The ANC’s declining support (also) a question of membership and leadership

2014-12-19 10:49

I am not surprised that the African National Congress is in trouble and suffers a decline in support. The greatest challenge facing liberation movements is the transition from opposition politics—seeking to take over power from colonial forces—to parties in government. When in struggle politics, the enemy is identified and all efforts are directed towards one goal of overthrowing the oppressive system. From leadership to membership to strategies and tactics, liberation movements are highly cautious of the effectiveness of their movements.

However, this pursuit of excellence disappears when these parties get into government.

Mediocrity reigns supreme.

Paranoia, corruption, abuse of state resources and nepotism cripple their administrations.

It is therefore not surprising that when many of these movements get in power their support gradually declines among educated, independent sectors of the population. In this regard allow me to cite the obviously and openly expressed antagonistic attitude young professionals, youth in general and the middle class have towards the ANC as not only a former liberation movement, but a ruling party as well.

In my view, the ANC is losing support because of membership and leadership factors. The power of any party is its members, the quality of its members. In the struggle for liberation, the ANC and I believe many other liberation parties put a high premium on membership. Recruitment programmes were carried out which identified progressive members of society such as church leaders and community organisers to join the revolution. Although it is indeed welcome to have people voluntarily joining the ANC, effort to target and persuade promising and prominent citizens, especially the youth, can never be stressed too much. The ANC as a mother body and its youth wing seem to be affected by the generic liberation movements syndrome, which sees current members not feeling comfortable when new, progressive and prominent members are recruited.

There are many young people who are not located within any political structure. One of the reasons is that they don’t think they will be appreciated in existing political formations. Their skills and energies won’t be exploited out of fear that they are threats to the political careers of those comrades who are already in mainstream politics. Even in institutions of higher learning you will find that students who come from middle-class families with a good education choose to either be non-partisan or join DASO. SASCO, YCL and the ANCYL are left with a membership dominated by public school products, children of the working class. Ignoring this trend comes back to bite the mother body in national elections, since young people’s attitudes towards the PYA combine to influence elections outcomes.

Young people in universities want more than political leadership, militancy and seasonal activism over NSFAS.

Young people want programmes aimed at their development.

The failure or apparent struggle of comrades in the PYA to transform their politics leaves a vacuum which civil society and liberals come to fill. For example, community service and entrepreneurship are key words in student life these days, but there is insufficient agitation from the PYA to advance this type of politics. In essence, this exposes a rebranding and repositioning strategic deficiency. The ANC cannot make bold to say it is unreservedly proud of its members beyond voting. A membership of over a million people is fruitless if it doesn’t boast the necessary attributes to advance ideas of the movement eloquently and accurately.

Moreover, I believe the ANC, if serious about reaching the second coming still in power, needs to have a genuine debate around leadership. Members of the ANC must understand that when they go to elective conferences, they are going to elect a leadership not only restricted to the ANC but society as a whole. Understanding this fact will enable them to have a broader approach to leadership than the self-serving slates. There has to be a strict criteria to be met before one can be considered for the top six, especially the presidency.

We must reach a point where we defend policy, not an individual leader’s personal scandals.

Thus, charisma, an inspiring personal brand and eloquence have become critical ingredients in leadership which must also be present in political leadership. Rather than lifting to power a person who is only preferred by members, the ANC must take the interests and views of South Africans in their confidence. South Africa has a population that far exceeds the membership of the ANC. Therefore, a choice made by not even 10% of the population who qualify as delegates at an elective conference cannot be blindly received as a national call. A leader must appeal to all members of society. The middle-class must see itself in the ANC leadership in the same way young graduates and the working class do.

Perception is powerful.

If anything, the 2014 national elections confirmed accordingly in relatively affluent areas in which the opposition made dangerous inroads.

In order for the centre to hold, we must admit first that things are falling apart; that the worst are filled with passionate intensity while progressive forces lack all conviction. For the renewal of the ANC, these factors, among many others which didn’t fit in this scope, deserve attention and discussion. Arrogance will only lead to further damage in the movement. The media fire from all cylinders and social media enabled ordinary citizens and forces of reaction to publish their views to thousands of followers.

Forward detachments are suffocated by the negative public perception the movement suffers.

In fact, it is becoming impossible to defend the ANC in public without being accused of spin-doctoring or having sold your soul to the disease paralysing the party.

All these things speak to the actions of comrades in government, the composition of membership and the character of leadership.

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