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Radical voices within the African National Congress growing louder

An African National Congress (ANC) supporter holds the party's flag during a march to the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg May 29, 2012, where a portrait exposing South African President Jacob Zuma's genitals were first displayed.


As it enters a tense political season, South Africa's governing party is under pressure to adopt a more radical agenda of expropriation, nationalization, black economic ownership, and greater government control of the justice system.

No final decisions have been made, but some influential factions in the African National Congress are pushing to "transform" the courts, the media, the economy, and even the much-praised constitution.

In South Africa, "transform" is code language for introducing a greater level of black ownership – and, with it, usually a degree of government control.

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It's an impulse that remains powerful among many politicians in the ANC, fuelled by a dangerous mixture of high unemployment, slow growth, weak leadership and fierce feuding within the governing party.

The ANC is preparing for two crucial conferences. The first, to be held near Johannesburg this month, will debate the ANC's key policies. The second, in December, will decide whether Jacob Zuma will remain the party's leader.

The policy conference will map out the so-called second transition – 18 years after the first transition that ended apartheid and made Nelson Mandela the first democratically elected president.

Some ANC factions are demanding that the second transition must include economic nationalization, farm expropriation, amendments to the constitution and tighter controls on the courts.

In the past, radical proposals were vetoed by leaders such as Mr. Mandela, who rejected nationalization. But now, in the heated climate of the unofficial campaign to topple Mr. Zuma, the radical voices are becoming bolder and more aggressive.

Leaders of the ANC youth league are warning that blacks will seize white-owned farms in a Zimbabwe-style takeover if the farmers refuse to surrender their land. They are angry that the vast majority of South Africa's farmland is still owned by whites, almost two decades after apartheid ended.

"Whites must voluntarily give up their land if they won't want to see young black people flooding their farms," said Ronald Lamola, deputy president of the ANC youth league, in a speech this week.

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The youth league is also repeating its demands for the nationalization of the mining industry, even though the government has rejected the idea. And some union leaders, allied with the ANC, are calling for the nationalization of all major industries, not just mining.

Other ANC factions, meanwhile, are taking aim at the judiciary. One member of the ANC's national executive, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, this week attacked South African judges for thwarting the will of the ANC government.

Mr. Ramatlhodi, a deputy minister of correctional services who has significant support in the governing party, wants reforms to the constitution and the courts to prevent the judiciary from blocking government actions. And he made it clear that he is blaming South Africa's white minority for the court decisions that go against the government.

"There is a tyranny, a minority tyranny, that is using state institutions to undermine democratic processes," Mr. Ramatlhodi said in a speech at an ANC event. "I have seen now in our country the courts are being used to replace the executive."

He was apparently angered by several recent cases in which the courts have halted or overturned government decisions on top appointments in the intelligence and prosecution agencies. Last year he launched an attack on the constitution, saying it gave too much power to the courts.

The media, too, are facing demands for black ownership. South Africa's parliament is holding public hearings this month on the ownership and control of the print media. On average, only 14 per cent of the print media are owned by blacks, according to a recent report.

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One senior ANC leader and wealthy businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa, is reported to be considering the purchase of one of South Africa's biggest newspaper chains, Independent Newspapers, which would certainly increase the ANC's influence over the media.

So far, the demands for state control of the economic and judicial levers have been mostly rhetorical. The ANC has slapped down the youth leaders who called for expropriation and nationalization. "It is not ANC policy to expropriate land without compensation, and personally I don't think it will work," said Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's secretary-general.

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