Where are you going, ANC?

The ruling ANC's signature green, yellow and black adorned mourners' shirts and flags and women's head-wraps

Has corruption become too deeply entrenched in important sections of society and critical areas of the party such that it is probably impossible to cure, or could a more upstanding group of leaders emerge soon?

‘T he moral standing of the African National Congress (ANC),” read the party’s statement earlier this week, “has been severely damaged by the conduct of some of its members – who, in fact, do not deserve to be in our ranks.”

As a result, the ANC “committed to draw[ing] a clear line between our organisation and those who steal from the people, thereby subverting the very essence and reason for the ANC’s existence as a servant of the people”.

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This follows a barrage of criticism levelled at the ANC in the wake of Covid-19 related procurement corruption allegations against some of the party’s leaders.

The deluge was crowned by last week’s #VoetsekANC Twitter uproar, probably the most virulent affront on the ANC since the 2019 May general elections.

The nation’s tolerance levels seem to be thinning. And fast. History may ultimately mark the Covid-19 outbreak as the straw that broke the camel’s back and inspired a seismic shift after years of the corruption and malfeasance about which many ANC internal documents such as the June 2017 diagnostic report by the party’s former secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, have over the years decried with little practical remedial action.

Unless the party has found its Damascus moment, it is not unlikely that it could be the same ANC which, in the not too distant future, walks backwards on its commitment to draw the line by invoking the innocent until proven guilty dictum to the advantage of the same rotten timber that does not deserve to be in its ranks.

To twist the knife in the wound, it is becoming established consensus amongst and beyond the chattering classes that President Cyril Ramaphosa, from whom much was expected, is wont to do no more than proffer statements of condemnation of wrongdoing than act decisively against the perpetrators and to inspire much needed economic recovery, among others.

It is also not apparent that Ramaphosa invests sufficiently in ANC political work. His growing political impotence is a reflection of him not sowing the ground.

The implications for the president’s ability to steer the freighter that is the institution of government and his own party are not difficult to fathom. Specifically for the ANC, one can think of no better framing than the aphorism: Phanda i tshida i ranga nga thotha – a bald head is preceded by a receding hairline.

The cumulative effects of the ANC’s sins or the sins committed in the name of the ANC by some of its members and leaders over the years can only result in responses such as the #VoetsekANC and
the electoral haemorrhaging witnessed in the 2016 local government elections.

If the cost of the current ANC trajectory is so manifestly self-injurious, why has the party so faithfully stayed the course? Can it self-correct?

There could be a number of possible explanations.

One of them could be that c o r r u p t i o n has become too deeply entrenched in important sections of society and critical areas of the party such that it is probably impossible to cure. Or the party
would require a whip-cracking leadership – the outcome of an internal ANC struggle – that is unafraid to suffer popularity loses. But then some questions based on the reality – not the noble idea
– of the ANC today.

What are the prospects of such a leadership being elected in the party’s next conference?

Alternatively, how much would such a leadership need to master to grease the palms of conference delegates, intermediaries and handlers?

From where would it source such funds, by what means, at what cost to accountability and democracy more broadly?

The ANC’s diagnostic report answered these questions thus: “The use of money to buy votes for elections in the party is at the heart of the decline of the quality of structures across the board. Money has replaced consciousness as a basis for being elected into leadership positions at all levels of the organisation.”

The implicit suggestion from this is that the ANC may have passed the self-correction phase. Undoubtedly, part of mending its ways would entail some of the party’s strategically placed members
and leaders having to be tried before the courts and probably spend time behind bars.

Prospects of anyone voluntarily electing to go to jail are as implausible as the rivers flowing back from the seas.

To aggravate matters, whereas its social base has remained unchanged, the substance of the ANC’s internal political culture and practice has significantly changed; in fact mutated from a movement of progressive social change to a crude instrument of personal self-enrichment.

More and more, the ANC is becoming less of a political formation and instead becoming a rancorous Pty Ltd with the inconvenience of a state to run.

The diagnostic report also said: “Being in power is rapidly becoming a source of political bankruptcy in that members of the ANC fight for deployment either as councillors, MPLs and MPs respectively as if there is no tomorrow.”

This phenomenon is acutely felt in the peripheral – rural – provinces where government is, by and large, the only area in which to eke out a living.

Membership to the governing party becomes, so to speak, a meal ticket, and great are the tussles for pole position within the party and government structures.

Also controversially, the private sector’s anti-transformation instincts do exert influence on South African politics more generally.

The fact that 26 years into democracy, arty excuses and strident objections to the socio-economic affirmation of black people are still on offer in political and policy discourse means that people who would otherwise ply a trade outside of government cannot easily do so.

Corruption by ANC deployees cedes space to those opposed to progressive social change.

They are quick to point out, quite wrongly, that the ANC could have solved all the problems that took more than 350 years to germinate, grow and entrench.

Why would the family of a health worker who dies because government could not supply their loved one with a personal protective equipment because the money was swindled by criminals who
accuse themselves of being ANC cadres disbelieve the narrative?

  • Ratshitanga is a consultant, social and political commentator.
  • Mukoni Ratshitanga.

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