Mantras but little substance: The future of the ANC

Mantras but little substance: The future of the ANC

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) national policy conference concluded on July 5th. The conference, dubbed “Year of O.R. Tambo” after the iconic former president of the organization, who steered the former liberation movement in its three decades of exile, closed with an ANC that has never been as divided as it is now in its 105-year old history.

Disappointing outcome

Observers, commentators and analysts who were on tenterhooks for answers to decisive questions on governance in general and key policy issues in particular, were certainly left thwarted. This disappointment, however, could have been anticipated.  While the ANC is heading towards its elective conference in December, it is a shadow of its former self, besieged by infighting, factionalisms and schisms amongst the top six of the party and the rest of the National Executive Committee (NEC) trickling through to branch level around a number of key issues.

Unpacking the quagmire of matters that led to the ANC finding itself in this precarious position requires rigorous analysis, substantiated by impermeable evidence that is already in the public domain. Appropriate scrutiny would be to appraise how these variables will most likely impact come December 2017, when the ANC will hold its 5-year elective conference.  This conference could see the incumbent President Jacob Zuma replaced by a new party leader, who will become South Africa’s head of state in 2019.

State capture

In the interim, and indeed what has become a key feature of the Zuma administration, the political and economic harm to South Africa has become immeasurable. This damage can be attributed to the disparaging manner in which the President runs the country. Immune to prosecution, despite a damning report by the country’s former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, implicating the president in state capture and multiple corruption charges, and an efficient justice system, the president is yet to have his day in court.

Almost all of the ANC’s ills can be sourced from its President Jacob Zuma. Embroiled in controversy even before taking office of both the ANC and government, President Zuma made the proverbial bed that he now awkwardly rolls in, and the political and economic impacts are dire.

Thus far, Zuma is evading the mounting charges against him, due in part to the backing of loyalists that are strategically placed in key government portfolios such as justice and law enforcement. Moreover, nourishing the gluttonous tentacles of corruption that characterizes the Zuma administration is a patronage network that is set so deep that all avenues to uproot it are characterized by the government’s foot-dragging.

The patronage and resulting state capture encompasses an intricate web of treachery and corruption on a grand scale. This burning issue was a central point of discussion at the policy conference, but not much has emerged from the conference to suggest that everyone in the ANC is as keen to call Zuma to order- or demand decisive action taken against the prominent Indian immigrant Gupta family, which features centrally in the all the claims of state capture.

Populist rhetoric

Instead, as a divergent tactic, the terms “white monopoly capital” and “radical economic transformation”, have become the mantras in the matrix of the ANC and have been floating around prior to the conference, and were also featured in debates during the conference itself. Populist rhetoric is increasingly becoming obsolete in political spaces where the time for liberation movements to transform themselves into political parties capable of governing is running out.

The South African local government elections in August 2016 saw a decline in ANC support and it losing power in major metropolitan areas in the country. Come the general election in 2019, much will depend on what will transpire between December 2017 and then.

Pro-Zuma or Pro-South Africa?

The policy conference was also the stage where battle lines were drawn between supporters of President Zuma’s ex-wife, dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as Jacob Zuma’s successor. Support for Dlamini-Zuma stems from the ANC Women’s and Youth Leagues, whereas Ramaphosa garners his support largely from the ANC’s alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and three of the major provinces. However, these are early days and at lot can happen at the elective conference.

It would be prudent for all those making critical choices to be led by their convictions and the greater realities confronting South Africa, and not by loyalties forged in the struggle years when such loyalty was a matter of life and death. The pillaging of the treasury, dubious political appointments in key portfolios such as the Finance Ministry and the subsequent shaking of investor confidence must be weighed against the survival of the ANC of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisuslu. All indications are that very little, if anything, survived.

There are less than 6 months until the elective conference of the ANC. Will observers, commentators and analysts be anticipating a different narrative? Only time will tell.

About Author

Kevin Knowles

Kelvin Knowles is in academia for two decades. Currently registered for a PhD in Political Transformation & Governance at the University of the Free State (South Africa), he holds Masters Degrees in Political Economy and Labor Relations. He is a political analyst, strategist and trainer.