What is the ANC today?

2010-09-18 09:39

The African National Congress (ANC), which is almost 100 years old, owes its success to its ­ability to capture the popular imagination and to act in the interest of the public.

From its revolutionary heyday, to securing ­democracy, to negotiating and signing the ­Constitution, the party has always exhibited an ability to think and act beyond itself for a higher public good.

Take the Constitution. The ANC was able to negotiate and sign a document that included a set of checks, balances and rights – some of which were inimical to its own policies and self-interest.

These included property rights, state ownership and the enshrinement of customary and traditional practices which, at the time, went against the progressive vein of the party establishment.

In this way, and with its eye always on the greater good, the ANC has been able to govern with ­legitimacy and a remarkable degree of stability given the heterogeneous quality of South Africa.

It has also been able to secure the hopes of poverty-stricken South Africans by recognising the aspirations of those without work or assets of any kind.

It did so by projecting itself as a selfless party geared towards meeting the needs (Jobs, Food, Houses – its 1994 campaign slogan) of those at the grass roots. But on the eve of its national general council (NGC), the ANC is a far less outward-looking party, and one that is ­consumed by internal divisions and self-interest.

Can it truly claim the mantle of a movement that is the embodiment of South Africa and South Africans?

The NGC will be unable to secure support for the so-called cadre bill, an amendment to municipal laws that will ban political office bearers from being employed at municipal level.

This trend has ­embedded corruption in the ANC and stalled ­delivery, but because the party is hostage to self-interest, President Jacob Zuma is unlikely to get the law passed.

The economic policy debates, book-ended by Cosatu’s radicalism and the ANC Youth League’s nationalisation efforts, are also the work of ­special interest or self-interest.

The union ­federation is fighting battles it lost in the late 1980s with its passe calls for super taxes and currency control.

The ANC Youth League is fighting battles for beleaguered black miners who need the state to nationalise their debt-laden assets.

The ANC that meets this week seems little ­concerned about education, jobs and public health – the three things that mean the most to the majority of South Africans.

Is it truly a mass-based party or merely a cypher for special ­interests?

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