Over the past year many South African citizens and observers of political developments have been baffled and confused by divisions and conflict in the ANC.
What seemed to deepen the confusion was lack of understanding of what was at the root of this conflict, that resulted in an internal fight to the death that saw comrades turn against each other.
But, as the ANC prepares for its 105th anniversary in Soweto on January 8, what seemed uncertain and confusing is sure no longer.
Many who believed the ANC was a solid, united and homogeneous organisation have come to appreciate that disunity and conflict has always plagued the party.
It was transmogrified into a ‘broad church’ that accommodated contradictory political schools of thought, with capitalists, moralists and communists all belonging to the party.
The difference and disagreements were ideological and based on principle. But this is seen as a relic of the past now.
For an increasing number of observers and sober activists, the difference that divides or separates what is perceived to be different camps or factions is the same.
What this means is that all camps or factions have been captured and are trapped in the racist, capitalist and patriarchal economic system.
People are increasingly becoming aware that what is certain is that what the different camps or factions are fighting for is control over State resources for themselves, fuelled by a desire to succeed in terms of capitalism.
It is about being the dominant force in the establishment that is based on capitalist greed, selfishness and putting personal interest above all else.
There are very few people in either camp that desire to radically transform the economic system, or substitute it with an alternative. There is almost nobody that talks about an alternative economic system. They are all about making it good in the capitalist system.
Even the communists and church leaders have stepped forward to fight to find themselves comfortable and secure in the capitalist economic system. It seems there is no alternative.
But how did the ANC get itself into this bind?
It is interesting to trace this to the days before the ANC was unbanned. Sad as it is to admit, the ANC has always been riddled by internal strife and division.
Perhaps there was never a time when it was so solidly united to be homogeneous.
Over the last few years these divisions have become more apparent in what has been dubbed ‘the struggle for the soul of the ANC’.
But what people forget is that when the ‘exiled ANC’ returned – separate from the ANC in Robben Island or one that was underground in the guise of the UDF – it was fragmented and divided against itself. It could not agree on anything or speak with a coherent voice.
For example, there was lack of clarity or agreement on whether an imprisoned Nelson Mandela should engage in talks with the apartheid regime.
Even before that, there was no unanimity on pursuit of a non-violent agenda or armed struggle.
Worse, as the internal upheavals intensified in the mid-1980s, the ANC could not agree on the route to a new future. Was it going to pursue a negotiated settlement of push harder with the armed struggle.
There have always been two camps or factions in the ANC approach.
First, there was the heir apparent faction led by the erudite and cosmopolitan Thabo Mbeki. He was the leader of the sheep group that believed in negotiations.
This was rivalled and competed with the goats group, associated with Chris Hani and/or Joe Slovo, who were hostile and resented the idea of talks. They believed in pushing the armed struggle to the end.
The frightening realisation is that, with hindsight, both approaches were terrifying and menacing political choices.
The Mbeki sheep route would not and could not deliver return of the land, redistribution of the wealth or eradicate stereotypes and prejudice. It was a step in the right direction, but would need to be settled on the apartheid regime’s terms.
Its detractors believed no genuine liberation could be achieved through big talk.
On the other hand, the Hani-Slovo goats approach of fighting to the death would leave the country a wasteland.
There are no winners in war and the apartheid regime had the military might that could be unleashed mercilessly against black people.
Perhaps what needs to be acknowledged is that both the sheep and goats have been defeated by being sucked into the system. In fact, they have become part of a system and history they fought against.
The new culture actually finds that former freedom fighters are all worming their way into the belly of the beastly capitalist system.
What this has produced is the overnight multi-millionaire who is not satisfied with what he has accumulated for himself, his family and his friends. The haves want more.
The original and true image of the ANC – a nationalist organisation that represented indigenous African interests – can no longer be captured in a word, image or phrase.
Over the century it has evolved to be all things to all men.
Worse, what the ANC stands for now cannot be explained or articulated in a revolutionary theory or vision that defines it outside the capitalist economic system. It is completely integrated into the unjust and unequal establishment.
Thus, whatever ideas either faction provides, it is to lead the African majority to the capitalist economic slaughter house that does not discriminate between sheep and goats.
The masses are trapped because the ANC is trapped in being a pillar of the economic status quo. Its duty is to make the country work by protecting and preserving the rapacious economic system.
Any attempt to make sense of the so-called internal divisions literally boil down to who serves the interests of black or white monopoly capital better.
The ANC now functions in a predictable way that its leading political strategist and thinker, Joel Netshitenzhe, said it would.
He used the phrase ‘phuma ngingene,’ which literally means ‘leave office now as it is our turn to eat’.
Everybody wants the same piece of capitalist gain for themselves, friends and family.
Much as the ANC is portrayed as torn into different factions, they are essentially the same.
They are all committed to preserving and protecting the capitalist system for as long as they get what they can.
Instead, they give the gullible masses smoke and mirrors of capturing the public imagination through ideas, models, beliefs and stories that portray one side as the better or lesser of two evils.
Essentially the difference is the same as they are scrambling for the same resources and control over capitalist crumbs.
Thus the public and supporters of the ANC must make peace that the organisation’s true identity is complicated, confusing and elusive.
It does not help much to perpetuate the narrative of internal divisions without pointing out that the different factions are fighting over the same crumbs.
Unfortunately, the biggest stumbling blocks to nation building and social cohesion are economic injustice and spatial divisions created by land dispossession in 1913.
Sadly, these cannot be resolved without clearing up the political confusion in the ANC.
This is the mother of all liberation movements on the continent that has been in the forefront of political strategy for over 100 years.
As long as South Africa buys into the narrative of a deeply divided ANC without a critical examination of the links with the unjust economic system, there is no hope for the maturation of critical thinking.
What is clear today is that the ANC or its elite promote, protect and preserve capitalism and its values because of what they can get for themselves.
Nothing can destroy and threaten capitalism as long as the ANC keeps it alive to feed itself off its crumbs.
* Memela is a writer, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.