A step to the right

2014-05-06 10:00

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ANC has become a harbinger of die-hard conservatism, writes Barney Pityana

The Sidikiwe! Vukani! campaign has caused waves, and touched and rattled the South African political landscape on the eve of what is likely to be South Africa’s most contested general election to date.

There have been howls of protest and a sense of betrayal on the fringes of the ANC.

There are some I would rather ignore – like Allister Sparks and Rhoda Kadalie – whose attacks on Ronnie Kasrils are so personal as not to warrant a response.

In any event, they do not address the concerns from within the ANC that the likes of Kasrils and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge seek to present.

But there have been other, more thought-provoking responses from Patrick Mtshaulana, Jeremy Cronin, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane and Phillip Dexter, among others.

Theirs was to suggest Kasrils had turned his back on a revolutionary tradition that he nurtured over many years in exile.

Dexter and Tabane draw on their experiences having left the ANC, only to recognise the futility of functioning politically outside of it.

They both make two telling points: that the ANC remains the most viable vehicle for social transformation in the country, and that it is possible to raise matters for debate and correction within the ANC.

Interestingly, there was no effort to defend the Nkandla debacle or to explain away the shenanigans in the so-called security upgrades that caused the price tag to balloon.

The view is expressed that the Nkandla situation is not defensible, but that, in Cronin’s words, Jacob Zuma is not the worst leader the ANC has ever had, or that the current crisis is not unheard of in the history of the movement, and that revolutionary strategy and tactics would be enough to guide comrades on how to approach the present crises.

The Sidikiwe! Vukani! campaign is in essence a conversation within the ANC about the ANC. The champions of the campaign have not given up on the ANC, and have not formed a breakaway political party.

The purpose of the campaign is to challenge the ANC about its faults and shortcomings, and in the end to clean up the organisation.

It happens outside of the structures of the ANC because the ANC has, in fact, been captured by a cabal that has turned it into an instrument of self-enrichment and for control of the state – not for the common good, but for personal benefit.

The result is that the ANC has become an “echo”, to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s telling expression. It speaks to itself and its words bounce back on itself.

The organisation is no longer an inclusive, debating chamber. It is no longer a place of ideas or a forum for ideas battling with ideas. It is not an inclusive society conscious of its moral responsibility for the wellbeing of South Africans.

I beg to differ on the assertion that the ANC is the only viable vehicle for radical transformation, especially when the party has become a harbinger of die-hard conservative politics that make it possible for erstwhile National Party stalwarts to find a home within it; of capitalists – black and white – vying for attention at ANC fundraising events, and whose message is about enrichment sans conscience.

This is the organisation that treats the poor as if they are the scum of beggars.

The lavish parties and drinks displayed at ANC events for leaders only speak volumes about the drift of the party to the right of the political spectrum.

It explains the cynicism with which the ANC will dish out food parcels, at the state’s expense, at party rallies. It is out of utter disrespect for the poor.

Those of us who are not merely impatient with the ANC in government, but have lost faith in its ability or even passion to transform South African society in a manner that moves decisively away from the apartheid-induced social constructs, must confront a fundamental challenge.

The concern is about living comfortably with transformation that does not touch the fundamentals but makes apartheid fundamentals more efficient and aims to reach further than apartheid did.

For British historian Raymond Williams, this is “a transformation engineered by political methods directly contrary to the values at which the transformation aims”.

That is a sobering thought for the ANC, and a dilemma for many of us whose faith lies with the ANC as the vanguard for fundamental change in South Africa.

Similar messages have been heard following the Marikana massacre, where police, poorly trained in riot control methods, are protected by a reckless disregard for the law and human life.

That must surely explain why it is that the ANC-led government boldly and persistently tabled a Traditional Courts Bill, the effect of which would be to entrench in law an undemocratic system of governance and give it legal credence with the consequent effects on the rights of women, land distribution and rural development.

Under the ANC government, the country has an entrenched Bantustanisation through affinity with traditional leaders, appointments and by the spatial geography that has become entrenched in law.

The ANC itself has become so tribalised under Jacob Zuma, there is no longer any need for the IFP!

Apartheid is alive and well when one takes a look at the roll-out of housing for the poor – RDP houses in ghettos as in apartheid-style group areas.

The policies of the ANC in government have been less about empowering the women and the poor, especially in rural communities, and more about enriching the few at the expense of the poor.

On this understanding, the Nkandla scandal is therefore symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the philosophy and practice of government.

Two decades on, South Africans are entitled to think again.

The Sidikiwe! Vukani! campaign might have the potential of wresting the country and her economy out of the clutches of kleptomaniacs and restoring it to the people. If democracy from within yields no results, it is justifiable to try democracy from without.

Pityana is the chairperson of Higher Education SA

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