What's in a name?

2008-11-21 00:00

The restructuring of a political party is inevitably painful, but the African National Congress is going to extraordinary lengths to thwart the naming of its breakaway element still known as Shikota. After a false start, it chose Congress of the People (Cope); but the ANC is mounting a legal challenge.

The ANC routinely confuses party and state. Deployment of loyalists, regardless of aptitude or qualification, to key government positions, national and local, lies at the root of failed service delivery. It is significant that this was highlighted at the founding meeting of Cope with a call to prohibit civil servants from political office. And while party has appropriated the state, it now seems that it seeks to lay claim to history as well.

There is no copyright on the nation’s past. The 1955 Congress of the People was the work of a number of organisations and the Freedom Charter it endorsed was said to reflect the aims and objectives of ordinary South Africans. In that sense both the event and its document are common property to be invoked by any organisation with the necessary credentials.

And what exactly is the ANC at present? Those who are leaving claim that it has lost its historic character, direction and principles and is now steered by communists and trade unionists whose primary allegiance lies elsewhere. Cope argues that it is the guardian of values such as the rule of law and respect for the Constitution, the true inheritance of the ANC.

It is clear that the party is unnerved. This is excellent for the state of South African politics and the cause of democracy in Africa as a whole. A monolithic governing party yet again complacently viewing automatic re-election is not healthy. Opinion polls suggest that the ANC could lose a fifth of its support at the polls and be faced by significant opposition for the first time. The sooner the relative quality of policies and performance can be judged by the electors, and the issue of names recedes, the better.

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