South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Letter to the Editor: Is the ruling party alienating the middle class?

Letter to the Editor: Is the ruling party alienating the middle class?

In 2007, at the height of discussions around infusing a sense of urgency in the ANC’s work towards transforming society and accelerating social change, the ANC released a number of discussion papers. These were also part of a series of discussion documents for the Polokwane conference that was to take place in December 2007. By Cde LEHLOHONOLO JOE PHADIMA, ANC member, Ward 21.

One of the documents was on “A Fundamental Revolutionary Lesson: The Enemy Manouveres but it Remains the Enemy/Part 1”. Addressing what it termed the “hegemony of the political power” this document states that “our movement, and the masses it leads, have a revolutionary responsibility to assert and exercise their hegemony as the leader of the process of the fundamental social transformation of our country, without which the democratic revolution would have no meaning.”[my emphasis]. Deliberately, I hold, the statement does not singularly locate the revolutionary responsibility for the fundamental social transformation in the exclusive hands of “the movement”. With the noun “and”, and the adjective “have” instead of “has”, the author(s) enjoins both the movement and the masses it leads with this very important responsibility. It must then follow, as imagined by this document of the movement, that this fiendish task of transforming society shouldn’t exclusively be the responsibility of the ANC but also that of the masses led by the ANC.

The ANC’s articulation of whose responsibility it is to actualise this fundamental social transformation, doesn’t begin and end with this amorphous “the masses” as an annexure to the ANC itself. In a document that more precisely defines what this “mass” is – and in the context of this active participation in the fundamental task of social transformation – the Strategy and Tactics of the ANC refer to “the motive forces”. If like me, you grew up in the mass democratic movement politics, you would have come across the concept that the major historical process of social transformation has to be driven by a core of classes and strata that objectively stand to benefit from and have the capacity together to drive such change. In essence, the social transformation agenda has to be driven by those who stand to benefit from its successful execution. These beneficiaries to which the conception refers are called the motive forces.

So, the motive forces refer here to blacks in general and Africans in particular. But let me cut the chase and limit political jargon. In essence, the motive force would summarily also include, besides the working class, what’s called the “middle class” or what now goes as “clever blacks”. These clever blacks are indeed important for this transformation. It is the strategic task of the ANC as the leader of the movement (which is NDM; topic for another day) to make sure that no strata or/and class of the motive force is demobilised and alienated. Since the task of the ANC is to mobilise and rally this motive force for a process of social transformation, it follows that one would expect the ANC to mobilise and NOT demobilise the motive forces.

Differently put, on account of the full appreciation of this task here stated, the ANC can ill-afford to demobilise and alienate any core strata or class (middle class/clever blacks) that is an important component of the motive force, for such approach would negate the consolidation of all the progressive forces, and in particular the motive force, towards its critical task of social transformation. I however do not imagine it being a deliberate project of the ANC to demobilise and alienate a component of the motive forces. So I’m left with a deduction that where a strata or class or component of the motive force is alienated or demobilised, this happens because there isn’t an appreciation of this link, or such attempts are oblivious to the adverse impact their actions have on the social transformation agenda, or lastly – and I hope that I’m wrong – that the culprits do not care about the consequence thereof. My charge here is that there is what appears to be an unconscious alienation of the middle class. I also speculate that this alienation may have contributed significantly to the ANCs poor performance in the recent local government elections.

How is the middle class demobilised, you may ask?

To understand this, one ought to define, in broad terms, the location of this middle class as an essential premise. It is largely black. Well educated. Resides in “middle class” suburbs (but not exclusively) or suburbs that are dominated by white communities. It is made up of the working force at 9am to 5pm daily jobs in hostile and alienating corporate culture with institutionalised racism. They carry the burden, at work, to prove that they are not incompetent, just on account of their pigment. Consequently, they exert themselves extensively at a high cost of nurturing their young budding families. They come back from work emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted, prepare quick meals before getting ready again for the following day’s rat race. They look forward to weekends so that they may drink their sorrow, or celebrate the little pittance from everyday toiling. Some look forward to church, for in Christ, they say, there’s a sanctuary.

ANC branches in this middle class area of residence are hardly well organised. In many instances where they are organised, members have to wait up to two hours before a meeting is called off because of low turn-out; the inability to form a quorum. On the latter, I’m speaking from experience, having been a youth league leader and a branch executive member of Isaiah Ntshangase Branch in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg. Additionally, when they do eventually meet, there is hardly enough time to debate or have meaningful engagement on critical socio-political issues.

Consequently, their views are hardly ever accommodated in the movement, even as they are the core motive force for social transformation. The result of which becomes the ubiquitous bubbling of their unorganised views onto social network, where they pour out untrammelled. They are not organised and there isn’t even an attempt by the movement to find their views, in the 21st century where one can perhaps organise through the internet, to understand their situation and elicit their views as a motive force. Because of their preferred choice of expressing themselves, which is social network, they are dismissed as “opportunists”, “armchair critics”, “anti-revolutionary”, “lacking of commitment”, “clever blacks”, etc. in a crusade to further condemn and isolate their voices. Instead of organising them, they are made to remember that they “must speak through structures”, even as the existing structures do not really provide this platform given its archaic form.

The ANC has stubbornly stuck to the idea that opinions, views and criticism ought to be accepted only if they are prosecuted bottom up through branches. This archaic notion is primarily reliant on the constitutional clause on the right of a member, which states that a member has a right to “Offer constructive criticism of any member, official, policy programme or activity of the ANC within its structures.”[my emphasis]. Perhaps there ought to be a debate at the next national conference around how best to organise the middle class. Serious discussions ought to be initiated with view to amending the constitution to review and introduce innovative recruitment strategies and redefined what a branch may be. The results of which would ensure that the energy of this strata is well channelled towards building a better life for all.

Rule 4.5 of the ANC Constitution states:“Applications for membership shall be considered by the branch executive committee where such exists” (my emphasis). It strikes me that this clause does make an important qualification, and that is “where such exists” even as there is no provision, anywhere in the constitution of the ANC, wherein the views of members who do not have branches as anticipated by this clause are accommodated. I accept that another person may arrive at a different understanding of this condition. However, I can only think of one reason why it is/was necessary to insert that proviso; and that is, because there may be instances where “such” as in “branch” do not exist.

The ANC alienates the middle class at its own peril! DM

Cde Lehlohonolo Joe Phadima is a member of the ANC Ward 21 in the Ethekwini Region, KwaZulu-Natal.

Photo by Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick

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