ANC struggles for relevance

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa is in Kimberley this week to celebrate the organisation’s 108th birthday. Picture: Charne Kemp
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa is in Kimberley this week to celebrate the organisation’s 108th birthday. Picture: Charne Kemp

The question will remain whether, when it entered the transition period as a party in power, it understood its responsibility and mandate, writes Thabang Motsohi.

It is trite to say that, among the majority of the people who wanted to see the end of apartheid, the ANC’s January 8 statement about its vision for the future was always debated and generally accepted in South Africa and in the region.

But now the ANC leads the news headlines with everything that contradicts acceptable moral values, and what is considered to be desirable and ethical among the majority of decent people.

This is not unusual among organisations in dynamic contexts, which fail to renew themselves to fit evolving social norms and circumstances.

The essence of existence is to develop a capacity to evaluate and understand the dynamism of change in the environment, and adapt to its existing and evolving conditions to survive and succeed.

This is the struggle that has been at the heart of social evolution for millenniums. It is a struggle that requires all organisations, whether they are for profit or not for profit, to ensure that they are fit for purpose at all times, otherwise they will certainly face risky exposure to extinction.

The struggle for survival can be traumatic and disruptive in contexts where the distribution of information occurs in seconds globally, compared with the romantic and slow pace of years and decades past, when traditional letters entrusted to the postal services were the order of the day.

The arrival of the fax machine changed the environment significantly. But it is the internet that introduced digitisation that brought the total disruption we are trying to understand and manage today.

In this milieu, the agility, capacity and capability of organisations to change accordingly has been tested severely. Many that failed to adapt faced extinction; others survived. But their form and even purpose were subjected to these disruptions and, consequently, they had to be revised and transformed substantially to stay relevant in contemporary times.

This is at the centre of the challenges that confront the ANC in the 21st century as it celebrates its 108th year of existence. It is a struggle for relevance.

Read: ANC will still be here for another 108 years – Ramaphosa

As a movement born out of the rejection of colonialism and apartheid, the ANC did not face a challenge or struggle to define its rationale and purpose for existence. It was motivated by a human cause and necessity. The apartheid state and its philosophy did that effectively for it, and provided its globally accepted rationale for its existence.

This is why it was ultimately possible to mobilise the UN to declare apartheid a crime against humanity. It was a stratospheric achievement of incredible significance that paved the way for the speedy demise of apartheid.

Context and social needs have, however, dramatically changed since the organisation was founded in 1912 in Bloemfontein.

The reality and challenge for the democratic transition is to understand that no organisation that transitioned from the apartheid context could continue its existence without a major review of its purpose and strategic intent to reposition it optimally in contemporary and diverse South Africa.

The ANC in its present state and form seems to be trapped by its own hubris.

A historical question will always be whether, when it entered the transition period as a party in power, it fully comprehended the significance and meaning of its responsibility and mandate.

Did it fully internalise the understanding that, without achieving a capable state in the shortest possible time, its mission would be compromised, and the party could falter and disintegrate from competitive, uncontrolled and new interest-driven social forces?

This is the reality that has confronted and disrupted all post-colonial movements. It is a simple reality that the pre-democratic unifying objective be replaced, in the post-colonial reality, by competing social forces that demand focus on improving the lived experiences of the majority.

Corruption and impunity have come to define the state of governance in all state agencies, including the critical and major state-owned enterprises

This does not require an ideological formula. Instead, it requires the sensitivity of the new governing political elite to these lived experiences in all situations, and the urgent need to develop realistic and responsive policies and strategies that will transform them.

What this translates to in real terms is the reality and experience of the effect of expanded and democratised services delivered by a capable state. On this basis alone, the ANC-led government has failed significantly.

The urgent need for a capable state was correctly foreseen in the National Development Plan (NDP), and chapter 13 was dedicated to what this entails in real terms. But it has remained in the NDP document since its publication.

Governance at local level is experienced through the effectiveness of municipalities as agencies of the state. All the reports from the Auditor-General over the past decade provide harrowing narratives and data on the extent of regression in governance.

Read: Ramaphosa reprimands Kimberley mayor on ‘unacceptable’ living conditions

This is not debatable.

Corruption and impunity have come to define the state of governance in all state agencies, including the critical and major state-owned enterprises. The extent of plunder and regression is now being exposed in testimonies under oath at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, and in other inquiries that have been concluded.

The critical question is: How long it will take to correct and reverse this destruction and plunder that occurred under the ANC as the leader in government? The claim by many ANC supporters is that the party, as the leader in society, lacks intellectual rigour and is indefensible as a conceptual platform. Society is always led by formations that include political parties, churches and nongovernmental organisations.

The task that confronts the ANC now is to recognise that its anti-apartheid organisational construct in the form of the tripartite alliance is archaic and therefore irrelevant. Its constant reference to democratic centralism is inconsistent with the concept and manifestation of local governance.

Acceptance of this reality will certainly build a platform for deep and transformative debate that might evolve into a party with an appropriate moral and ethical architecture and structure that is suitable enough to respond appropriately to contemporary social needs and norms. Otherwise, its demise will accelerate faster than anticipated.

  • Motsohi is an organisational strategist at Lenomo Advisory and the author of Fit for Purpose

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