South Africa

South Africa, Politics

TRAINSPOTTER: Life in Zumastan – a detailed look at the ANC’s manifesto

Thirty-two pages. Lots of pictures. A bunch of numbers. We read through this stuff so that you don’t have to. Even though you still sort of have to. By RICHARD POPLAK.

1. Inside Out

At a soiree this weekend, I asked a woman working the levers of the ANC’s local elections campaign for an inside scoop, for a hunting trophy to show off to my journalistic competitors. As she met my gaze, her eyes welled up with an immense, inconsolable sadness. I interpreted this not as a reaction to the state of the ANC, but as a reaction to the state of my naïveté.

There is no inside any more,” she said. “It’s all on the outside.”

She was, of course, entirely correct. Like a murder victim in a torture porn flick, the ANC has been turned inside out. Its eyeballs now stare into what once served as its brain, its innards have spilled out on to the killing floor. All that is left to the political sangomas of South Africa is to dig through the viscera for lessons, for signs, for the murmurings of the ancestors.

Here’s a lesson: the ANC is coming apart in so many ways, in so many constituencies, in so many parts of the country, that the only thing left to do is to get the holy hell out of the way so as not to be crushed underneath it. As a citizen of this country, that’s obviously impossible.

In all of this intestine reading, and in all of the very unmetaphorical murder and mayhem unfolding across the country, it’s easy to forget that the ANC is a political party. Like most political parties, it is guided in policy-making by an approximation of an ideological platform. What might this platform be? It’s hard to say, because the party has adopted the argot of a Goldman Sachs “emerging market” brochure in order to sell itself to “clever blacks”, and the blunt promise of jobs and handouts to charm its less intelligent constituents. (These are President Jacob Zuma’s designations, and they underpin the party’s communications strategy.) Branding is the ANC’s default ideology, and it is therefore difficult to know what the ANC’s technocrats would hope to achieve were they not under the stewardship of a gangster and his bumbling henchfolk.

In this, it’s worth quickly revisiting the document that is meant to serve as a blueprint for the party’s policy formulations. By this, do I mean the 61-year-old communist, non-racist, non-sexist Freedom Charter, the publication of which the party celebrated on Sunday? Ha ha – no. I’m referring to the neoliberal, non-racist, non-sexist “National Development Plan 2030”, which was steered into being by former finance minister Trevor Manuel, and adopted as The Word in 2013. (It’s worth remembering that the plan was also slavered over by the Democratic Alliance, to the extent that its own Vision 2020 document effectively cribs the NDP’s introductory waffle.)

Manuel was the best-behaved social democratic neoliberal born unto humankind, and the NDP reflected his outlook. Very briefly, the ANC promised to “eliminate poverty and inequality in South Africa by 2030”, and to devote itself to “drawing on the energies of (the) people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society.”

None of this means anything to Zuma, but I suppose it hints at staying the fake social-democratic course, with a nod towards redistribution or something akin to it. It’s the sort of free association development poetry that Manuel had perfected at the end of his public sector career, as he was preparing himself for the Davos speaking circuit and for getting a serious pay cheque courtesy of Rothschild. The NDP acknowledged the country’s perilous levels of youth unemployment, our unshakable legacy of apartheid-era spacial organisation, and the untenable structural inequalities that make life so miserable for most of us. It vowed to turn all of this around on the back of “economic growth”, a more efficient state, and the elimination of corruption.

There were many tangible ways in which the ANC – or, more properly, the government – hoped to “transform” our society based on the NDP’s framework, but for our current purposes its important only to emphasise that the framework was premised on a typically ANC don’t-rock-the-economic-boat approach. After the adoption of the NDP (and, coincidentally, after the rise of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters), the ANC hilariously started touting “radical economic transformation” as their driving development platform. But nothing in the NDP, from the design of the brochure through to the most distributive of its economic policies, could be described as radical.

The NDP was pure technocratic non-speak and, as it turned out, a fantastic resume for a job at a boutique financial institution part owned by the distant progeny of the world’s original capitalist towheads.

2. Numbers Game

Like all ANC election manifestos, the ANC’s local government booklet makes mention of the Freedom Charter, and adds a nod to the NDP. Like all ANC election manifestos, it kicks off with a bunch of historical milestones – 2016 represents the 60th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings, 55th anniversary of the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the 40th anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution. Like all ANC manifestos, it reminds us of how much things have changed since the crime against humanity that preceded the democratic dispensation.

Like all ANC manifestos, it goes off the rails immediately after that.

Local government is in your hands,” reads the tagline, senselessly. Because local government has never been in local hands. The entire point of cadre deployment, and the patronage system it was designed to foster, was that local government was firmly in the hands of the ANC. Municipalities were conceived of as funnels, sending tenders and payoffs and perks to loyal ANC cadres in exchange for loyalty. Service was barely the point: municipal governance was all about strengthening the ANC Inc.’s access to the state’s resources.

The upshot is that local municipalities are fair to middling if you’re rich and white. (Enclave living, baby!) They’re horrendous if you’re poor and black. For 22 years, with the exception of the Western Cape, the ANC has had access to almost every single rand that has passed through national or municipal coffers. In effect, this makes them a democratically elected autocracy, and our divergent realities are an admixture of our unhappy historical legacy and the ANC’s lack of interest in transforming the country as much as they should have.

As per the NDP, we must wait until 2030 for deliverance. But the local government manifesto does not reference 2030. Or 2060. Or 2090. It offers instead a boilerplate Soviet five-year plan, without the Stalinist scowl. The ANC doesn’t require the future in order to bend reality, because reality for them doesn’t exist until they’ve packaged it in a brochure. The manifesto is about how amazing shit is right now. It is a superb example of how the ANC treats governance like one endless iboga trip, and transforms South Africa into a psychedelic wonderland that can be slowed down or sped up or folded in on itself with the wave of a cadre’s bejewelled hand.

In this, unemployment is not a problem to be solved – it’s a stat that requires some inventive interpretation. Check this out: the Expanded Public Works Programme has apparently created “1.2-million work opportunities by the end of March 2015”, representing a 20 percent bump over the original target of 1.04-million. Nowhere does it mention that EPWP has been a nightmare of a money suck and a wellspring of corruption, nor that real unemployment in this country is now nudging 40%, with zero possibility of an uptick in the foreseeable future.

Think about it for a second: the ANC is running entirely on its record. Refuse removal has since 2001 bumped up from 55.4% of households to 64%, a whopping 8.6% increase. From 2004 to 2014, “the ANC government increased access to basic sanitation services from 62.3% to 79.5%”. (But there is no definition of the verb “access”, and nor of “basic sanitation services”. Incredibly, the picture depicts an outhouse. Live the dream.)

Without any apparent shame, the manifesto states that, “The ANC government initiated investigations into 203 corruption cases involving 1,065 persons. A total of 234 government officials were convicted for corruption related offences since 2014. Freezing orders to the value of R601-million were obtained by the end of the third quarter of the 2015/16 financial year. This means that government has recovered a total of R4,21-billion since 2009.”

It works for banks, it works for real estate agents, it works for the ANC: put it in a brochure, and it becomes real.

3. Reality Bends

Unhappily, the text gets weirder the farther in you plunge. “Together we shall develop and strengthen local economies, create jobs and promote job placements, especially for the youth […]”, promises the manifesto. It’s not about whether or not the ANC can help you, but what you can do to help the ANC help you. The construction is genius: local government is in your hands. The ANC can’t do it alone – perhaps the screw-ups of the past several decades have been, y’know, as much your fault as theirs.

Ordinarily, I’d agree. Participatory governance is a great thing, a necessary thing. Right up to the point of engagement with an ANC ward councilor in rural Limpopo.

It’s enough to make you doubt your own sanity. As you read through it, the manifesto starts to erase entire communities, entire constitutional crises, entire corruption scandals, entire personal experiences. Is the vermin problem in Alexandra really as bad as residents say it is? Is the squallor in the informal settlements of the East Rand really just a hipster performance art project? Is the deadly dysfunction in Tshwane just a white liberal media plot undone by watching by 20 minutes of HlaudiVision?

Included in the document, I kid you not, is an actual picture of outgoing (maybe) Tshwane mayor Kgosientso “Sputla” Ramokgopa standing alongside President Zuma as they confer with a gogo in a nursing home. Sputla’s legacy will be defined not only by the five comrades that lost their lives in the factional violence ripping apart his maligned city, but by the staggering inefficiency that has become the hallmark of his reign.

And then there’s the guy standing next to him, who has been told by the Treasury to pay back R7.8-million of a R265-million crib gilding. Local governance sure works in Nkandla, ne.

People’s Power. This is another of the taglines the ANC has chosen to sell themselves this election season. “Together advancing People’s Power in every community.” “Vote ANC, the People’s Movement.” “All Power to the People!” Even by the ANC’s standards, their election manifesto is a content-free act of pure political spin — the highest-grade bullshit you’ll encounter outside of a Cyril Ramaphosa buffalo stud farm. The party is done with ideas, with political conceptions, with the future.

The party simply is.

There is no longer any inside. There is only outside. Until reality once again offers an OS upgrade, and most South Africans are too exhausted, too afraid and too maligned to do anything but hit “Agree”. DM

Photo: ANC President Jacob Zuma gestures as he arrives for the party’s 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko