Johannesburg — WILL the real governing party please stand up? It has become necessary to make such appeals because the African National Congress (ANC) or, more accurately, the ruling party and its alliance partners, has been sending out such conflicting messages that it is nigh on impossible to guess with any confidence what might form the basis of government policy in the near future.
A degree of uncertainty was to be expected in the aftermath of the ANC's national conference when there was a clear shift in power within the party just 18 months before a general election. However, it has become clear in recent months that the conflict between the administration of President Thabo Mbeki and that of ANC president Jacob Zuma is by no means the only, or even the most important, internecine battle that is going on.
In a conventional democracy, such a contest would take place between rival political parties and be governed by a set of rules everyone understands. But in one-party-dominant SA the "broad church" that is the ANC is the primary political battleground and much is obscured from the voting public, and even many party members, due to misplaced loyalties and sometimes baffling party traditions. Yet the stakes are high.
Most of the numerous power blocs within the ruling alliance, from the ANC's parliamentary caucus to the youth and women's leagues, provincial executive committees, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), have declared themselves squarely in Zuma's corner. But it is abundantly clear that this does not mean they agree on much or have the same political agendas. The situation is not helped by Zuma's tendency to adjust his message to suit the audience he is addressing.
It has been left to his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, to articulate what many ordinary South Africans, and the business community in particular, fervently hope are the positions the organisation will stand by once the hurly-burly of the election is past.
But Motlanthe's usually sensible views are invariably contradicted by rash statements put out by one of the other groups that purport to speak in the name of the alliance. And when he moves to slap down the most outrageous of these, he runs the risk of opening up cracks the ANC's national working committee would prefer to paper over, at least until the election is out of the way.
So the country heaves a sigh of relief when Motlanthe says the ANC will "consistently strive to uphold and defend the integrity and credibility of the judiciary and other institutions of state", but is bewildered that the likes of ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi are allowed to get away with statements that blatantly undermine those very institutions.
The gap between word and deed is frequently a yawning chasm. Just this past weekend Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal secretary-general Zet Luzipho was quoted ranting that he and fellow Zuma supporters would "kill" the Scorpions if they insisted on their investigation of the ANC leader "like a dog when it starts biting relatives at your home".
SA will not be able to advance as a nation until it is clear which group holds sway next year.