A few plain truths

2008-10-14 00:00

NOW that there is a small diminution of the spectacle that has so kept our attention focused on the ruling party and its shenanigans, it might be timely to consider the history of the ANC, especially as the dust has not settled and is unlikely to do so very soon. The ANC has not been known for its consistency or principles throughout its 95-year history.

It has long protected its leadership from scrutiny, whether to protect them from allegations of racism or opportunism, human rights abuses in the camps or even collaboration with the former regime. It has promoted the cult of the leader even though it talks of a collective. Nor was it alone in fighting for liberation.

The one big myth that has taken hold has been the idea that the ANC waged an armed struggle against the former regime. That there were incursions and bombings of selected targets is not in dispute but these must also be seen in conjunction with the time frame involved.

Acts of sabotage are not a liberation or guerrilla war. Nor did the ANC win a democratic revolution; in fact it was party to a negotiated settlement. It may be seen to be splitting hairs, but much of what is repeated over and over again takes on a life of its own and becomes firmly rooted in our consciousness as fact. Furthermore, the ANC has always had factions.

One has to ask, if the ANC were to split what would it mean for the rest of us? That it would weaken its hegemony may be a good thing and most commentators seem to agree that it will give rise to a more democratic space. There is no guarantee that whichever faction gets the upper hand will rectify or even address the failures of the past. The urgent needs of the population in no particular order are health, education, crime prevention, jobs, rooting out corruption and so on, which have structural constraints that need to be urgently addressed. Furthermore system failures have also often been associated with attendant corruption and regular manipulation of tenders pertaining to these priority areas.

A changing of the guard, and by the looks of things some of the very culprits in the previous cabinet are still very much in the vanguard now that they have come out on the side of the victorious faction, does not look promising. Those who have been under a cloud remain so. Neither faction shows any willingness to bring perpetrators to book. Their own naked self-interest dictates this.

Among the most notable failures of the ANC throughout its history has been the reluctance to train a majority of its cadres in more than the usual day-to-day running of the organisation. Except for some members it has never grappled with theory and has always relied heavily on slogans and populist rhetoric. Even those sound bites uttered by government representatives have been similar irrespective of who was speaking. They say all the right things. At the doing level is where they fail.

At the other extreme the majority of the population remains at a low level of political consciousness or political maturity, unable to discern ideology and policy or engage meaningfully. This is because the party pays very little attention to this important area. Hence the reliance upon the cachet of leadership figures who may or may not be really different. In fact, in the fiasco of the removal of Thabo Mbeki there was a lot of denigrating verbal abuse. It never really took on a theoretical flavour, it was more like a hit squad doing its dirty work.

One has to ask, if this is what it does to its own, what hope is there for the rest of us? Already the standard response of various elements of its youth formations is the issuing of dire threats. I believe that these threats are real. In the past there have been clear instances of thuggish behaviour and in the present there have been a number of disturbing fights that have erupted between the different factions. In the event of a new formation we may see this escalate.

The spoils are huge and there will be contestation for whatever is available. In the past the physical fights were mainly waged against organisations and their members who opposed the congress movement. The violence these days is mainly directed at those who thwart them from within their own ranks. Once they have settled those scores there is no guarantee that they will not turn on other opponents.

Finally, two things will assist us in this period. The first is to defend and prevent the erosion of those freedoms that we hold dear and to make sure that things such as the right to freedom of speech and association are not relinquished to those who wield physical and political power.

Secondly, if or when a new political party or organisation is formed from dissidents within the ruling party they should make reparations for their behaviour when they were in power. They should have to show a willingness to engage in the things that the population is clamouring for and really get to grips with societal needs. Furthermore, they should show a commitment to root out fraud and corruption within their own ranks and stop supporting and shielding corrupt individuals. They should never let the country be held to ransom by their slide into the morass that has been the enduring memory of the past 14 years. Then only will there be some hope for the country and its people.

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