How to arrest the decline: Advice to the ANC
- Stephen Grootes
- 24 May 2011 06:37 (South Africa)
Amid the volumes of analyses of last week’s election results, one fact stands out for us. In 2009 the ANC seemed to have been robbed of its two-thirds majority by Cope. This time, Cope garnered less than half its 2009 mark, and the ANC’s share still went down. This means the ANC is genuinely no longer a party of two-thirds of the country - a fact it cannot ignore. It needs to think hard about what this means. And about how to arrest its downward slide. Consider this an advice. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
First off, the ANC needs to consider whether it can effectively “fight back” against Helen Zille’s cry that elections are now about “service delivery, service delivery and service delivery”. It seems the horse has bolted, and the ANC now has to play according to those rules. It’s not going to enjoy it. For a start, because it controls so much of our state, there’s so much to criticise. This is a natural fact of government. Governance is hard. The more of it you take on, the more disasters happen, and the ANC's governing time is no excuse. But no matter how much lumpy custard is pushed though our collective aorta it’s a fact of life.
In short, the ANC needs to raise its governance game, particularly at the local level. This is going to be massively tough. For a start, Zuma appears to be having second thoughts about the bill designed to stop workers in local government from also having political positions. All it needs is his signature, but Samwu is ready, willing and able to deliver the mother of all strikes. To make things move, Zuma should push their buttons, hard. This will do two things. Show them who's the boss, and give himself a big push in the opinion polls. People like to see a leader who actually makes tough choices and delivers on them. At some stage the ANC is going to need to take on the unions, or lose power. It really is that simple. And now, three years away from the next elections, is the time to start that particular fight. And hell, Cosatu and Zwelinzima Vavi aren’t too keen on Samwu at the moment anyway, so the ANC president might just take the honour of taming the unions.
But this would only be the start of improving governance. ANC will have to start promoting excellence in government. It will have to find the best administrators and give them real power, coupled with hiring-and-firing power. Then let them get on with it. If they need to make hard money decisions about lights and water, then let them. There will be some bumps in the road, but hopefully, in the end, fewer potholes.
What this really means, of course, is that the system of deployment has to end. Sure, they could keep it for political heads, but they should stop mucking around with the nuts and bolts of departments. They should stick within the law, advertise properly for jobs and then hire the best person. Sometimes the ANC won’t like them, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
A good place to start would be to find that mayor of the Viljoenskroon area and sack her. Properly and utterly. And then drum her out of the ANC for bringing the name of the party into disrepute. Make it loud and clear that anyone who damages the party will be expelled. Do the same with the ANC leader who called for the burning for Eastern Province Herald. Stop being so damned forgiving of people who waste taxpayers money or call for murder. In fact, the ANC would be able to get enough of a coalition together to convince everyone that the general term “wasting taxpayers’ money” should get into the party’s disciplinary code as a whole. It will concentrate minds wonderfully.
The ANC is reported to be trying to understand why whites and minorities ditched it in droves last week. It’s amazing, they really don’t get it sometimes do they? Did they honestly expect the Malema/Manyi debacle to trend well in Chatsworth? Really? ANC leaders keep telling us, through their words and (in) their actions, that Julius Malema is important. He says “whites are criminals” in front of the President who does nothing. And Jimmy Manyi gets promoted for saying what he said. While the ANC pushed hard in blaming the DA for racism, using every codeword and subtext saved from the apartheid propaganda, just by doing that, it pushed minorities into Zille’s arms.
There’s another problem the ANC is going to face that it simply cannot grasp, as it will sting too much. One of the reasons voters are lessening their embrace of the party is corruption. Real and perceived, legal and illegal. It’s about tender-rigging and BMW-bling and VIP blue-light bling. The fact is, you cannot claim to be tough on corruption if you had a pretty strange path to power yourself. Or if someone who’s served time for defrauding parliament is on your national working committee. Or if the leader of your own ally (Cosatu) believes several other members of that same group could be corrupt. Or if the person who was Public Protector gets millions, and is then made chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
The simple fact is that those individuals believed to be corrupt (who have either paid the price or against whom no one has brought sufficient legal evidence) hold too much power in the ANC to allow this problem to be fixed. It’s almost a structural issue. There’s Chancellor House and those deals with Eskom, which seem to legitimise everyone else’s dealings. This has to be dealt with and fast. Because, over time, more and more people are becoming more and more media-literate and there are going to be more and more front page scandals. Many political parties have faced this dilemma many times: What do you do if people who are corrupt are very popular? When the voting public is democracy-savvy, it is difficult to be corrupt and popular.
So Zuma should get a few of his top leaders together and simply change the ministerial handbook. Just chuck out the whole thing, and force everyone to drive smaller non-German cars. It’s really easy. And it’ll make everyone look better. There’s no reason for anyone to gripe. And it’ll allow you to really cock a snook at business leaders. With a bit of spin, it’ll make everyone look good. If you don’t do it, it’s only because you’re now too wedded to the good life.
Unfortunately, this “perception of corruption” issue brings to the fore another problem. It’s the power of the provinces. Of course, the provinces are powerful, but they are in danger of producing barons that are more powerful than the king. Too often bad news comes from ANC provinces. You need to applaud those that make you aware of problems before The Times and the DA do. And the others need to be brought to heel.
All of this really relates to the ANC’s main weakness. It’s ideological size. We’ve said this before, but the party is simply too broad. There’s no real policy strand that keeps it together. In short, it finds it difficult to answer the question “What does the ANC really believe in?” Sure there’s the glib “better life for all, the poor” etc., but that’s it. Which can make it a difficult sell at the ballot box. It also means that arguments within the party rage on forever, and never appear to end. It’s our perennial argument, we say it’s too broad, Gwede Mantashe says, “The ANC has the best policies because it consults so widely”. But what really happens is that any ANC leader with a brain knows that anyone who is seen to be a loser in one argument, turns into an enemy in your next campaign. So the longest-serving leaders will be those who don’t make policy at all. There’s a reason Zuma gives the impression he’s an empty vessel into which the ANC pours its policy direction. It won’t work forever.
Reading through all of this you may think what could make the ANC better at governance is simply a return to the ANC of the Mbeki-era. Where everything was centralised. In a way, that does make some sense. The problem is that the party simply won’t wear that kind of authoritarianism again. Frankly, we’re not quite sure how its decision-making processes could be improved to the extent they need, while at the same time staying as open and as democratic as it is (arguably) at the moment. All parties have to strike that fine balance, between democracy and discipline. The ANC needs discipline, all through its ranks. Only then does it stand a chance.
Unless it takes the low road, of course. And tries to move the argument away from service delivery, and into that dark alley named “race”. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
Photo: A woman arrives at the polling station during the South African municipal elections in Nkandla, some 240 km (149 miles) north of Durban, May 18, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward.