All talk, no action

2011-01-11 00:00

WHEN political parties in power take their support and citizens' patience­ for granted, it is the beginning of their decline. I had long planned to make this a point of caution­ following what was expected to be a day of promises and aplomb at the January 8 statement of the ANC.

The hard-hitting response by the ANC branch of ward three (uMshwathi­) to my column on the need for a balance between government accountability and active citizenship make it all the more urgent for me to caution against complacency on the part of the governing parties in all municipalities­ in this province.

The idea is that complacency has become a custom now that the ANC, in its January 8 statement, celebrates its historical and current achievements including the heroism of the ordinary people against the odds of apartheid to emphasise the unity of purpose within the tripartite alliance and under-emphasises the inherent contradictions that characterises all political broad churches.

Successful leaders of these movements are those who manage the contradictions by emphasising the unifying messages, the consensus builders.

Complacency on the part of any dominant political party, be it the left-leaning social democratic parties that dominated many European­ countries in the 1990s and early 2000s or the neo-conservative parties that dominated Latin America in the same period, led to their decline, leading to the resurgence of neoconservatives in Europe and a drift to the left in Latin­ America.

This is also the pattern that saw old African liberation movements that assumed power through popular support at the end of colonial rule slide into the abyss, giving way to garrison rule in the late sixties and liberal democratic parties in the nineties. The decline of the Inkatha Freedom Party in Kwa-Zulu-Natal in the past decade is also the result of losing support.

In all these cases, complacent political parties forgot that the source of their power was voluntary popular support and therefore that the masses and not political parties actually rule at the end of the day. Political parties started to rule rather than govern. They went on their ways regardless of what the people thought, said and felt. They assumed the correctness of their own logic and the permanence of their power. They acted and spoke arrogantly to their constituents, causing them to withdraw support or change allegiance.

Indeed, the January 8 statement celebrated the achievements of the past, especially the struggle which ended some 15 years ago. It restates the ANC's commitment to building a national democratic society and the commitment to selfless service to the people, regardless of their race, sex, language, belief and geographical­ location, as the very DNA of an ANC leader and member­.

In the January 8 statement, President Jacob Zuma claims that on the basis­ of the ANC's large role in the struggle and post-liberation period­, it is "the leader of society", thus giving it even heavier responsibility to behave and conduct itself responsibly.

The plea for patience with the ANC as it works to build this society­ may have been made too many times, as shown by the experiences of some people in areas that the ANC dominates, such as the North West, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. They see in their municipalities an ANC that is driven by selfish and partisan interests. They do not experience the values that Zuma enunciated.

The people I spoke to in ward three of uMshwathi speak of an ANC that neglects them in favour of areas from which the top leadership comes. They see an ANC that is complacent following a good showing in the 2009 elections.

So the ANC is increasingly running into problems because the conduct of its cadres on the ground, especially those in positions in the local government, does not correlate with the promises and ideals expressed at Limpopo University three years ago and Peter Mokaba Stadium last weekend.

The ANC branch's letter dismisses my account of disgruntlement by portions of the communities of eFaye, KwaHobhu (Mount Elias­) and eMtulwa as fairy tales of the armchair critic that I am supposed to be. To correct my under-statement of its good performance it mentions five flagship projects implemented in the past five years, totalling one project per each of the big villages of ward three. They accept that "crosstitutes" are a political liability, but say they not responsible for these people's history of poor performance. They insist that there are copies of the Integrated Development Plan, but my point is that people have not seen them because they are not distributed and people have not been responsible enough to claim them.

The ANC in uMshwathi and nationally needs to be aware of the need for it to match its pronouncements both in conduct and in speech or it will lose credibility

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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