When the ANC’s elephants fight...

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ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Supplied
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Supplied

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On December 5, as South Africans took to social media to celebrate the birth of Pan Africanist Congress founder Robert Sobukwe – undoubtedly one of the greatest minds to come out of this country – I couldn’t help but recall his words about where we find ourselves.

Speaking at the launch of what he and his Pan Africanist counterparts termed “the status campaign” in August 1959, Sobukwe said: “We have to teach our people that acceptance of any indignity, any insult, any humiliation, is acceptance of inferiority.”

I thought about how we have, indeed, come to accept inferiority and allowed ourselves to be demeaned.

Read | We have to give Sobukwe the honour he deserves

By standing on the sidelines, failing to question and reject the ANC’s 2007 pre- and post-Polokwane circus, we’re now acutely feeling the pain of our inertia.

That circus brought to the fore the age-old tendencies of a party often at war with itself.

The saddest part of those battles is that the millions of our people who’re living in poverty are suffering the consequences of being forgotten and trampled on.

Leading up to the Polokwane showdown, the ANC was embroiled in one of its many internal conflicts. As a result, government agencies, budgets and other resources became weapons for opposing factions.

I remember how these factions used state intelligence to spy on each other.

Fake reports were peddled to discredit this or that individual. In the aftermath, crime-fighting agencies such as the erstwhile Scorpions were done away with.

We saw the subversion of our democracy and the electorate’s right to choose being defaced by 80 people determined to remove a sitting head of state.

In 2017, we came full circle at Nasrec. Reports and commissions, spying, malfeasance, deterioration of infrastructure and high levels of poor service delivery were the order of the day.

Ten years after Polokwane, it seemed we had made little progress.

We now find ourselves trying to answer what Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana asked in his thought-provoking piece, Déjà vu for South Africa’s Constitutional Democracy: Have the Presidential Vote of No Confidence Chickens Come Home to Roost?

In the piece, Ngalwana told us to “be careful of devising a special mechanism in Parliament just to get rid of one specific president, whatever his faults, lest that precedent comes back to bite you when rogues conspire to get rid of a much-loved future president, using the same mechanism that was not meant for him”.

We have to teach our people that acceptance of any indignity, any insult, any humiliation, is acceptance of inferiority.
Robert Sobukwe

I believe the post-Polokwane chickens have indeed come home to roost, much as the Zuma no-confidence ones did.

The removal of president Thabo Mbeki repeated itself with the removal of president Jacob Zuma.

Just as inaction during the crisis of HIV/Aids became an “Mbeki issue”, we’re now being fed the “nine wasted years” narrative.

Absolute balderdash! Doesn’t the party govern as a collective?

Former ANC president Thabo Mbeki.

Well, folks, the ANC circus is not only in town, but is brazenly flaunting its machismo – and some of us have been standing ringside cheering the antics of whatever camp we side with.

Not once did we foresee the disbanding of the Scorpions and the abuse of the National Prosecuting Authority and National Intelligence Agency as actions that would come back to haunt us, as we now suffer from crime and conspicuous, exacerbated corruption.

The wise African adage, “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most”, comes to mind while observing the dramedy of the ANC’s internal squabbles.

Read | ANC’s January 8 statement: A need for reflection

However, as curious onlookers of these conflicts, we don’t always notice the turf on which the elephant bulls are warring.

They fight with no regard for the damage they’re causing to the verdure. All that matters to them is emerging victorious. But what about the poor who are crushed at the grassroots?

Evidence of how the ANC’s internal squabbles are perpetuating poverty is visible in every facet of governance and poor service delivery.

To me, the most painful one is the way the agricultural town of Standerton, on the banks of the Vaal River in Mpumalanga, has been run into the ground.

What was once one of the best agricultural towns specialising in cattle, dairy, mealies and poultry farming has been brought to its knees.

Be careful of devising a special mechanism in Parliament just to get rid of one specific president, whatever his faults, lest that precedent comes back to bite you.
Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana

In 2009, the township of Sakhile near Standerton, was engulfed in violent “service delivery riots” that were actually an internal governing party battle for power.

A few years later, the effects of the conflict became evident as residents drank dirty water and the town’s tarred roads deteriorated. The downward spiral continues.

Standerton is only one of the many forgotten towns whose poor residents have been trampled to social death during the ANC elephants’ rumble in the jungle.

Consider the state-owned enterprises, the judiciary, safety and security and countless other bodies.

State and crime intelligence agencies are fighting political battles while our national railway system is being stripped bare by thieves, depriving township residents of cheaper transport to get to work.

The consensus within the party is to forget about them and their jobs because, when the time comes, they’ll be given food parcels.

The same goes for the revenue collector, which is flip-flopping between ANC slates while counterfeit goods fly past customs. No one in the governing party cares. Let the poor eat cake.

The ANC will forever trample on the desperate electorate in its fight to bleed the country dry.

Its internal squabbles aren’t about political ideology, uplifting the needy or reversing imbalances. They’re simply about gaining access to the cookie jar of state resources.

Remember how we kept quiet when “it’s our time to eat” became a slogan of the circus march to Polokwane? Well, the party has since realised that there’s no active citizenry; the country’s there for the taking.

Like warring elephants, the party’s leaders feel no shame that the poor will continue suffering, with their ballot crosses bound to their backs like Christ on the way to Calvary.

Former ANC president Jacob Zuma

After all, the ANC is maintaining a system that sees the poor black masses as nonbeings, unworthy of dignity and justice, and deserving only of crumbs thrown to them by way of dangled grants and electioneering food parcels and T-shirts.

In my book Blame Me on Apartheid, I wrote: “The founders of the [ANC] were predominantly blacks educated at colonial missionary schools. They started to adopt the colonialist ‘civilisation’, that is speaking the colonial language, dressing up like the colonial master and presenting themselves in decorum that emulated that of the colonial master. Sadly, they did not understand why they were never invited to eat at the ‘governing dinner table’.”

As the ANC elephants continue their tussle for seats at the dinner table, where they’ll indulge in gluttonous eating, the poor will forever endure the status of nonbeings – and the electorate will be in perpetual acceptance of inferiority and hardship.

.Malinga is a columnist, blogger and author


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