Political party policies

2008-09-04 00:00

In recent weeks there has been a good deal of discussion about whether the African National Congress (ANC) has lost interest in the members of the Indian community who support it or who used to support it. Some readers may feel that this is a matter of internal ANC policies and therefore not really a topic for general discussion; but I’d disagree with them. The ANC is the party in power, and it seems likely to remain so for some time. The ways in which it treats the members of South Africa’s varied communities is or should be a matter of concern to everyone.

Politics is a difficult, fluid business. Any democratic political party, if it is to remain viable and up-to-date, must be constantly changing and adjusting. This is particularly true of a party in power, because the very fact of its being in power and performing the tasks of governing means that it is vulnerable, forever open to attack. There are problems in being an opposition party too, of course, but its policies are not constantly being put to the test. Besides this, ordinary problems are compounded, for all parties, in a multiracial and multicultural country like South Africa.

When the ANC came to power it was in many respects admirably representative at all levels. The minority communities — whites, coloureds, Indians, especially the whites — had considerably more representatives in national, provincial and municipal spheres of the government than the number of their ANC voters warranted.

Clearly the ANC wanted to make it clear that it was seriously committed to non-racialism. But has it maintained this fine and generous balance, or have Africanist tendencies within it had the effect of quietly elbowing the representatives of minority communities towards the edge of things? Clearly the Indians who have been complaining feel this to be so — and they include Fatima Meer, one of the very notable stalwarts of the struggle.

Speaking from my own limited experience within the ANC, I have to say that I do not think that the ANC has by any means abandoned its general desire to be non-racist and broadly representative, but I do think that its determination in this regard has slipped to some degree. It has slipped, in my view, because inevitably the strongest grass-roots pressures within the party come up from the predominantly black areas, and because — almost as an illustration of this point — the recent dramatic tensions within the ANC have focused on two African figures, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. To see why things have developed in a certain way, however, is not to excuse shortcomings, and I think the ANC would be wise to recognise that its racial representativeness needs to be carefully scrutinised. This is also, I realise, a point that opposition parties may choose to seize upon; they have every right to do so.

To look more broadly at the question of representativeness, the ANC has been quite open about the fact that it is worried that some of the people that it appoints or puts on to its election lists turn out to be careerists, opportunists — people who pledge their allegiance to the ANC, the party in power, not because they have any real desire to produce “a better life for all” but because they hope, perhaps by getting tenders for themselves or for members of their families, to become more prosperous.

How is the ANC to deal with this problem?

In the past it has often tried to ascertain whether a person pledging allegiance has struggle credentials. Did he or she act boldly and self-sacrificially against the apartheid regime? The question is very understandable, but it be-comes less and less helpful as the years go by. The main reason for this is that people in their 20s and 30s had no opportunity to participate in the struggle: if one keeps the struggle as a criterion, the ANC will never take on any young blood. Another problem, as a number of court cases have suggested, is that some people with good struggle credentials might nevertheless turn out, now, to be careerists or in other ways dishonest.

No, the ANC, at least in this respect, is going to have to abandon its sense of itself as a liberation movement, and begin to assess the people it chooses in the same way as other political parties all over the world do.

It will have to find ways of judging people in terms of their record as students and in whatever employment they have had previously (referees’ reports can be very useful in this respect), and then, probably through careful probing interviews, by ascertaining whether they are honest, competent, hard-working people, truly dedicated to creating a better life for all South African

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