Now or never: South Africa needs a united ANC

ANC supporters march inside Beyers Naude Square in 2014. Picture: Gallo Images / Conrad Bornman
ANC supporters march inside Beyers Naude Square in 2014. Picture: Gallo Images / Conrad Bornman

Instead of stubbornly pampering problems that might force an implosion within the ANC, there must be honest self-criticism and reflection.

‘Pravin [Gordhan] must go,” say many who have appropriated for themselves the duty and task of Cabinet referees.

This is in the context of Eskom’s – Eishkom’s – continued poor performance and inability to assure the citizenry that there will be no power cuts.

Is it a fair proposition? I wonder.

Saki Macozoma once opined: “The character of the South African state will be determined, ultimately, not by contestation between the national liberation movement and capital, but by the outcome of debates on the nature and role of the state within the tripartite alliance.”

More than 20 years ago, in February 1990, the ANC was unbanned and political prisoners were freed by the apartheid state.

This was seen as a proclamation of the beginning of a road map to freedom and democracy.

If we are weak, we will not be able to realise our goals. If we work in a confused manner, we will not be able to take the country forward
Nelson Mandela

The people, especially the oppressed majority, were convinced of two things: First, that only democracy would allow African peoples to succeed; and second, that the ideal vehicle to do so would be a special kind of national liberation.

Opening the ANC conference in Durban (July 1991), Nelson Mandela made the point: “It therefore seems obvious that we should continue the work we have been doing already of preparing our policy positions on all major questions of public life ...

“The matter should not be underestimated that all our people want to know how we would govern the country if they gave us this responsibility. They want us to speak with one consistent voice and put forward a clear vision.”

He went further: “We must therefore closely scrutinise the issue of our organisational capacity to carry out these tasks. If we are weak, we will not be able to realise our goals. If we work in a confused manner, we will not be able to take the country forward.”

Soon afterwards the ANC released a document titled Ready to Govern: ANC policy guidelines for a democratic South Africa. It was adopted at a subsequent national conference in May 1992.

The document outlined policy choices that the ANC adopted given the prevailing circumstances – both domestically and internationally – at the time.

CONSENSUS AND COMPROMISE

Leading up to the election of 1994, the democratic movement released the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) as its main policy platform.

Politically, the document represented both a consensus across different interests and a compromise between competing objectives.

Instead of robust engagement “to speak with one consistent voice and put forward a clear vision”, as Mandela had advised, the personalisation of issues started

Economically, the RDP was successful in articulating the main aspirations of the movement for post-apartheid South Africa, that is, growth, development, reconstruction and redistribution, in a consistent macroeconomic framework, using the Keynesian paradigm.

Over a period, the ANC continued to review its policy choices and, as this progressive act continued, fractures within the alliance became apparent – especially around 1996 when the Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy came about.

Instead of robust engagement “to speak with one consistent voice and put forward a clear vision”, as Mandela had advised, the personalisation of issues started.

It was among the reasons put forth leading to the recalling of Thabo Mbeki.

Debating the transition and its prospects to deliver thoroughgoing transformation is not new: It is the continuation of a century-long tradition of analysing the politics and economics of the country with a view to finding and forging appropriate responses.

The divisive trend has continued to gain traction to the present day.

For instance, a discussion document produced by Treasury was characterised as a “Tito” or “Mboweni” document.

It could also be said that the attribution of “state capture” to Jacob Zuma only is part of this travesty of personalisation of issues, especially disagreements.

It brings up the questions: Could Gordhan be a victim of this subculture of opportunistically personalising disagreements?

Or could it represent a serious policy cul-de-sac and/or a result of a serious dearth in robust policy engagement?

In the preface to the RDP, Mandela asserted that the ANC and the alliance “have principles and policies to which they are deeply committed, but we will not close our ears to other viewpoints. Let me encourage all to express those viewpoints.”

The movement must admit that, of late, robust debates and honest engagements have been subordinated to a fixation with which faction emerges victorious

FACTIONAL VICTORIES

The movement must admit that, of late, robust debates and honest engagements have been subordinated to a fixation with which faction emerges victorious.

Expressing a view is shunned and, mostly, seen as career- or opportunity-limiting.

In extreme cases, people seen as “threats” or “not toeing the line” are eliminated, hence we have seen a rise in political assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal, especially in the recent past.

There is also a related rise of a tendency of “anti-intellectualism”.

This tendency has redefined the objectives of the “revolution by misrepresenting our rich theoretical and historical positions, as demonstrated by recent pronouncements that the enemy of the revolution is white monopoly capital” and that a “new class of black bourgeoisie built around government tenders is a motive force”, argues Litha Khwalo in Umrabulo #47 of 2019.

Khwalo warns: “Poorly theorised and populist iterations are extremely dangerous at our current conjuncture. Those advancing the anti-white monopoly capital agenda feed a racist interpretation of the National Democratic Revolution” (ibid).

The result, in my view, is that the ANC has been pickpocketed of its character and role as a “parliament of the people”.

Individuals have become bigger than the ANC, which is a subculture developing unchallenged.

It has become acceptable that there are supporters of individuals who organise rallies in the name of an individual.

Instead of using opportunistic tactics to call for the sacking of certain individuals, cadres of the movement must help in a process of self-reflection and criticism

Therefore, instead of stubbornly pampering deep-seated problems that might only help to force an implosion within the ANC, there has to be honest reflection and self-criticism.

Instead of using opportunistic tactics to call for the sacking of certain individuals, cadres of the movement must help in a process of self-reflection and criticism.

Frantz Fanon, in Black Skin, White Masks (1967), warns: “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

The ANC is the parliament of the people and does not have tendencies.

Having waged an honourable struggle with and for the people of South Africa, it cannot be sold to the highest bidder even when the bidder is from within.

The core belief that the ANC is incorruptible is noble but unrealistic. It seeks only to “rationalise, ignore and even deny” that there are problems.

As Mzala Nxumalo wrote in the official ANC magazine, Sechaba, in 1986: “Two powers cannot exist permanently in a single state; one of them must pass away.”

Let me reiterate Khwalo: “It is imperative that the organisational renewal process include a restoration of our ideological base. Now more than ever, South Africa needs a united ANC that espouses integrity and is capable of championing its historic mission of advancing the creation of a nonracial, nonsexist, united democratic South Africa in which the African working class is its key motive force.”

The renewal process will allow opportunists and philistines to “pass away”.

Maxon is a social commentator


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