OPINION | Terence Corrigan: The ANC has its own skeletons. A response to Adriaan Basson

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The ANC has done most of the damage to the state on its own, without any other parties help, writes the author. Photo: Gallo Images
The ANC has done most of the damage to the state on its own, without any other parties help, writes the author. Photo: Gallo Images

The ANC has managed to bring the state to its knees without the EFF's help, writes Terence Corrigan. He writes in response to Adriaan Basson's column, asking why anyone would consider the party as a coalition partner anyway.

Adriaan Basson ends his column on the Democratic Alliance's stated refusal to form coalitions with the African National Congress by saying: 'It is unclear how the DA will save South Africa by allowing the Economic Freedom Fighters to form a national governing coalition agreement with the ANC that could have devastating consequences for the country's future.'

The thrust of this is that without the DA to turn to, the ANC will turn to the EFF to secure control of the metros, an arrangement that will probably persist into the future. This will be disastrous for the country, given the EFF's policy stances, rejection of non-racialism and lack of commitment to the Constitution.

All of this will be a major setback for President Ramaphosa and his 'reform agenda', such as his (supposedly) herculean efforts to hold back property seizures.


First off, Basson's views on the DA in previous columns have been deeply ambivalent. While he has said that the DA governs better than the ANC, he clearly finds it an unpalatable organisation, its flirtation with racism thinly (and not so thinly) disguised. It has also, in his words, 'cosied up to alt-right sentiments expressed by organisations like the Institute of Race Relations' – it is not entirely apparent what he means there, but let's take it as searing criticism. 

The DA, then, is hardly a bearer of constitutional or political rectitude, and what value it would add to a coalition government is, to use Basson's phrase, 'unclear'. It's revealing that in his criticism of the DA's stance on coalitions, he does not suggest any positive contribution that it might make at all – it is entirely about the DA lending its numbers to keep the EFF out. (The cynic might wonder how this would have gone down had it been a DA election pitch… Fight Back? Stop Zuma?)

And since the ANC might form a coalition with the EFF, this just goes to show how reprobate the DA is. Shame on it!

READ | Analysis: Daniel Silke - The tough road ahead for the DA towards 2024

Anyway, the DA can fend for itself. More interesting is his take on what an ANC-EFF coalition would mean.

We at the IRR certainly share Basson's concerns about the unravelling of South Africa; in fact, we probably feel them more acutely, and we have been warning of this juncture for years. 

South Africa has been on a downward trajectory for over a decade, something that has arisen not just from Jacob Zuma and iterant opportunists domestic and foreign but from the thinking and ideological orientation of the ANC itself. One could do worse than reading Brian Pottinger's 2009 book The Mbeki Legacy to understand just how dire the situation was turning out to be even at that point. Key to understanding this is to recognise the baleful ideological overreach that has all too often characterised the ANC in government. Forget the quest for the mystical 'real' ANC – in Pottinger's phrasing, Zuma represented just that, or what he termed 'ANC classic'.

Cadre deployment

What afflicts South Africa are not aberrations of the governing party's ideological worldview but their logical outgrowths. It is a matter of deep conviction that the party should exercise its 'hegemony', that it embodies a unique moral authority and that it has the right (nay, the duty) to staff the state with its 'cadres' – the constitutional strictures or the collapse of actual governance notwithstanding. It is beyond question that private business should operate according to the diktats of officials, that they should cede equity to favoured partners and that institutions should mirror prescribed demographic formulae – irrespective of the desperate need for wealth and employment creation. 

Therein lies the problem. This is how the ANC as a party approaches its task, and the consequences would not be vastly dissimilar if it did so with a degree of probity of which it is in reality incapable.

The EFF represents that agenda in a heightened form; its positions are a matter of degree rather than fundamental disagreement. 

READ | Opinion: Terence Corrigan- What does the handover at Tafelkop mean?

On land, for example – the Expropriation without Compensation agenda – there have been several calls from within the ANC and the state for a comprehensive custodial seizure. The proposed constitutional amendment and Expropriation Bill may not grant the EFF exactly what it wants, but they certainly open the door to it.

Most obviously, expropriation is defined in a manner aligning with the 2013 Agri SA judgment: for expropriation to occur, property must be taken and passed on to a recipient. Where the state takes it on behalf of 'the people', deprivation of property does not equal expropriation, and hence no compensation would be forthcoming. The possibilities of this are large indeed.

Why one would say that President Ramaphosa has tried to hold this back is, again, 'unclear'. He has certainly given a great deal of rhetorical support to the EWC. 'We are going to take land, and when we take land, we are going to take it without compensation,' Ramaphosa boldly stated in 2018. Subsequently, in that year he declared that the Constitution would be amended even though the public hearings on the matter had not been completed and even though he claimed that doing so was not necessary. 

And while he has spoken, quite correctly, about the importance of property rights and the desire of South Africa's people to own their assets – the handover of title deeds to the community of Tafelkop was described as 'the best day in the office' – very little has been done to extend this. We are still very largely stuck with the model of state-owned land and leasehold.


It's further 'unclear' just what reforms constitute the president's agenda. Just how firmly committed his government is to the existing order of things was shown in Covid relief measures that rest on empowerment criteria, while the president and his colleagues have been firm that liberalisation of the labour market is off the table – a proposed amendment to the Employment Equity Act will see what amount to ministerially imposed racial quotas introduced. 

Meanwhile, for all the bluster about the state of our municipalities, it was President Ramaphosa himself who made it clear – at the Zondo Commission, no less – that nothing would change. This was in his stout defence of cadre deployment, an insidious practice that violates the demands of Chapter 10 of the Constitution (and much more besides), has been criticised (albeit obliquely) in government's own studies, and has been struck down by a court judgment. The position he enunciated is both an affront to the Constitution and to any prospects for good governance. Have a look at Pottinger's book for some thoughts on this – and that was well over a decade ago. 

READ | Douglas Gibson: DA shouldn't have to take responsibility if ANC-EFF go into coalition

There is, we would suggest, ultimately more that unites than divides the ANC and EFF on these issues. And this explains why ANC leaders in Gauteng have reportedly said that they would prefer to work with the EFF than the DA. According to one widely circulated tweet by Samkele Maseko: 'The ANC Regional leaders in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni have expressed a desire to work with the EFF, they say working with the DA "would be betraying the NDR and working for the dejected masses. It's a class suicide".'

For our part, we at the IRR have suggested for years that a move on property rights might be the basis for a deal between the ANC and EFF.

Indeed, the issue may be less whether the DA is willing to work with the ANC, but whether the ANC could work with the DA.

A vehicle for reform?

The ANC's views on the DA are even more jaundiced than Basson's.

Cooperation would be ideologically repellent to many in the ANC. And it's hardly clear that the ANC would accept any moderating conditions, but it is 'unclear' whether Basson would expect them to. Bear in mind that the ANC has brought much of the state to its knees without the help of the EFF. Indeed, agreeing to measures that improved governance would rest on – and we reiterate that Basson has conceded that the DA does generally govern better – would be to surrender much of what makes the ANC what it is. 

Abandoning cadre deployment and accepting a professional, meritocratic and career-oriented civil service would not only be to deprive the ANC of patronage and influence at taxpayers' expense; it would be to acknowledge the damage that it has done and more importantly to concede very visibly that it is not a font of political rectitude acting selflessly in the name of 'the people', whom it in any case embodies.

There is nothing to suggest that the ANC would do this. 

So perhaps a more appropriate thought is that it is 'unclear' why anyone might still regard the ANC as a vehicle for reform.

- Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations.

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