There is a much more fundamental problem for the ANC (Zuma survives – but can the ANC have confidence in its future, 9 August) and it is one that bedevils every liberation movement that seeks to transform itself into a political party. By definition a liberation movement draws into its fold every organisation that seeks the overthrow of an authoritarian regime and thus encompasses bodies with a wide range of political philosophies. In South Africa the ANC included the Black Sash women’s movement, the armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, trade unions such as Cosatu, the Saso student organisation, plus a number of other groups including the South African Communist party.
Having achieved its aim of defeating apartheid, the ANC presented itself at the first free election in 1994 as a political party. Not surprisingly, given its successful image, it won the election with a large majority. It has continued to do so at each successive election, but at the price of increased tensions, breakaways and the fracturing of any coherent ideological basis for a governing programme. It has on occasion examined ways and means of moving to a more philosophical political identity, but every time an election approaches it shies away from narrowing its electoral appeal.
Other bases for political parties, such as tribes, religions or charismatic leaders, also fail to produce a coherent basis for government, with the consequences seen in many new and emerging democracies.
We have the same problem in Northern Ireland, where parties based almost entirely on their attitude to the border have to be forced into an artificial power-sharing agreement. Only when, eventually, there are parties based on different political philosophies can there be a sound basis for political debate and for a healthy electoral democracy.