Given the current state of COSATU, this most could be more accurate than I realized at the time…

Why the ANC is Pursuing a Political Strategy that is Fatally Flawed

20 November 2012

In June this year Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said that the African National Congress (ANC) will “rule forever”. We disagree. Apart from the fact that “forever” is an extremely long time… the more pressing issue for the

ANC, is that in our view, they are pursuing a profoundly erroneous political strategy.

Over the last ten years the ANC has slowly lost touch with the grassroots, the political support-base on whom they depend for the right to rule. Yes, the ANC is still in charge, voted into power by democratic process, but the question over their longevity is entirely another reality. Their detachment from their supporters is evident in the dichotomous wrangling that is ongoing between the mother body and their youth for instance. With one ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president suspended, and another regularly at loggerheads with the party’s elite, the entire structure is reeling from their contestations. Further, through headline grabbing issues such as the eTolls, the ANC’s most important alliance partner, the Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU), is regularly seen to flex their ideological muscles. Comments by ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, have shown that the ANC is all but amused at this newfound debate taking place, often through the press, within the tri-partheid alliance.

What lies behind this turmoil is more than dissatisfaction at slow service delivery and run of the mill political difference-of-opinion. If one takes a long view at the strategy of the ruling party, one sees that their current approach is gradually pulling the party apart at the seams.

In the early years since liberation, the ANC were emboldened by their political rise out from among their struggle allies. The National Party’s decision to recognize the ANC at talks, started the party on a journey to political preeminence that is proving to be the ultimate test of their ethos. Can a liberation party rule as such, in a multi-party democracy? We are rapidly nearing the perfect storm contained in that question.

The underlying ideology that informed the ANC and COSATU at formation, was of course Communism. Now proven to be systemically and structurally flawed as a political and economic system, communism as a global contender died a sudden death. Yet, the aspirations, and many of the perspectives of it’s adherents have lingered. The afterglow of communism is however often heard in the rhetoric of the likes of COSATU’s General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, who harped on the role of “class struggle” in South Africa, at this year’s South African Communist Party Conference (SACP).

Why are all these strands of ideology important to this discussion? The reason is that they shape the policy and leadership perspectives of the ANC. They color the lens through which these leaders see South Africa, its’ potential and its’ problems. They open the door to talks of “revolution” in a country with more to gain from cooperation, than from “proletariat uprising”. Fortunately for South Africa, during the Mbeki years, the need for legislative reform, fiscal stability, and a prominent international image, meant that South Africa could pursue a sufficiently reasonable policy approach aimed at growth, while the population patiently awaited the prosperity they were promised. This is changing.

In more recent times, after the leadership pendulum of the ANC swiftly deviated over to the Zuma camp, the party has been confronted by the deficit between their promises and their performance. To this, the ANC has responded by hardening their message of so called liberation, and at times has succumbed to the dark practice of scapegoating, to explain the persistence of SA’s social ills. The truth is, while the ANC has preached communism, it has practiced capitalism of the worst kind, being embroiled in cronyism and corruption at every turn and on every level.

The challenge for the ANC is that the new generation of party members, to join since liberation, took their leader’s rhetoric seriously. They expected pastoralism, but have instead been pastured upon by their rulers. Hindsight is of course 20/20, but today it would seem that the ANC is not communist enough for the poor, nor capitalist enough for the affluent.

Speaking strategically: if the ANC’s “market” were the South African people, their “product” was just rule, and their “competitive advantage” was the loyalty of the majority, they have in our view, alienated the very citizens who have the means to bring change, unrepentantly betrayed their own liberation credentials through unjust practices, and are carelessly testing the loyalties of their adherents by pandering to the whims of their power-holders.

In essence, the ANC is committing strategic suicide by slowly poisoning the chalice that contains their power, the inclusiveness and a resolute desire to stand for what is right, as was embodied in our first democratic president.

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