On the eve of the ANC’s 54th elective conference there is a deluge of commentary that depicts an obituary of the ANC. The recent events of Zimbabwe with its bloodless coup and subsequent resignation of Robert Mugabe is welcomed as a forewarning for its neighbours south of the crocodile infested Limpopo River.
A segment of South Africa’s citizenry draws inspiration from this and express the need to see the same happening in South Africa. They rush to draw parallels and conclusions between the ANC and ZANU PF immanent in Mugabe and Zuma. It does not help that the ANC and Zanu PF over many decades share a sisterhood of liberation struggle. This emerging narrative of a death of the ANC sees 2019 as the cemetery. The claim is South Africa must be saved from the ANC. This choreographed narrative argues the ANC must be quashed for South Africa to be saved.
Let us upfront admit as the ANC’s own reports categorically acknowledge the ANC is going through its most testing period of organisational instability during its leading of the SA society. It is trapped in its own internecine organisational challenges measurable in its phenomenal successes and equal glaring failures. The reality of entrenched factionalism and belligerent personal interest is threatening to redefine the ANC in democracy. The undeniable reality of corruption that sojourns from infancy under Mandela, having reached teenager status under Mbeki and now under Zuma is a 23 year old adult militates against the core of the ANC. The ANC therefore struggles to navigate the complexities of its internal organisational and leader of society roles in a space where capital dictates its own interests.
Beyond the daily desires of those who lost political power at the dawn of democracy, beyond those who lost power in internal democratic ANC elective contests and beyond the noise of an incoherent cohort of opposition parties that hitherto have failed to convince the voters, we must ask is there any credence to the claim that South Africa must be saved from the ANC.
I will attempt to make the case that despite the many challenges the ANC finds itself beset with, the overwhelming support for its leadership of society is hitherto uncontested of the facts are allowed to speak and not the emotions of a temperamental elite society, really the signpost of ANC success.
I will restrict myself to five possible reasons why the case can be made the ANC is South Africa and democratic South Africa is the ANC, one cannot be saved from the other.
Perhaps, the first reason why the ANC remains authentically relevant and the political leader of a South African society is the recognised election results since 1994. Regardless to how emotional we might become the fact is the ANC as trusted to lead has a fundamental mandate that stands since 1994. At the dawn of democracy the ANC under Mandela secured 62,7% of the national voters trust. Meaning Mandela was never trusted to lead by the vocal white South Africans who in convenience claim him today their icon. The ANC under Mbeki’s two terms delivered a two-thirds majority, yet that did not translate to any meaningful changes in land or economic ownership for the masses of SA. By 2009 the ANC under Zuma attained 65,8% and in his second term in 2014 it has returned to roughly the same percentage that Mandela enjoyed back in 1994.
Much is made of this decline under Zuma which saw a shaving of 6% for his period of leadership. On one level it is good for the ANC to strive to secure a higher percentage of the voters trust, yet it can also be argued the ANC is unnecessary hard on itself to assume it will always have that 60% threshold. It is expected that as it settles into governing and voter apathy a common phenomenon in established democracies begins to manifest it will have to accept that its 60% threshold is perhaps an unfair demand for itself.
Coupled with this we must also acknowledge the fact that the ANC in 2017 continues to win its by-elections particularly in areas it was entrusted to lead before. Therefore the claims of a massive 2019 loss are not sustainable if the history of elections is the yardstick.
A second reason why South Africa needs the ANC is found in the state of opposition party politics. According to Don Brash opposition ‘represents an alternative government and is responsible for challenging the policies of the government, and producing different policies where appropriate.’ This definition suggests an alternate government meaning producing different policies.
Sadly the South African opposition party footprint registers no true presence for a rightful claim of any alternate governing anchored in policy articulation. It has very little to offer in the arena of alternative governing. Its fundamental obsession is its persuasion to render a majority earned through a democratic ballot as wrongful and detrimental to democracy. It increasingly makes the courts the arbiter on political matters therefore encroaching on the political life space of South Africans. If politics is the organising of a society, opposition parties in democracy are necessary, however in democratic South Africa they cannot claim the voters overwhelming trust to lead SA.
A third reason why the ANC will continue to remain relevant and the leader of the South African society is the gross misreading by opposition parties of those who vote for the ANC. It is generally accepted in opposition circles that those who vote for the ANC do so in ignorance as uninformed and victims of ANC leadership abuse. This perpetual class based disrespect of the conscious choice of the ANC voters is one of the reasons the opposition parties continue to fail to win the confidence of the masses to lead a South Africa. Much was made of the ANC’s performance in the August 2016 Municipal elections in particular in the metro areas where voters boycotted the polls. It was wildly claimed that the voters turned their backs on the ANC. Yet this boycott in no sense was an endorsing of any opposition party, for we didn’t see it translate to a shift in trust to any opposition party. The Democratic Alliance as the official opposition today leads based on volatile coalition agreements with among others the Economic Freedom Front (City of Johannesburg and Tshwane) and United Democratic Movement (Nelson Mandela Bay Metro) respectively.
Perhaps a pertinent question to ask is, if the collective opposition parties failed to secure the overwhelming confidence of the SA voters, during a time of the ANC at its weakest with Zuma leading, why is it assumed it will do better when he is no more leading come 2019?
In fact despite the ANC’s organisational challenges of factionalism, corruption and self-interest realities rendering it weak the SA voters did not trust the opposition to lead the society. For the record the EFF was nowhere trusted to lead any of the 236 municipalities that comprise SA. Recently Malema in one of his moments of sanity lectured a Daily Maverick’s essentially white audience, its time they accept that the people trusts the ANC, the people voted for Jacob Zuma and no march regardless to size will unseat Zuma. This admission is significant because, who the ANC is and what it stands for and what it has done in transforming SA is undeniable for those who continue to vote for it.
A fourth reason why the ANC remains relevant is the significance of its designed, adopted and rolled out policies. There is common consensus that the policies initiated by the ANC continue to tacitly transform the SA landscape. If South Africa exists in democratic reality it is because of the backbone of an ANC policy architecture. Granted there are challenges with implementation, yet to remotely claim apartheid was better is to engage in a sophism of the worst kind. The ANC under Zuma gave South Africa its first ever fifty-year inclusive national development plan. We may debate various aspects of that plan, what is undeniable is that there is a NDP.
A last reason why the ANC will continue to lead SA resonates in the fact that the ANC continues to respect the constitutional democracy that defines a South Africa. The ANC and its leaderships’ respect for the rulings of courts from the lowest to the highest confirms a political leader conscious of its role to set the example to lead in respect of that constitutional diaphragm. Where the constitutional court has ruled the ANC and its leadership continues to submit. Therefore contrary to the claims of a constitution under threat, the ANC and its leadership is in conscious protection of the constitution and hitherto has shown restraint and due respect for the rule of the law as final arbiter.
Ultimately the African National Congress must engage the conflicting and contesting interests that ravages its soul. In a sense it must find the courage-to-be as Steve Biko long stated, that courage demands an honest introspection of self and in humility acknowledges its shortcomings and recommit itself to continue serving South Africa from the bedrock of its tested values and ethos. This called for pensive reflection in sobriety is anchored in the hope of renewal and self correction.
To therefore claim the ANC must be quashed if SA is to be saved is to wholly fail to appreciate that South Africa in its democratic reality is directly and intrinsically linked to who the ANC is. Despite the touted prophesies of doom both from within and without the ANC, the case is made, the ANC lives in SA and SA lives in the ANC.
Until then the ANC remains the undeniable leader of a society entrusted to lead, rendering its anticipated demise mere wishful thinking.