ANC must transform to regain its soul

2011-05-14 13:39

The ruling ANC has reached the proverbial fork in the road.

The party can either ­continue under its current ­leadership and risk rebuke at the 2014 national elections or choose a new leadership cadre that can restore confidence in its ability to lead South Africa out of the current muck of ­public corruption.

If HIV/Aids was Thabo Mbeki’s Achilles heel, then ­President Jacob Zuma’s administration has become synonymous with public looting.

Day in and day out we read stories about how people close to the president – friends or family – obtain government and business contracts worth billions of rands.

All of this has generated a ­crisis of confidence, not only in the leadership of the ANC but in the organisation’s assumed role to lead black people out of Gethsemane to a newly found Nirvana.

The local-government ­elections are likely to be more than a poll on service delivery.

Those who describe the community protests as “service-delivery protests” miss by a mile the true cause of the state of unrest?– the monetisation of public life and the criminalisation of the state by those who preside over it.

The quest for public ­office has very little to do with public service and everything to do with the maximisation of ­business opportunities for party leaders.

The local elections may also be a precursor of things to come.

The plurality of our ­political culture and the multiplicity of our political parties mean that the ANC will over time lose its grip on municipal and provincial governments.

To some, this may be good for democracy, but I would rather have one type of party replaced by another in government than an inchoate group of smaller parties brought together only by the desire to oust the big guy.

Whether they are black or white, right wing or left wing, ­coalitions tend to operate by the same logic.

No sooner would they have got into power than those parties would turn on each other over the spoils.

I do not as yet see the DA ­replacing the ANC outright – certainly not with its predominantly white leadership. Until the DA gets real about that fact, it has no chance of running this country.

A morally stronger ANC would thus be the best ­insurance for democracy right now.

To find its soul, the party will have to undergo a political, institutional and cultural transformation.

Politically, the transition from party to social movement has eroded notions of social solidarity both within the party and in its relationship to the broader society.

Because of that, it has become a powerful agglomeration of self-interested individuals with declining levels of moral and intellectual authority.

The reimagination of local government could be the way in which the party rediscovers what it means to be a people’s party. Why do party bigwigs only want to serve at the national level?

Institutionally, the relationship between communities and ­municipalities should extend ­beyond the ward committee.

The ANC is looking at reforming the ward-committee system, but there may be value in examining alternative institutional forms for more community participation in government decision making.

Culturally, none of this will be possible without a shift from the “big man” syndrome that has gripped our politics for the past decade and a half.

The ANC needs to choose leaders willing to confront corruption head-on.

It may well be that I am ­whistling in the wind, and that the corrupt few are too powerful to institute such changes.

In that case, like the Indian ­Congress Party, the ANC may have to be shaken at the polls in ­order to regain its ground.

A wake-up call of sorts may just be what the doctor ordered.

» Mangcu is executive chairperson of the Platform for Public Deliberation.

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