ANC must let go of struggle nostalgia if real change is to come

The ANC's obsession with being a "revolutionary party" and a liberation movement, 24 years after becoming the government has become one of its biggest handicaps. This is distracting it from its real task of being an efficient, modern political party governing an open democracy and a sophisticated economy.

ANC leaders still address each other as "comrade"; the party still has dreams of a "national democratic revolution" (NDR); still depicts the black majority as the oppressed victims of a tiny white minority; still sings Umkhonto we Sizwe songs from more than decades ago; and still exclaims "Amandla awethu!", power to the people, at every occasion.

The crooks in the party and its government who have stolen or wasted billions of rand and abused their power over the last decade are no comrades of any revolution. They are simply greedy and corrupt parasites sucking the blood of the people.

The NDR was a mirage of utopian socialism from the days when the ANC was still in a communist haze in exile. It was fortunately dumped in the rubbish bin after 1994, at least in practice, and replaced with a pragmatic concept of a mixed, broadly market-based economy.

"Seizing the commanding heights of the economy" is the antithesis of economic policy since 1994, and yet there remains a nostalgic yearning for these outdated concepts in public speeches and writings – despite the fact that most public figures associated with the ANC are living like hard-core capitalists.

The Amandla! slogan is sounding phonier by the day and is mostly used at ANC rallies to restore the order and get people to listen. Political power is squarely in the hands of black South Africans and no-one can or will change that. The parroting of the rhetoric of the oppressed black American minority is contributing to a sense of powerlessness.

The reality is, though, that most black South Africans are still much poorer than most white South Africans and have a miniscule share in the economy. This is the most crucial issue facing this nation in 2018. It is a dangerous state of affairs that is now threatening our very stability.

But obsolete, emotional slogans and nostalgic rhetoric will do nothing to fundamentally change this. On the contrary. Clean and efficient governance, much lower levels of corruption, better management on all levels of government and the bureaucracy and realistic and innovative economic policies, radical ones where needed, are the only way to turn this around.

It's no longer controversial to argue that there has been far too little enthusiasm for transformation among white people since 1994. But, as researchers have shown over and over, even seizing most of white people's assets and taxing them to death would not have made a significant difference to the quality of life of the black majority because of the way the country and the economy have been managed the last decade.

Here's the stark and very uncomfortable reality: If the ANC had governed the country ably since 1994 with a singular purpose to rebuild this society on the ashes of apartheid, to correct the imbalances of the past, to empower the disempowered, to grow the economy and thereby create jobs and wealth, the levels of poverty and inequality would have been significantly lower than they are now.

Imagine what could have been done with the thousands of billions of rand stolen or wasted by corruption, state capture, gross mismanagement and on vanity projects.

Imagine what development the state-owned enterprises could have achieved – like China and Singapore – if they hadn't been captured by the corrupt and powered into the ground.

Imagine where we could have been if we had given our youth proper education and skills training instead of subjecting them to the poorest education on the subcontinent. The education of black youth in townships and rural areas remains the prime driver of inequality.

Imagine the governments since 1994 had taken land reform seriously.

Note that I'm not trying to sneak in a point that we shouldn't blame the generations of colonialism and apartheid for the damage done to our people and our country. I'm saying that's the given, that's not even up for debate. I'm asking what the ANC had done given that reality. And I'm also not denying that there has been substantial development in some areas, just not nearly enough as the anger and frustration of ordinary people attest to.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's theme is renewal and growth, but his party is still caught up in the romanticism of the struggle against apartheid.

The ANC is bent on a short-term focus on inequality rather than on poverty and human suffering. Symbolism and show seem to be more important than the actual improvement of the plight of most people.

I believe Ramaphosa and his inner circle would want to transform the ANC into a modern political party that can deal with 21st century challenges, but the nine years of the Jacob Zuma presidency and the cheap populism he used as primary methodology to stay in power and protect his system of patronage have severely retarded the party's evolution. Its culture is still one of a liberation movement under siege of a powerful enemy.

No wonder Julius Malema and the EFF have become the tail that wags the dog.

The Cyril Ramaphosa I've watched in action since his days as a trade union leader is the kind of leader that would want to cut the rhetoric and bullshit and get on with the business of radically transforming this society through wise decisions, sound policies and brave action by a clean and accountable government.

But I'm afraid he's a prisoner of nostalgia for a revolution that never really happened and of enemies motivated by tribalism and patronage politics perpetuating that fake nostalgia.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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