What makes the ANC cool

The ANC has taken a drubbing in the months prior to its national conference. It reached a crescendo last week when business, the churches and even Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu laid into the party for both inefficiency and corruption.

Yesterday, en route to Bloemfontein, I read all the weekend papers, ours included, and felt the ANC might not make its next centenary. Aside from Karima Brown’s column, not a good word was spoken.

She’s right, though. This weekend’s City Press editorial “This is a Kairos moment” aside, here are five cool things about the ANC as I see them:

1 Tolerance

I can’t sing the Die Stem part of the national anthem. I just can’t. I’ll stand respectfully, but my history trips me up. The song brings back awful memories.

But there I was, sitting in the back of the plenary hall with the delegates and heard the velvety voice of Ncamisile Mbatha singing perfectly in Afrikaans. Let’s not forget the threading of tolerance into our society is an outcome of ANC policies from its unbanning onwards.

2 Self-criticism

How do we know so much about what ails the ANC? From the party itself. The ANC’s tradition of open self-criticism means since the late 1990s, it has identified the “sins of incumbency” it faces, including cadre deployment, enrichment and corruption.

The party is ruthless about self-scrutiny and quite happily hangs out its dirty linen for all to see. Of course, it does little about it, but that’s a story for another day.

3 Transparency

All year long, the ANC has been in campaign mode. And we have been informed every step of the way, as campaigns and lobbies have formed and altered. It is quite easy to find out what the party is thinking and debating, to know its schisms and its fractures.

This is good for democracy.

4 Self-correcting

The ANC self-corrects. Take HIV/Aids. It messed up for five crucial and deadly years under former president Thabo Mbeki. But when it fixed the mess by appointing Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, it did so spectacularly. When its Youth League went off the rails, veering on to a path of venality and arrogance, the young Turks had their wings clipped.

The jury’s out on whether the league caused much damage, but the point stands.

5 Surprising

Sitting with the delegates yesterday, the party looked very different from how the ANC is understood by the chattering classes, which includes me. For most South Africans, the ANC government has delivered homes, water, electricity and jobs (especially in the public sector). We commentators too often forget this.

ANC members do protest almost everywhere, but they also vote the party back into power regularly and enthusiastically.

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