conversion to capitalism. The black working class and the militant youth that had formed the social basis of ANC politics in the 1980s has been marginalised. In addition to the dominance of the black middle class, the ANC also resurrected the institution of chieftaincy.

After a bloody interlude that lasted two decades, the social bases of the ANC and the

The IFP have again coincided. It is the shared bases in the black middle class, and to a lesser extent in the chieftaincy, that lies at the root of the new mating dance between the two parties. It is not, as is claimed by Jeremy Cronin among others, the “poor” that form the common social base of the ANC and the IFP, but primarily the black middle class.

The convergence of the social base of the ANC/IFP has produced a rapid convergence in policy. Writing in the one analyst wrote that today for a multi-racial capitalism untainted by Apartheid…” Today the ANC would call it a non-racial capitalism – and this would be the only difference with Inkatha.

 Obstacles on the way…

The convergence in social bases and in policy does not mean that the love-affair would be consummated tomorrow. Even with De Klerk, it took a few years before ‘life became unbearable without each other. Obstacles on the way remain. In particular, how will the leadership stakes be reordered in the event of a merger? In parties were politics are both a business and a career, this is no small matter. And what shall we do with the Alliance with Cosatu and SACP, which represent a memory of the old social base of the ANC: the black working class?

All these are of course very emotive and difficult decisions. But like De Klerk, when the fever of Valentine bites, it is all just a matter of time….





"Ideas that enter the mind under fire remain there securely and forever." -Leon Trotsky