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ANC discussion papers reveal the governing party's dyst...



ANC discussion papers reveal the governing party’s dystopian vision of South Africa’s future

From left: Paul Mashatile, Lindiwe Sisulu, Gwede Mantashe, DD Mabuza, Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Interpretative illustration by Jocelyn Adamson)

Ahead of the ANC’s national policy conference, its discussion papers reveal an entitled, paranoid party that seems increasingly out of touch with current realities – and with democracy itself.

The ANC does not simply want to govern South Africa. It wants to be “the leader of society”, to spearhead a “moral regeneration”, and to fight back against “social decadence”.

These are some of the aims contained in the policy papers tabled for discussion ahead of the ANC’s upcoming national policy conference. Although the language used is not new, with the expressed principles having been central to the ANC’s vision of itself for decades, the papers capture the sense of a party that seems ever more out of step with current realities.

The national policy conference is scheduled to be held at Nasrec in Johannesburg next week, against the objections of ANC employees who have not yet been paid their June salaries.

As reported by Daily Maverick, ANC head of the treasurer-general’s office Keith Khoza explained: “The scheduled conference will continue its business while the ANC tries to find donations to fund the staff salaries.”

The ANC’s internal financial woes illustrate the severity of the challenges faced both by the governing party, and by South Africans more widely, as the cost of living crisis exacerbates.

Against this backdrop, the party’s policy papers – heavy on ideology, but low on sensible ideas – seem woefully inadequate to address the country’s problems.

Thabo Mbeki: The ANC has no plan

This issue was made explicit by former president Thabo Mbeki this week, speaking at the memorial service for ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte in Johannesburg on Thursday, 21 July.

Lamenting the ANC’s inability to counter soaring unemployment and poverty, Mbeki said: “As a matter of fact, we don’t have a national plan to address these challenges …There is no national plan to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment, inequality. It doesn’t exist.”

If it did, the thousands of delegates expected at the ANC policy conference might have difficulty measuring its effectiveness.

The discussion papers state that no data or reports are available to assess, for instance, whether language policies relating to the school curriculum have been implemented.

They state that there is no information available on how many mobile schools and mobile clinics there are in SA, or whether learners are being provided with transport.

The papers state: “The ANC has not received during this reporting period accounts with data that indicate progress made to improving literacy and numeracy among learners.”

In the absence of such information, how are delegates supposed to assess whether key ANC policies are working? Perhaps as a tacit acknowledgement of the impossibility of such a task, the papers also recommend that ANC policies should only be reviewed every decade, rather than every five years as is currently the case.

Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, at the memorial service of ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte at Joburg City Hall on 21 July 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Pie in the sky

Mbeki may be correct that the party lacks a coordinated plan of action to tackle issues such as unemployment in a practical way – but the papers contain no shortage of scattered and impractical suggestions regarding all manner of South African challenges.

It is acknowledged in the policy documents that continued bailouts for state-owned companies cannot continue, and that some of these entities may have to be scaled back or dissolved.

But because public sector workers cannot be sent to join the 30% to 40% of South Africans in the “unemployment queue”, one suggestion is that these state employees “should be assisted with seed capital and support to establish their own SMMEs [small, medium and micro enterprises]”.

Where the money would be found for such a venture is unclear. Yet the papers at various points present proposals that seem premised on a bottomless Treasury.

The SABC, for instance, should not have to trouble itself with “commercial drivers” – advertising, licence fees, and so on – and instead should be “a fiscus-funded public broadcaster”.

Every household should be provided with “free basic [mobile] data” to “bridge the digital divide and create an inclusive society”.

The building of various large-scale heritage monuments, devoted to memorialising the liberation struggle, is envisaged.

Furthermore: “There is a need for a national Space policy.”

Railing against modern society

At certain moments, the policy papers give the impression of having been written by ageing academics.

When discussing current geopolitical trends, one paper notes with alarm the “denialism” shown by people in ignoring “the fact that China was in fact the world’s largest economy for a large part of the 19th century”.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that parts of the papers are steeped in the 19th century, drawing heavily from one of that era’s pre-eminent thinkers: Karl Marx.

The ANC is concerned about the “crass materialism” and “individualism” that has taken root in modern society, particularly among the “parasitic bourgeoisie”.

Yet simultaneously, it is also critical of a “passive attitude” that has taken root among South Africans since 1994, which assumes “that every problem is government’s responsibility”.

Noting the difficulties the ANC experiences in transmitting its messages directly to the public, one paper states: “The desire to have independent platforms through which the party can communicate its views to the broad public, be it electronic, print or visual, has not borne fruit.”

The fact that social media is used for precisely this purpose by every other major political party in South Africa appears not to have occurred to the paper’s drafters: “This state of affairs is indeed untenable if the ANC must strive to be the leader of our society,” they lament.

In the paper devoted to “Digital Communication and the Battle of Ideas”, it is acknowledged that social media exists – but it is presented primarily as a terrain in which “attacks on the government and the ANC” are launched, “targeting performance in government, local and provincial administration in particular”.

In the same paper, the ANC voices concern that the decline in quality journalism in South Africa “has the potential to distort the hegemony of the ANC [and] the alliance [SACP, Cosatu] as the true leader of the national democratic revolution”.

The alarming implication is that high-­quality media would present the ANC as entitled to govern South Africa indefinitely.

The same sense of entitlement to power is evident in the following description of local coalition politics: “The bitter reality is that [the ANC] has been kept out of government by the growing phenomenon of small opposition parties ganging up to keep the ANC out of office.”

Yearning for a one-party state?

Perhaps the most worrying implication of the policy papers is that the ANC may be fundamentally uncomfortable in a multiparty democracy – as well as deeply paranoid.

The coalitions keeping the ANC out of power in various metros, the papers state, are “on a crusade to obliterate the defining goals of our national transformation project”, and “all declare the demise of the ANC as the only primary reason they exist”.

An “ideological onslaught against the ANC using all forms of media” persists, claim the papers. “Unsanctioned” sharing of “crime news and reporting” needs “managing”.

It remains to be seen whether delegates to the policy conference will heed the warning sounded by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the introduction to the papers: that the ANC’s priority “has to be the improvement of the quality of lives of people, rather than an often narrow, internal party focus”. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25. 


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All Comments 25

  • Really? Ever the victim and no real evidence that the ANC has grasp on SA’s current reality. Not sure to be scared or disappointed

  • The ANC has shown that crime pays in politics. By now every crook in the country is a member, the real reason no renewal can take place.

    “The ANC does not simply want to govern South Africa. It wants to be “the leader of society”, to spearhead a “moral regeneration”, and fight back against “social decadence”.” – hope the paper described how this crime syndicate is going to become a leader of society, and how the ANC is going to turn around its moral degradation and social decadence. Sounds like the ANC is not only not in touch with reality, it is not in touch with itself. More proof the crime syndicate called the ANC has reached its best before date.

  • Oh dear! May common sense of the tradional masses who support the ANC see that under their leadership this country is going nowhere but down. And we’ll all go down with it. And then maybe the ANC political bourgeoisie will be happy.

  • tl;dr – The ANC claimed in 1994 that they were ready and able to govern. They lied.

    But seriously though, is anyone really surprised by this? Any species unable to adapt to a changing environment is destined for extinction.

  • I am surprised the ANC does not collectively blush when they discuss this drivel they have drafted for the FUTURE of South Africa, it’s so out of touch with what the voter wants that now we vote for the opposition or don’t vote at all… of course the party is so neurotic that they seee this as a personal attack by some nefarious forces, instead of doing some soul searching on why their support is waning!

  • Gee whiz. I’m…. shocked….

    Ergo I’d make an ideal president. Now I just need to find a couch, lie, lose my spine, lie, gain some incoherence, lie, make endless promises, lie and ooooo, I almost forgot, lie some more. Oh, and surround myself with people even more useless than me.

    On second thoughts, that seems like too much work. Better to hang around and just feel important and relevant. Yes. This is the way.

  • We can probably take comfort in the knowledge that the ANC doesn’t have the discipline, commitment or character to convert whatever far fetched vision it has into reality (neither does it have the resources). In fact the past 28 years shows that the ANC doesn’t in fact grasp the difference between dreams, visions, outcomes, policies and plans.

  • Great article, Rebecca, thanks. I can remember, not long ago, that all you could do is to slag the DA. As it is the biggest and proven most effective party to fight the ANC do you still believe that Zille’s tiny tweet is an item?

  • How ironic – “the “crass materialism” and “individualism” that has taken root in modern society, particularly among the “parasitic bourgeoisie”” is so perfectly exemplified by the ANC. These papers seem to be written by people with primary school education and no understanding of politics and economics. I’m gobsmacked. I truly forget how bad it is until I read an article like this.

    • That’s the problem. You don’t even need a primary school education, nor any grasp or politics and economics to become an MP or cabinet minister. If the competence and integrity prerequisites for entry were raised (a lot) we may stand a chance.

  • This is not a dystopian view. It is, in fact, an impassioned call [albeit implied] on Zeus to send to the ANC their very own Oneiros that the ANC may be counselled on how to pull success from a black hole of incompetence.

  • We have really already seen what is going on in the ANC, very much as a foreboding. COPE made the mistake of trying to organise themselves along the same unrealistic principles that the ANC has been organised on, even basically copying both the ANC constitution and most of their policies, and we all saw how the COPE conference delegates threw each other with the chairs – I believe in very much the same way as happened with some of the ANC conferences this year. Also, COPE was beset with the same faction-fighting we now see in the ANC; and they also looked for a scape goat outside of the party (like for instance accusing the ANC for engineering COPE’s demise). My point is two-fold: Firstly that the whole nationalistic basis that the ANC was organised on, as well as their reliance on solidarity as the main principle of organisation, which is completely unrealistic in a big organisation like that and that then leads to the faction-fighting, is out of line with the needs of modern political party organisation; and secondly that the ANC should have been prudent enough to realise that what happened in COPE is a foreboding of what could and may well happen in the ANC. But according to this article they are STILL looking for scapegoats outside the party to blame for their plight in typical ultra-nationalistic fashion. It was there, in front of them to see, and they chose to ignore it. NO wonder the governance where the ANC is in control is normally such a shambles!

  • Here is a suggestion, why don’t the last four presidents of South Africa all members of the ANC get together and pay those salaries between themselves?

    Their combined state sponsored salaries should cover that quite easily.

  • Completely unhinged! Clearly they have no sense of humour, irony or history. So much Stalinist nonsense, but I did have to laugh when I saw ” crass materialism” – can the ANC really not see itself?

  • This seems like a depressingly accurate analysis. When I heard party bigwigs articulating various policy positions at the end of the SACP congress I thought I was having a time-travel experience that had taken me back to 1950.

  • I have been following current events (politics) in SA for many years and can say that there has not been an original thought coming out of the Government or the ANC since 1994. Amartya Sen had an idea premised on … ‘capability; the capacity people have for living and choosing how to live a good life.’ But here I am falling into the trap of being judgemental because I am an educated European with a belief that a “culture” is an ensemble of the values, worldviews, aspirations, and customs that characterise a people and distinguish it from others.
    The notion that we can all be one happy family in SA has long evaporated but the ANC will continue to remind us income inequality is the sole measure of justice and the reason for burning down shopping malls. I believe that in a healthy society members share a common morality. They perceive what is right and wrong, good and bad in basically similar ways.
    The problems the country has with Eskom, SAA, SOEs, and Government Departments et al serve to highlight the capacity failings of all concerned, including the unions and opposition parties.

  • Before 1994 the phrase was, “the ANC cannot run its bathwater never mind a country” and this has never been truer. the article spells it out superbly in that the ANC wants a one party state so they can continue raping it ignoring the poor and vulnerable. Zuma once declared “Democracy is a funny thing.” it was used in the context of tribalism/one party state. be scared, very scared.

  • We are far from being there yet, I hope, but some of the complaints in the policy documents remind me of the so-called “total onslaught” that some viewed legitimate struggle against a corrupt state to be.

  • Shortly after Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as president I asked a building site general worker / labourer, who I had seen and sometimes spoken with a number of times over the years, what he thought of Ramaphosa. This was not an educated man, but yet a man who did an honourable days hard work, and no doubt spent decades hoping the apartheid government would end, and his own people start to rule (which they did, for a while) He said ‘criminal, all criminals’ Which made quite an impression on me. I wondered how widespread his view was.

  • You can only have a “functioning plan” of anything, if you have under-pinning it an efficient, viable and fully-functioning economy to fund it.

    Horses before carts, ANC; get that basic thinking right; spend all your energies and efforts on building the economy, or better still just give it space and freedom to build itself!!!

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