Switch on your phone on any day of the week and you will be bombarded with memes, jokes and cartoons depicting the state of South Africa’s governing party.
Most of these point to an ANC that is corrupt, inept and uncaring, and has put self-aggrandisement above service to the people.
Listen to conversations among ordinary citizens, and you will hear them sigh in exasperation and say: “Mara iANC.”
That statement of resignation tells you a lot about the sullying of the brand of an organisation that was associated with good.
This, by the way, is not a sentimental hark back that glorifies “the movement of Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo and Albert Luthuli”.
There is a time and place for such sentimentality, but even that is naive.
Even under those leaders, and under others who came before them, the ANC had its fair share of rot.
The difference then is that the rot was seen as an aberration, whereas it is now well and truly embedded in the culture and DNA of the organisation.
And the view that the ANC is rotten is embedded in people’s minds.
Take this week, for example. Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku embarked on a cemetery readiness road show to ensure that the province’s municipalities were prepared for the inevitable surge in deaths as the Covid-19 pandemic approaches its peak in the country.
While on the road show, he made a clumsy remark that was interpreted as his saying the province needed 1 million graves.
Even though he and his department sought to clarify the statement, the horse had long bolted and was galloping past Modimolle at breakneck speed.
The overwhelming take was that the uncaring ANC government had given up the fight against the pandemic and would now rather focus on burying people than saving them.
Oh, and while at it, reward some comrades with lucrative tenders for gravedigging and other funeral-related activities.
This grew legs, despite the fact that the MEC concerned is considered to be one of those whose commitment to public service is genuine, and he is generally seen as one of the good guys.
The bottom line was that he was an ANC leader serving in an ANC government that behaved in ANC ways.
He was therefore signalling to his comrades that there was another big trough to come and eat at.
One tweet that went viral stated that, “for all we know [about] ANC corruption, the graves will be missing and stolen in 2 weeks”.
Another, which became greatly popular, said that “Covid is now attacking ANC leaders because they have been eating Covid funds without washing their hands”.
While both were cold and insensitive, and were most likely generated by people who were not very fond of the ANC, their rapturous appreciation spoke of the way people feel about the party that is at the helm of governance.
It is a horrible place to be for a political party that will be going back to the masses to seek a fresh mandate to run the bulk of the country’s municipalities next year, and then a mandate to run the country and the provinces in 2024.
The ANC has already seen its market share eroded, with varying degrees of acceleration in elections between 2009 and last year.
Each time, it claimed it had been sobered by the results, and would introspect and examine why the people were turning against it.
But no change occurred and the algae settled in.
After the party’s last national conference in Nasrec in 2017, there was much talk of renewal, driven by a refreshed leadership that had Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm.
There was hope. Not for the party and its fortunes, but for the fact that the party that controls the purse strings might finally turn away from thieving.
But, apart from nice speeches coming from the top, shocking revelations at commissions of inquiry and negligible movement in the criminal justice system, there is nothing to say that South Africa today is better than it was at the beginning of 2018, when Ramaphosa went into the Union Buildings.
As stated, the concern here is not for the ANC itself.
It is the fact that its rot affects us all and affects the country’s responses to crises such as Covid-19, economic stagnation, poverty and the many social ills that we deal with.
Whether we like it or not, a rotten ANC is a rotten South Africa.
While the ANC may be complacent about how the public is increasingly feeling negative about it due to its umbilical ties to the majority, the growing public sentiment will soon give it a rude awakening.
ANC veteran and strategist Joel Netshitenzhe, writing in the latest issue of the Umrabulo journal, asks whether the Nasrec conference created a basis for the unity and renewal that was agreed on there.
“The ANC faces an existential question now as we prepare for the national general council: Can we achieve renewal of the organisation and of society and, at the same time, forge unity within the ANC? Is unity shorn of principle?”
Netshitenzhe posits that “what complicates matters are the lumpen elements across society – in the economic, political and civil society, and state bureaucratic agencies – who are inspired by self-enrichment and driven by greed”.
“They will even steal food parcels and money for state funerals. And the more cunning among them will profess radicalism – often combined with narrow nationalism – to legitimise their criminal enterprise,” he argues.
Well, these elements have a tight grip on the levers of the party, which should force true patriots within the ANC to ask whether they value the unity of their organisation over the wellbeing of the republic and its people.