The F-word: ANC is addicted to powerlessness

2013-01-27 10:00

Of all national projects aimed at correcting wrongs of the past, one major project was overlooked: rebuilding the self-confidence of those who were stripped of it by apartheid.

We have economic equity programmes and laws to correct workplace discrimination.

But it was in manipulating the minds of black people to feel inferior, as outsiders looking in, that the apartheid grandmasters outdid themselves.

The ANC is proof that we need a form of psychological empowerment of the former oppressed.

The greatest albatross around black people’s necks this year is not the yoke of grand apartheid, but their mental strength to deal with its aftereffects.

The governing party is a prime example of the low self-esteem that could not be overcome by assuming political power.

The ANC rightfully prides itself as the best representative of the formerly oppressed.

Its 101 years, most of which are in service of the oppressed, allows it to make this claim.

Even if the party’s opponents disagreed, poll after poll shows that the South African majority believe the party is their passport to a better tomorrow.

Despite all this, the ANC still tends to display a shocking sense of denial of its power.

It is as if the party is so addicted to powerlessness that it finds it hard to believe that it is in charge.

The ANC’s response to crises betrays a sense of an organisation that sees itself as permanently under siege.

Last year, confronted with a drawing of President Jacob Zuma’s private parts, it opted for a street brawl when it could have tackled the issue with sophistication, placing its unhappiness in a historical and contemporary political context.

The pathologising of black sexuality is as old as the first time Europeans encountered Africans.

A party with more than a million members must have one or two individuals able to articulate why this is unacceptable in the second decade of the 21st century.

Last week, on hearing the news that Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) would mothball mines and lay off 14?000 workers, the ANC acted as if it was not under its stewardship and tacit approval that the miner left the local stock market and went on to list on the London bourse.

Party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe complained that the mining conglomerate had “stolen our money” and now they were fleeing to London.

He and Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu complained that Amplats had treated the government with contempt.

It was as if they had forgotten they have the power to effect whatever they desire, as long as it is legal, to deal with Amplats’ perceived arrogance.

Instead of dealing with FNB over the banker’s adverts it found “treacherous”, the party threw its toys out of the cot and behaved like the Boipatong Civic Association in 1987.

Here, we had a party aggrieved that children were not showing proper respect to their elders.

We had a party whose tested popularity hovers around two-thirds of voters, worried that the bank had caused children to conspire in the subversion of the state and its overthrow.

TheANC is entitled to engage anybody it wants and to do so as robustly as the situation demands.

But it has one thing that no other civil society movement has; it is government and has state power.

The governing party must therefore stop wriggling its hands helplessly when confronted by challenges, including by those who hold it in contempt or indeed want to topple it.

Its historical role as the leader of the oppressed demands that it develop a more assertive yet sophisticated posture when dealing with what it does not like.

The ANC does its millions of followers no favours if it continues casting itself as just another civil society formation that will join the queue to lobby government to change the rules.

It will serve the historically marginalised well to see a confident governing party able to deal with contrarian views without losing its cool and calling its opponents names.

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