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Who's got the power? (South Africa in Focus).

The Tripartite Alliance, a political bloc consisting of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), was the main political force in bringing apartheid to an end, and their joint political ticket dominates the new government. But severe political strains have been building within the Alliance over the past year which threaten its future existence.

The ANC is the oldest "national liberation movement" in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded in 1912, it was established by members of an emerging black elite who were frustrated with and excluded from white-dominated politics. Originally, its politics were liberal and its methods were purely nonviolent and constitutional.

The ANC adopted a more radical course in the late 1920s, partly due to the spread of Marxism and the founding of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in 1921. Several ANC members, including Secretary General E.J. Khaile, joined the CPSA. The first black trade unions were formed at about the same time, steering the ANC toward a more militant course.

After the National Party ushered in full apartheid in 1948, opposition parties and trade unions in South Africa faced grave threats. The CPSA was banned in 1950 and secretly re-created "underground" as the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1953. The ANC was banned in 1960, shortly after the infamous Sharpeville massacre, and soon afterwards formed an armed wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK)--"Spear of the Nation." SACP leaders such as Joe Slovo and Chris Hani became prominent and hugely popular national leaders of the ANC and MK.

With the support of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), a SACP-affiliated organization, the ANC organized the Congress of the People in June 1955, at which a broad multiracial coalition of anti-apartheid groups known as the Congress Alliance adopted the Freedom Charter. The Charter became the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement, calling for universal adult suffrage as well as several broadly socialist measures, such as the nationalization of major industries and the redistribution of land.

The growing bonds between the ANC and the SACP provoked a backlash from the ANC's more nationalistic factions. In the late 1950s, a group of "Africanists" led by Robert Sobukwe formally broke from the movement to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). This move had its intellectual counterpart in the Black Consciousness movement, founded by Steve Biko and fellow black students in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, many of these young militants ultimately joined the ANC and the SACP Nationalist groups like the PAC and AZAPO (Azanian People's Organization) still exist, but they enjoy minimal support and are marginal to South African politics.

Cosatu was formed in 1985, six years after the apartheid government legalized black trade unions, and is closely associated with the SACP. Cosatu adopted the Freedom Charter in 1987 and formally joined the ANC and the SACP in the Tripartite Alliance in 1991. Of the three, Cosatu is considered to have the largest organized base in the population, though the ANC is unquestionably the Alliance leader.

In the last few years, strains in the Alliance have appeared. Under President Thabo Mbeki, the ANC has embraced conservative macroeconomic policies more to the liking of international capital and has begun selling off key state-owned industries. In August of 2001, Cosatu flexed its political muscle by organizing nationwide strikes against privatization. Cosatu and the SACP have also recently broken with the government on other issues, including the treatment of HIV/AIDS, which they accuse the ANC leadership of neglecting. The whole picture is complicated by the fact that SACP and Cosatu leaders are part of the very ANC government whose policies they increasingly oppose.

At the same time, the chief parliamentary opposition to the Tripartite Alliance has suffered fissures of its own. In November 2001, the New National Party (NNP)--the remnant of its apartheid predecessor--broke away from its coalition partners in the Democratic Alliance and negotiated an alliance with the ANC instead. The ANC hopes to capture the NNP's electoral base among colored or mixed-race voters. But Cosatu and the SACP are nervous about a potential ANC-NNP alliance, fearing that it would consolidate a center/right alliance and isolate the left. There are rumors that the PAC and other militant parties will begin to work with the rump of center-left parties in the Democratic Alliance such as the Democratic Party, led by Tony Leon.

If the Tripartite Alliance breaks apart, a new era of confrontation in South African politics would begin.

Joel Pollak, "Anti-Racism as Law." Joel is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa. His writings cover politics and culture in the United States, South Africa and the Middle East.
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Title Annotation:South Africa's leading political parties
Author:Pollak, Joel
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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