Factionalism: It can make or break a political party

Factionalism: It can make or break a political party

Political parties are well known for their feuds and ideological, political battles. This external political activity is widely reported and can assist a lot in growing or decreasing a political party’s support base. However, the internal politics of a political party plays a massive role too in determining the leadership, power and image of a political party. The rise of factionalism in political parties can determine their success or failure in governance and gaining support, and with the recent campaigns in the ANC for their next national leader, it is important to note the effects that factions in a political party can have.

On the one hand of factionalism, it can definitely be beneficial to a political party despite many assuming the worst about factions in a political party. Political parties are often diverse in not just demographics such as race, gender and religion, but also in ideology too. Yes, there is an overall umbrella ideology which unites members of a political party and their supporters. However, there are many sub-ideologies or differing viewpoints under that broad, umbrella ideology. This consequently causes members of a political party to divide in ideologies and thus, factions form in the political party.

If we look at the Democratic Alliance, it labels itself as liberal party and the beliefs of freedom and equal opportunity are the unifying factors behind the party. Despite this, there are different types of liberalism which has resulted in members and supporters of the party forming factions under the party. There are classical liberals in the party who strongly believe in freedom and the capitalist, free market whereas there are social liberals who believe in larger governments that provide more equal opportunities and have more control over the economy and market through legislative and administrative measures. These groups and factions may often clash on policy matters or leadership positions in the party, but the underlying values of the party is what unites them.

In the ANC, there is an extremely diverse ideological umbrella. Some individuals band together to form a more socialist, left wing movement in the party, these being predominantly younger ANC members, whereas others support and uphold a capitalist agenda since the ANC ended up supporting free market ideals after coming into power in 1994. This division can be seen similarly in the current race for the position of ANC President. Cyril Ramaphosa is known to be a capitalist and adopts more liberal-like principles whereas Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is known to adopt more socialist, pan-Africanist ideas. Despite this, the legacy of the anti-apartheid movement and the values of justice, equality and empowerment keep the party intact.

Although many would argue that factions are extremely debilitating and are a threat to growing, developing and being successful as a political organisation, they can be exceptionally beneficial too. Factionalism creates a diverse pool of thought in a political organisation such that ideas, decisions and viewpoints on policies and governance come from various individuals and minds, and not just a singular, one dimensional view. This allows a political party to change and develop which is what needs to occur in modern day society since our morals change, new trends are created quickly and the growing movements of both progressive and conservative forces are becoming more apparent now than ever before.

However, regardless of the benefits, political parties do not need to be wary of how powerful and dominating various factions get within the party. Unfortunately, there are instances where political parties are being dominated by a particular faction that may sometimes treat other factions unfairly or be biased towards its faction members of the party. The unethical aspects of factions are always a concern. If we look at the ANC, Former President Thabo Mbeki iterated recently that the ANC has been captured by a dominant faction that is consequently causing corruption to take place on a frequent basis in governments led by the African National Congress. In the DA, there have been concerns that the faction under Helen Zille is dominating party politics since she may have been suspended from party politics initially but the Democratic Alliance has allowed her to keep her position as Premier of the Western Cape.

There is no doubt that internal politics in political parties are definitely interesting and there is always a potential for growth, development and change. Factions can be used to play a role in engaging and debating on viewpoints in the party and allow the party to move forward. However, the unethical activities that often take place between factions can hamper political parties’ reputation and their general aim in achieving more support in an attempt to govern local, provincial and national governments. The upcoming ANC National Congress is going to be a good indication to see how ethical, useful and beneficial factions can be and how factions may possibly be used to establish a positive way forward for the ANC.

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