South Africa

Revolt nation: ANC soul searches SA’s “instability”

By Ranjeni Munusamy 19 August 2015

The ANC does not believe a coup d’état is possible in South Africa. However its discussions documents in preparation for October’s national general council (NGC) reveals that the party is worried about “domestic instability” and a “growing culture of lawlessness”. The ANC also says there is a “flammable social tinder” due to poverty and inequality, and warns, ominously, that disruptive campaigns such as what happens in Parliament or that took place in Marikana “may goad the state into precipitate action”. So what was previously a mass-based organisation rooted amongst its people now sees the state security apparatus as the first and last line of defence. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

If it didn’t before, the ANC certainly knows now that South Africa is in a restless state and that people are getting fed up by levels of poverty, inequality, corruption and delivery failures. The discussion documents released on Monday ahead of October’s midterm national conference to review policy progress reveals that the ANC is quite aware that the country is a powder keg waiting to explode.

“The levels of poverty and inequality will certainly inflame passions, even as progress is made to deal with the challenges. This is the flammable social tinder that the democratic state has to manage, through practical action and by continuously infusing the hope that tomorrow will be better than today,” the ANC states.

And it is alive to the causes. “What seems to be new, with major implications for state legitimacy, is how deeply-entrenched corrupt practices (driven by a few state employees, public representatives and the private sector) and arrogance by some in leadership positions have become, directly affecting social delivery. This finds expression especially, but not exclusively, at local government level.”

The document on the Balance of Forces raises the question of the capacity of state institutions to meet their mandates. Poor capacity within state agencies comes as a consequence of “high turnover in the management echelons; poor decision-making that suggests patronage and cover-ups; and appointments that defy any rational logic”. This causes the state to “progressively … lose the confidence of the people”.

While previously the ANC relied on its popularity, ground cover and responsive leadership, it is now candid that the iron fist approach is the remedy for dealing with a nation in protest.

“The consequence is that the state security apparatus becomes the first and last line of defence, and is itself then targeted in popular upheavals,” the discussion document states.

The document on Peace and Stability warns that domestic instability is a “serious challenge” that if left unattended will undermine democracy, the rule of law and the development trajectory. “Issues that contribute to this instability are growing culture of lawlessness, impunity, violence in industrial and service delivery-related protests, as well as disrespect for authority and for one another.”

“Whilst general stability enforcement actions have continuously been imposed over the period under review, there still are instances of domestic instability characterised by violence associated with protest action (whether service delivery protests or labour protests) and stakeholder rivalries (i.e. union rivalries in the mining sector and violence in the transport sector)”.

The ANC warns its membership about other political parties using disruptive campaigns and uprisings to displace it as the ruling party.

“In some post-colonial societies, progression in a de-legitimisation campaign has hopped from one to the other – from the leader, to the ‘liberation party’, to the government and then to the state – ultimately resulting in the overthrow of government and forceful seizure of power or at least increasing reliance by the state on security agencies and repression. This has often encompassed a convergence of interests between forces of the Far Left and the Right, and conversion or at least paralysis of the very motive forces of the revolution.”

Interestingly, the ANC believes protesters and opposition parties, “adventurists” as the party calls them, propel action by the security agencies against themselves, not that the state is used as a protection service by the politically powerful and connected. By their logic, the state was “goaded” into shooting workers at Marikana and to, on several occasions, assault members of Parliament demanding answers from the president on Nkandla.

“A coup d’état is not possible in South Africa. Some of the disruptive and near-illegal campaigns may have the effect of initiating mass uprisings or other actions that may goad the state into precipitate action; as has happened with the unseemly disruptions in Parliament and, on the extreme, the Marikana tragedy. Whether this would be by default or by design – on the part of the adventurists – is a matter of conjecture,” the ANC states.

Fortunately, the ANC realises that all this is within the bounds of political engagement in a democracy, although grudgingly so. “The obvious intention of these forces is to improve their electoral prospects and, by democratic means, to displace the ANC as government across the spheres. This is rough, clumsy and distasteful; but it is legal political engagement all the same. It behoves the ANC to develop tactics that obviate the impact and attractiveness of these trickeries.”

Apart from its core function of keeping the wheels of the country turning, the ANC says the state has a broader role in shaping society to minimise the propensity for instability. It seems it is not so much social cohesion the ANC wants, but rather getting everyone to play nicely together.

“The state has, as matter of policy, sought to implement redistributive policies and to promote a spirit of human solidarity. However, the lived experienced of the overwhelming majority in society, wherever each individual may be located, is one of a nation driven by cut-throat competition, a rat race to climb the social ladder, and the fear of falling among those higher up who thus use legal and not-so-legal efforts desperately to cling to what they have.

“Apprehension about falling down the social ladder afflicts especially the new, mostly-first-generation middle and upper strata (essentially from the Black community), who have nary an inheritance to fall back on,” the party says.

The ANC says there is also “patent impatience with the pace of change”:

“This expresses itself among the poorest in society as well as some African professionals and youth.”

To stay in power, the party realises it must pull up its socks.

The ANC questions whether it can honestly claim “to represent the letter and spirit of the Constitution, to reflect the aspirations of all the motive forces of fundamental change, and to have remained true to its revolutionary mandate”.

“For, the question cannot be postponed whether there are things that the ANC is doing which create fertile ground for, and in fact ironically legitimise, incipient revolt against it and the government it leads!”

And that is in fact one of the key questions the delegates at the NGC should grapple with. At 103 years old, the ANC has a proud record of struggle and activism. However, in recent years, its record in government has seen the desecration of its name and image, drawing mass condemnation and disappointment.

Xenophobic attacks led to the South African National Defence Force being deployed internally to assist the police with maintaining stability. The abnormality of Operation Fiela continues months later as those charged with securing the state believe that heavy-handed military operations are still required to maintain peace.

Every day the country is plagued by violent protests, labour unrest, taxi violence, vigilante activity, demonstrations for better services, access to education and protests against crime. It is high time the ruling party asks hard questions of itself as to why South Africa is in such a state of volatility and why it has to hide behind the state security services when it claims to run a transparent, accountable, democratic people-centred government.

Instead of grappling how to make sure South Africa has a viable future, the party appears to be continuously fixated with staying in power “until Jesus comes”, employing what increasingly feels like a jackboot approach. ANC head of policy said at a media briefing on Monday that the focus of the NGC should be on the economy rather than election slates.

If the ANC can successfully do that and also rebuild its image as party that respects and upholds democratic institutions and freedoms, it can be worthy of its proud heritage.

Right now, South Africa under its leadership may not be at war with other countries but it is certainly at war with itself. DM

Photo: A Blackheath resident lights a cigarette during a protest in their Cape Town neighbourhood against a plan by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) to move families evicted from shacks in Lwandle to a piece of land in their area on Tuesday, 10 June 2014. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA



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