Why Khaya Dlanga Is Wrong About the ANC

2014-01-17 12:35

Khaya Dlanga does not profess to be a political commentator. Nor does he pretend to be particularly independent in his analysis. Considering his latest article on why he plans to vote for the ANC, this is a good thing. As far as columnists go, I am left incredulous at the breathtaking naivety that he demonstrated in his piece, ‘I criticise the ANC but I will vote for it.’

It is not my habit to be particularly personal about journalists. They have an important role to play in our democracy and engaging in attacks on them, per se, detracts from engaging with their message. It is a trick that politicians try to use against their opponents in the fourth estate to deflect attention away from legitimate journalistic scrutiny.

But in this case, I have to make an exception. Dlanga may be considered powerful for various reasons. He has a Twitter following that gives him greater access than most politicians; he is widely read in traditional and non-traditional media spaces in South Africa and abroad; and, whether we like it or not, he is considered a public intellectual in some quarters. While I know that his fame and status may be coincidental to his ambitions of being a successful journalist, it is nonetheless essential that those who dare to be ‘thought leaders’ are held to account. The public space must necessarily be unforgiving.

Columnists in particular, who engage in opinion dropping rather than fact reporting, must be held to special account. For more often than not, it is their long-form musings that shape public discourse and find its way into the common place lexicon. They have enormous power when it comes to creating knowledge that becomes conventional wisdom.

And it is with that in mind that I am disappointed with Dlanga’s pathetic attempt to justify voting for the ANC in this year’s elections. Do not get me wrong. I think it is particularly brave of him to display his colours so boldly in a polarised political society such as South Africa (or maybe if I were cynical I would suggest that is exactly why he is doing it). But, given his status and predominance in the journalistic world, I am saddened because I expected better. Not only are the political statements nebulous in the extreme, they are also plain wrong. And they require refutation before it too, wrong as they are, becomes part of our accepted wisdom about our politics.

Dlanga’s two primary arguments for supporting the ANC are its track record of delivery and the possible solution of its present leadership issues. On both counts he is wrong.

With respect to the ANC and delivery, it is simply not true that the roll out of basic services to millions of black people previously excluded by the Apartheid state is due to the ANC’s benevolence or capability. It is down to essential politics. Irrespective of which party assumed the mantle of power in 1994, to ignore swathes of the population would have been political suicide.

Moreover, it would have isolated a generous international community and eager businesses partners willing to exploit the opportunities of a truly unified South Africa. As Sheryl Sandberg argued, there is an economic case for equal working rights and benefits (between men and women, analogously between races): it creates a larger and more valuable workforce. Considering the vast mineral wealth and human capital of South Africa, particularly with its potential to act as a gateway to Africa, delivery then takes on a decidedly less restorative justice character. It is about creating and exploiting opportunity to maintain political power (especially considering that many would owe their relative climb up the ladder to the ANC and thus lend it its unwavering support).

But, even if we are to assume that Dlanga’s characterisation of how miraculous the ANC is in government, the facts betray his illogic. If the ANC were the party that delivered, as he says, and would thus be worthy of being voted for, there would be no textbook crisis (Limpopo), no lack of medical supplies (Gauteng), no housing shortage (nationally), no disrupted electricity (nationally). We would not have billions of Rands of wasteful expenditure (Nkandla, ministerial perks), attacks on the Public Protector and other institutions of accountability. We would especially not have a President that is embroiled in an attempt to escape fraud and corruption charges that has decimated the division between party and state and given rise to some of the most shocking examples of bad governance ever known to South Africans.

And what then makes Dlanga’s proclamation even more farcical is that these are not transient problems, they are chronic to ANC administrations. Our recent poor scores in most business indexes measuring ease to do business, business confidence, FDI attractiveness paint an even bleaker picture. How Dlanga could think otherwise is beyond me.

But maybe Dlanga has a point, maybe these acute problems of governance are coming to the fore only because the man in charge is inept and incompetent. By voting for the ANC he asserts that the organisation could reassert itself and in getting rid of Zuma, it would be able to become that nostalgically remembered organisation that could do wrong.

But that is wrong for its own set of problems.

Firstly, it is grossly ignorant of how our political system works. We do not vote for individual candidates but for parties. You cannot punish Zuma and his ineptitude without punishing the ANC. As sad as it may be, it is the Rubicon that many South Africans have to cross. Even if the ANC does not lose, one hopes that a significantly reduced majority will make it govern better for fear of losing power. To continue to blindly vote for the ANC and hope that internal change will happen is foolish.

Second, internal change is unlikely to happen. Like we witnessed with Mbeki’s domination of the ANC, Zuma has solidified himself since Polokwane to come out on top in Mangaung. He and his allies are firmly in control of the ANC, its governing structures and the Alliance. Through a systematic process, Zuma and his allies have ensured that internal democracy and the capacity for change is reduced to none. Whether through disbandment, redeployment or retribution, almost all of Zuma’s critics have been given the chop or, if they have not been offed yet, are so emasculated by the threat of the axe befalling them next that they have been cowed into silence. It would take nothing short of a miracle to topple him. And as we know with politics, miracles rarely happen

Thirdly, to assume that this is particular to Zuma is mistaken. The ANC is demonstrating what all liberation parties undergo: transition to full political party status. The common enemy which bound them together no longer exists and so now the various factions of the ANC must fight it out. Whether they fight though for our national interest or their self-serving ones remains to be seen. If recent developments are anything to go by, you can be sure it is the latter that will be given predominance.

As Zoe Williams said of bullshit, writing for The Guardian, ‘‘not to choke on his rhetoric is, de facto, to swallow it.’’ I hope you do not allow yourself to be so fooled. The ANC is not a party worth voting for in 2014. And Dlanga’s desperate attempt to try and convince people otherwise demonstrates it.

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