Meet Comrade Kortbroek

The ANC leapt at the chance to try to crush the DA.

BACK IN 1994 Democratic Party leader Tony Leon described the African National Congress (ANC) as "a black United Party". His description was not meant as a compliment. Under the leadership of Sir De Villiers Graaff, the United Party sought to win support across the entire spectrum of the white community and eventually, in the 1970s, imploded under the weight of its internal contradictions. Historically the ANC has prided itself on being "a Parliament of the African People" uniting blacks across the boundaries of ethnicity, class and ideology. Since 1994, the ANC government has indubitably become even more broadly-based. To the discomfort of its socialist partners, it has adopted a pro-capitalist macroeconomic policy and negotiated a rapprochement with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which is committed to unelected traditional leaders and the free market. Now it has agreed with the New National Party (NNP) to co-operate in government at local, provincial and national level.

The ANC's national executive committee unanimously approved the negotiations that ANC chairman Mosiuoa Lekota had started with the NNP. It saw the rupture in October between Leon, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), and his deputy, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, as "a unique opportunity to challenge the racially-defined nature of South African opposition politics" and to "substantially broaden the range of forces in South Africa committed to fundamental transformation". It emphasised: "The basis of any co-operation between the ANC and NNP must be a common commitment to the fundamental desire of the majority of our people to transform South Africa into a truly united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous country."

The Western Cape ANC leadership assured its rank-and-file followers: "No hasty decisions will be made . . . Haggling over positions is not our agenda. Our agenda is stable and good governance in the province." Despite such assurances, the ANC reacted speedily to an NNP request that it amend the clauses in the Municipal Structures Act and the 1996 Constitution prohibiting elected representatives from changing parties without losing their seats. Nearly 1,400 municipal councillors elected in the December 2000 elections won their seats under the DA banner. The Act required those who wanted to reassert their NNP identity or to defect to the NNP to surrender their seats. The chances were high that only a few councillors would so do under those conditions. That, in turn, meant that Van Schalkwyk would have had little to deliver in terms of votes for the prospective ANC-NNP coalition in the Cape Town city council. And that would have jeopardised the ANC's chances of gaining control of the city council, whose powers and budget rival those of the Western Cape legislature.

So anxious was the ANC to secure the NNP votes that it wanted to rush the necessary amendments through Parliament before the end of the year. On November 7, Joel Netshitenzhe, head of the Government Communication and Information Service, told journalists that legal advisors were "working day and night to complete the legislation". If necessary Parliament would be reconvened to pass it, he said. For financial and logistical reasons the ANC later decided to defer the introduction of the legislation to the opening of Parliament on February 8, 2002. It balked at the cost of reconvening Parliament in December, particularly as constitutional impediments to amending the Municipal Structures Act meant it would have to wait until next year anyway before it could introduce legislation to give local councillors the opportunity to switch allegiances. (Clause 157 of the Constitution enshrines the principle of proportional representation in local government. To allow defections would upset the allocation of seats to parties in proportion to their share of the vote. Constitutional amendments require 30 days notice and further 30 days for the public to make representations.) Conscious of the probability that the DA would mount a legal challenge in the Constitutional Court, the ANC decided to hasten with deliberate, but not reckless, speed.

Even so, the ANC's response smacks of political expediency. As the majority party in seven of the nine provinces and sharing power with the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal, only the Western Cape lay beyond its grasp. Similarly Cape Town was the only metropolitan council to elude ANC control after the December 2000 local government elections. The lofty declarations about a common commitment cannot efface images of ANC politicians, especially those in the Western Cape, drooling at the thought of occupying as yet unconquered positions of power and privilege.

There was another compelling motive: co-operation with the NNP offered the chance to deal a possibly lethal blow to the DA, the country's largest and most viable opposition force. A Western Cape ANC statement pronounced with gleeful anticipation that "every new battle brings the DA closer to the grave". Behind the ANC dislike of the DA is an even stronger abhorrence for Leon's robust liberalism. An ANC advertisement placed in Cape Town newspapers in October gave the game away. It lambasted coloured voters who support the Democratic Party, describing them as "coconuts" or people who are brown on the outside but white inside - "Coconuts are coloured people in the DA who are selling out to the DP". The advertisement exempted coloured people who lean towards the NNP from the racist slur. ANC Western Cape leader and aspirant provincial premier, Ebrahim Rasool, denied that the advertisement was racist in intent and content.

If the ANC provided grandiloquent reasons for its decision to offer the NNP a minor role in the governance of South Africa, Van Schalkwyk found equally lofty phrases to dignify his decision to dump the DA and deliver the Western Cape to the ANC. In a speech to the National Assembly on October 31 - after the NNP federal council had suspended its membership of the DA but while it was still negotiating with the ANC - Van Schalkwyk presented himself as a politician who wanted to be part of the Africa Renaissance, not one sniping at it from the sidelines in an "angry white voice". His portrayal of himself as a renaissance man was calculated to gratify President Thabo Mbeki, who has made the African Renaissance a major theme of his presidency. Van Schalkwyk's snide reference to opposition politicians who represent the "sterile voice" of fear and anger, and who specialise in "sound bites and spin-doctoring" and "mudslinging and character assassination", was directed at his erstwhile partners in the DA. "Our South African renaissance is waiting to happen," he said. "The bricks have been delivered, the mortar is ready, the architect's plans have been delivered to the site. It is time to make a choice." No one in the National Assembly had any doubt that Van Schalkwyk was presenting himself, trowel in hand, as a builder rather than a destroyer, as a patriot who had rediscovered his identity after a brief foray with Leon down the "road to nowhere".

The NNP leader went on to present Africans and Afrikaners as sons of the soil and, by implication, to deny that emotive identification to non-Afrikaners in the white community. Noting that "many unspoken words" still hung in the air between black Africans and white Afrikaners, he said: "The African soil is not a mere commercial commodity to us . . . It contains a message of where we belong. Our unfinished business is not limited to the past; it is also about the future." Van Schalkwyk, who as a leader of the youth organisation Jeugkrag accepted money from military intelligence in the 1980s, was given a standing ovation by ANC parliamentarians.

He did not explain how he reconciled his self-image as an Afrikaner son of the soil with the decision of the NNP federal council to suspend its ties with the DA and hold covert talks with the ANC without consulting the hundreds of grassroots NNP members who had been elected to serve as local government representatives under the DA banner. The Renaissance man showed little concern about their election pledges to oppose the ANC and to prevent it from taking power in the Western Cape. With Machiavellian cynicism he presented NNP representatives who had followed him into the DA with a fait accompli, promising them continued office and perks if they went along with his decision while threatening them with expulsion if they did not.

Leon is convinced that the issue at stake in the NNP leader's manoeuvres was "not one of principle but one of positions, privileges and perks". As Carol Paton noted in an article in the Sunday Times, the talks with the ANC were initiated only after Van Schalkwyk and his lieutenant, Renier Schoeman, realised that Leon was poised to take tough action against them for publicly opposing his decision to sack the NNP's Peter Marais as mayor of Cape Town. Van Schalkwyk had been prepared to accept that decision as long as he was installed as Western Cape premier in the reshuffling process, but rejected it when the incumbent, Gerald Morkel, refused to surrender his office.

Recalling F.W. de Klerk's decision to withdraw the National Party (NP) from the government of national unity in 1996, a decision that Van Schalkwyk supported at the time, Leon predicts that he will not succeed where de Klerk failed. He quotes de Klerk's reason for ending the partnership in government with the ANC: "Continued participation would be equivalent to detention on a kind of political death row." Leon comments, "That was when they had a formidable leader, F.W. de Klerk, an executive presidency, six cabinet seats and 20 per cent of the votes. Now, with less than a third of those voters, most of whom identify with the DA not the NNP, no deputy presidency and crumbling party support, the NNP leadership intends to go in as a 'guest' or 'bywoner' . . . It won't work."

De Klerk, however, has endorsed Van Schalkwyk's decision to participate in "co-operative government" with the ANC. His central reason for thinking a reforged NNP-ANC partnership might work is that the situation has changed since 1996. The ANC is now a "willing partner" whereas in 1994 it was constitutionally obliged to agree to a government of national unity with the NP and IFP under the interim Constitution negotiated at the settlement talks. He warns that Van Schalkwyk faces a tough task. "Given the race-based reality of South African politics, many of the NNP's remaining supporters may feel that they have been betrayed. The NNP will have to work hard to convince them that it has not sold out to the ANC".

Van Schalkwyk, who has never lived down being dubbed a "kortbroek" leader by an Afrikaner professor at Stellenbosch University shortly after he succeeded De Klerk in 1997, faces another obstacle. The NNP is bankrupt, having been able to pay the Allied Bank of South Africa (Absa) only a small proportion of the R6.2 million it borrowed to finance its 1999 election campaign, which saw its share of the vote fall sharply from 20 per cent to under 7 per cent. Van Schalkwyk failed to inform the DP, when the DA was formed, that his party still owed Absa R5.2 million.
Unlike the serried ranks of ANC parliamentarians who cheered "Comrade" van Schalkwyk's speech on October 31, the ANC's trade union partner, Cosatu, shared Leon's opinion that opportunism rather than lofty ideals lay behind his actions. Noting that the NNP is the old National Party by another name, it stated: "Unable to sustain support for its old racist policies, and losing support in its former constituency, the NNP has opportunistically tried to reposition itself as a progressive force and to form unprincipled alliances." The NNP's alliance with the Democratic Party was inspired by hatred of the ANC, stated Cosatu, adding, "Now, having fallen out with its former allies, the NNP is equally opportunistically trying to form a co-operative agreement with the ANC." SACP general secretary, Blade Nzimande, observed coolly of the pact: "We would have preferred if the matter had been discussed more thoroughly within the alliance before talks were held with the NP [sic]."

The ANC increasingly appears to be a juggler who has thrown one ball too many in the air, to be trying to encompass too many divergent interests. On November 6, the IFP hinted that ANC plans to form coalitions with the NNP could have implications for its alliance with the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. The IFP's provincial premier Lionel Mtshali and Gerald Morkel, now leader of the DA in the Western Cape announced that they had forged "a strong working" relationship and that future co-operation was envisaged. One of the items earmarked for co-operation was the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV/Aids patients, which the government is resisting. The statement, and the timing of its release to the media, seemed to convey an implicit message to the ANC: if it could cosy up to NNP, the IFP could do the same to the DA.