Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The ANC's 'battle of chairs' signify a death of ideas

2017-10-06 10:00
ANC supporters. (Brenton Geach, Gallo Images, file)

ANC supporters. (Brenton Geach, Gallo Images, file)

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The video footage depicting ANC delegates lashing at each other with chairs at the party’s Eastern Cape provincial conference provides a crudely honest summary of the state of the party.

It is no longer about the battle of ideas. It is about the battle of the chairs. In fact, the battle of the chairs itself is a symptom of something else: the drought of ideas.

The drought of ideas signifies the lack of purpose. The absence of purpose is indicative of a lack of aspirations beyond the satisfaction of immediate needs.

When the immediate satisfaction of material needs becomes the preeminent goal, ideas die. In a way, the ANC members have downgraded themselves and their party.

The Eastern Cape is a perfect example of what has become the ANC’s national malaise. For a very long time, the province was the face of so-called mud schools – a terrible legacy of apartheid.

Post-1994, the government set several deadlines to eradicate mud schools. Money was poured into the project. The deadlines were missed several times and no one was held to account for it.

To this day, rural schools in the province are in shambles. And the democratic government has to take responsibility for this. Strangely, this is not an issue that has raised emotions and triggered fights in the ANC. Party delegates would rather injure each other over the right to participate at an ANC conference.

The fight over the right to participate is not about influencing the policy direction of the party. Imagine how great it would have been had, for example, sharp differences emerged on how best to reindustrialise the province and create jobs; and if the tension was resolved by a resolution to invite experts to a special provincial conference where this matter would be discussed further.

Unfortunately, that would be too much to ask. ANC gatherings are about voting into power leaders who will facilitate looting of state resources through patronage schemes. The awarding of a multimillion rand tender to children of ANC leaders who built toilets that collapsed soon after they were completed is an example of a patronage scheme.

The Eastern Cape is a classic case of the tragedy that has befallen the ANC. Most of its members who are active participants are government employees. Most are also members of public sector unions such as Sadtu and Nehawu.

Eastern Cape public sector managers cannot run their respective departments without support from these powerful unions. The unions often influence promotions. Senior civil servants and politicians rise from the ranks of the unions.

The result is that, a gathering of the ANC in the Eastern Cape is a gathering of government officials. It is a gathering of the unions and politicians too. When chairs fly, it’s Government vs Government.

This unhealthy situation poses a serious risk to governance in the province. It won’t be easy to resolve, especially when those who participate in these conflicts do not have the capacity to see beyond their immediate material needs. If they had, they would turn the province into a hub of private sector investments beyond the heavily subsidised car manufacturing.

A thriving private sector that employs more people could help to mitigate risks of chairs flying because it would provide people with alternative sources of employment and income outside the state. The governing party doesn’t have to be the final determinant of people’s wellbeing. A state that is regarded as Father Christmas for party members is a recipe for disaster.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the battle for state resources has caused a low-intensity war. To be involved in politics is a matter of life or death.

Too many people became suddenly wealthy by being associated with government. Now everyone wants a share of the cake. It’s not about delivering services to the poor. It’s a first-come-first-serve feeding frenzy for those who hold state power in all spheres of the state.

Given the fact that some of the provincial power brokers are linked to the national leaders of the ANC and government, there is real danger that unless the conditions that allow violence to thrive in local and provincial governments are resolved, this could become a national phenomenon.

One of the conditions is the stagnant economy. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to experience significant growth that delivers jobs anytime soon because business confidence is very low and there are concerted political efforts to ensure that it doesn’t rise.

ANC leaders don’t seem to have an idea on how best to stimulate investment and growth. No one is taking about radical investments for jobs.

Sadly, many don’t know how the economy works. Which explains why they would allow procurement deals that are bankrupting state-owned enterprises and crippling the economy in the process. 

Under such dangerous circumstances, the best society can do is build alternative sources of power that would restrain the power of governing elites – regardless of whether they are ANC or not.

- Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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Read more on:    anc leadership race  |  anc  |  sa politics

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