THE ANC in Gauteng has not exactly declared UDI from the mother body, but there’s a mutiny in the ranks against one of the party’s key signature projects. The schism is widening.

The local party has shown an unusual willingness to liberate itself from the suffocating embrace of the national body and its overpowering stench of scandals.

Anybody inadvertently wandering into the ANC’s Gauteng conference last week could have sworn he had happened on an opposition party confab. Two of the party’s holy cows — President Jacob Zuma and e-tolls — were being slaughtered.

Zuma was, of course, never mentioned by name. But scandals, which the provincial party blames for its loss of support, have become his moniker.

Irritated by such insubordination, Zuma decided the conference could do without his noble presence. The shrillness of the ANC’s protestation at reports of a presidential snub only served to emphasise the antipathy.

On e-tolls, the ANC in Gauteng is now marching in step with the Democratic Alliance — a remarkable development. Its defection means that e-tolls have no support from any political formation of any significance in the province. They have become an arrogant imposition by the national government in the face of total local opposition.

The ANC retained Gauteng by the skin of its teeth in the last elections; and e-tolls and Zuma scandals were uppermost in voters’ minds. A party activist campaigning during the election says he was taken aback by the vehemence of the anti-Zuma sentiments. People generally liked the party, but they couldn’t stand its leader. Which is why provincial party leaders were miffed when they were blamed by the ANC hierarchy for losing electoral support.

Gauteng, apart from being South Africa’s breadbasket, is also its intellectual capital. It has the highest concentration of media, tertiary institutions and other opinion formers. The country generally follows its lead. Its lack of political heft is therefore surprising, and could be unsettling.

The ANC has to do something about the two issues — Zuma and e-tolls — or Gauteng will fall to the opposition. Nothing focuses a politician’s mind better than a looming rendezvous with voters. Nothing can be done about Zuma, but it believes it y believe they can exert some pressure on e-tolls.

At times, the e-tolls seem seems like a KwaZulu-Natal conspiracy against Gauteng. Initiated by then transport minister Jeff Radebe, it was handed on to his successor, Sbu Ndebele. And when Ndebele showed signs of flagging, Pravin Gordhan picked up the baton and took it right up to the Constitutional Court.

The decision has certainly muddied the waters. While it has sown confusion in party and government circles, it’s a huge fillip for to the opposition. Paul Mashatile probably thinks he has nothing to lose. He was denied the premiership and exiled to national government in Zuma’s first term. This time he’s been cast out completely.

To sideline a leader with such an influential constituency does not only show worrying signs of antidemocratic tendencies, but is it’s asking for trouble. Mashatile has now decided to throw in his lot with his constituents.

Speaking in a tone that’s usually only reserved for the opposition, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe couldn’t hide his irritation. But he was also right to remind provincial leaders of their complicity in the debacle. They sold the scheme to the national government.

At times, the e-tolls seem seems like a KwaZulu-Natal conspiracy against Gauteng. Initiated by then transport minister Jeff Radebe, it was handed on to his successor, Sbu Ndebele. And when Ndebele showed signs of flagging, Pravin Gordhan picked up the baton and took it right up to the Constitutional Court.

Gordhan is the man who ultimately made e-tolls a reality with the sort of boundless enthusiasm on his part that was sadly missing in the Nkandla imbroglio, for instance.

None of the friends or relatives of these worthies will have to pay for e-tolls.

Dipuo Peters has been handed a hospital pass. The thing is dying in her hands, and it will have caused enormous damage to the party by the time it’s eventually killed.

The government is arguing that it is applying the user-pay principle. That’s nonsense. These roads have been paid for from the public purse. The state collects billions every year in the fuel levy for road maintenance, which it has decided to use for other things. Apparently the fuel levy can also not be used to pay for these upgrades because that would be unfair to other provinces — the same provinces that which receive billions in subsidies from Gauteng.

All that is now academic. People are voting with their wallets. They aren’t paying.

But there could be a bigger price for the ANC to pay if this issue is not resolved before the elections. Should the ANC lose Gauteng, it would mean that the two centres of power, including the three biggest metropolises, would be in opposition hands. Losing Gauteng could be a stake through the heart for the ANC. It could prove terminal.

E-tolls may yet teach the ANC about the true meaning of democracy. Majoritarian intransigence has its limits. Instead of trying to get even with Gauteng, the ANC should use this as an opportunity to get out of the hole it has dug for itself. Otherwise it could be its death knell.

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