National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's General Secretary Irvin Jim speaks to suspended Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi during the union's Special congress at Birchwood hotel in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni. 181213 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Possible breakaways will damage the ruling party if not correctly assessed and managed, warns Dumisani Hlophe

The ANC leadership would have failed a matric exam paper on political risk assessment and management. Here is the evidence: in 2008 a breakaway resulted in the formation of Cope; last year the EFF was formed because of tensions with aspects of the ANC Youth League; and again last year, a critical element within the tripartite alliance, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), served separation papers to the ANC.

All this happens within a period of five years. Some time within these five years, there has been a series of disbandments of the then Limpopo Provincial Executive Council and the erstwhile ANCYL national executive committee (NEC).

Amid all this, the task teams that have been established to correct the ANCYL and Limpopo are not making any noticeable progress. In fact, they also went further into their own disbanding spree – an act that disintegrated the movement further.

All the above point to the fact that at both the Polokwane and Mangaung conferences, issues of internal political risks were not given substantive consideration. That is, there was lack of political risk assessment and management strategy. While it is given that in Polokwane the stakes were way too high, and that the disgruntled losing leadership could be tempted to leave the ANC, attempts should have been made to minimise the number of those who left to form Cope.

Similarly, the Julius Malema risk could have been foreseen, planned for, and managed. Ultimately, the extreme decision to expel him could have been done in a manner that did not disrupt the youth league.

If indeed there was an unavoidable reason to fire Malema, risk management suggests that attempts would have been made to keep most of his disciples within the ANC, keep ANCYL structures intact, but manage them better to observe Luthuli House’s authority.

Numsa presents the latest risk factor. In fact, more than Cope and the EFF, Numsa’s decision not to support the ANC in the forthcoming elections presents an even higher risk. It has rich union history in the country and continent. It remains inside the tripartite alliance. It has adopted a hardline stance on the alliance itself.

This includes calls for the state president to resign, a description of Cosatu as paralysed, and the possibility of withdrawing from Cosatu as early as next year.

The fact that Numsa still operates within the alliance makes it a higher risk. Numsa and its leadership have direct access to other Cosatu affiliates and can mobilise their members to follow Numsa’s special congress resolutions of last year. It means the ultimate threat to influence Cosatu affiliates to pull Cosatu out of the tripartite alliance remains a real possibility. It also means the threat of a dismantled alliance is real.

Without Cosatu, there is no tripartite alliance – in fact, there is no alliance at all!

The reactions to Numsa’s position by some alliance partners are indicative of a lack of appreciation of political risk management and control.

Taken from various media reports, this is how some reacted: the National Task Team of the ANCYL is reported to have reacted by saying Numsa must just “fork off”. This is just not smart at all. In fact the NTT, arguably, lacks the mandate to speak on behalf of the ANCYL.

The mighty SACP, through its deputy secretary-general Solly Mapaila, eloquently said: “We do not want their money. It is blood money.” This was in reference to Numsa’s decision to withhold its financial contribution to the SACP. This is the reaction of the second-in-command of a vanguard party with the ideological mandate to guide the working class.

Cosatu initially reacted strategically by saying its leadership would engage the leadership of Numsa. Yet, it soon cancelled this with Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini by saying “they want to be expelled from Cosatu, we will not expel them”.

The undertaking to engage Numsa leadership was enough. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe challenged Numsa’s “narrow” perception of the working class, but acknowledged the “symbolic” nature of Numsa’s decision not to back the ANC at the polls.

Unlike others mentioned above, Mantashe’s focus on real and “symbolic” issues emanating from Numsa’s resolutions better position him to address the ANC’s relationship with Numsa.

However, an enhanced risk strategy and better management could have mitigated against the eventual public spats.

The biggest problem of failing to undertake internal political risk management is that once such risks materialise, it becomes very costly to counter these.

It would have been far less costly to contain the Cope breakaway than to mount a major electoral campaign against the party in 2009.

Cope cost the ANC too much, both psychologically and financially. For a moment, the ANC had to deal with the then emerging perception that the ANC could be taken head-on at elections, and possibly even defeated.

The ANC had to contend with this bigger tide when it could have managed its basis while within the ANC. Ultimately, the ANC had to commit vast resources to deal with Cope during the elections.

Once again, in this year’s elections, the ANC has to deal with another political risk which has been left to mature and materialise. As a political risk, the ANC let an ant become an antelope – in the form of Julius Malema. While as a political party the EFF may be described as a novice, its members seem well endowed to engage in grassroots mobilisation. In any event, they were schooled and trained by the ANC itself, hence they are bound to be knowledgeable.

Therefore, members of the EFF, products of the ANC, are a higher risk outside the ANC than inside. In fact, there are credible sources arguing that there are many EFFs within the ANC as well.

Once again, the ANC will have to deal with an external risk manifesting itself both psychologically and financially in the forthcoming elections. This risk could have been managed in its infancy while still within the ANC.

Right now, it would be too myopic for the alliance leadership to see Numsa’s Irvin Jim and his comrades as lunatics. The fact that the issues they raise are castrated by the Zwelinzima Vavi suspension does not render all of their issues as lacking in merit.

For some, the position taken by the Numsa leadership is one of heroism – tackling the bull in its kraal.

Numsa’s current position with regard to Cosatu and the alliance is a major political risk at two levels: possible dissolution of Cosatu in the long run and the end of the alliance as it is known today; and second, the end of the ANC as a “political strategic centre” and the sowing of seeds for an eventual possible left-oriented political challenge to the ANC.

These may not necessarily be manifestly clear currently. However, most political risks remain subtle until they mature.

As indicated earlier, once they mature, they are outside control, and they assume a more dangerous posture.

There is an unofficial and unwise attitude among some in the ANC that suggests “let them go, the ANC will always be here”.

A few examples are mentioned in this regard: the PAC, UDM, Cope; soon it may be the EFF and others. There may be some truth in this, but it may also lead to the ANC peeling off to the bone.

Finally, the essence of internal party political risk assessment and management is to ensure that the political party concerned remains united and cohesive for the attainment of its strategic goals. Three breakaways within five years is a red flag in terms of risk control assessment.

* Hlophe hosts the blog follow him on twitter @KunjaloD

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers

Sunday Independent