South Africa


From the ANC down, our entire political system is in an existential mess

From the ANC down, our entire political system is in an existential mess
President Cyril Ramaphosa stands before the civil guard of honour at the City Hall in Cape Town, South Africa, on 10 February 2022 prior to delivering the State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Ahead of the President’s State of the Nation Address, there can be no doubt that South Africa’s myriad crises — from electricity to water to corruption — are intersecting in ways that make many of our people’s lives nasty, brutal and short.

There are important factors that got South Africa to where it is, and more evidence that political parties are making irrational decisions under pressure. Still, there are believable signs that the system, which is being deliberately kept in its dangerous place by politicians, can have outcomes other than violence-fueled decay. 

Ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech on Thursday, 9 February, the nationwide anger at our political class is palpable.

A column on 1 February by Professor Jonathan Jansen in TimesLive, headlined, Be honest, are you better off now than under apartheid?, has led to furious discussion.

His question is an impossible trade-off: freedom cannot be valued and the oppression of apartheid was unbearable, morally abhorrent and destroyed the lives, hopes and dreams of so many millions while directly creating the racialised inequality that still defines our nation, almost 30 years later.

But so heavy is the weight that our current crises have placed on our shoulders that this almost unthinkable question is debated often, not just in newspaper columns, but on talk radio stations and in private conversations too.

These difficult and painful discussions are underpinned by the immensely deep sense of betrayal felt by the millions who placed their trust in the ANC and were expecting better lives from its government.

The great majority of our compatriots now feel that the lives of their children, who cannot get a decent education and may never find a job, will be worse than theirs and those of their grandparents. Hope, such a crucial part of our lives, feels all but destroyed for tens of millions.

Read more in Daily Maverick:All we need is Hope

This betrayal feeds another important determining factor for our near future. There has been consistent reporting, most recently in City Press but also in Business Day, that the ANC’s leaders have been told that internal polling estimates that they would only get about 40% of the vote should national elections happen soon.

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Despite that, there is no indication that the ANC is about to change tack, or even, despite its public pronouncements, “renew” itself into a modern, competent and accountable organisation that cares about South African people’s future.

The fact that about 40% of its branch delegates voted for a man implicated in the Digital Vibes scandal is proof of that disinterest in people’s real demands and everyday misery felt by so many. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:Department of Health’s irregular R150m Digital Vibes deal: Daily Maverick’s investigative work so far in one bundle

So is the fact that those same people re-elected to its national executive committee a man filmed hitting a woman and another convicted of violent assault during a council meeting, among way too many other examples.

When they are under pressure, political parties – and their leaders – can make irrational decisions. They may often simply go back to what has worked in the past, back to what they know: horse-trading politics and cheap tricks.

This may be why the ANC has closed ranks around certain people – it worked during the Zuma era, why wouldn’t it work now? It may also explain why there is such a sense of inaction in the party.

Ramaphosa still appears afraid to act, even to remove Deputy President David Mabuza, who says he is ready to go. It is unimaginable for a person who has announced his resignation and has a successor – party deputy president Paul Mashatile is obviously ready for the post – to be asked to remain, especially when they are bereaved. (Mabuza’s brother died recently.)

Read more in Daily Maverick:Mabuza to step aside for Mashatile, but Ramaphosa asks for time to tie up loose ends

It seems Ramaphosa cannot even remove a member of his Cabinet – Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has openly defied both him and her party.

Even the ANC’s stated intent to declare a National State of Disaster is evidence of this. Leaders may believe that if it helped them sail through the pandemic, it may get them through the self-created disaster that is rolling blackouts – despite the fact it will do very little to add more megawatts to the grid.

There is also a sense of desperation. In Johannesburg, the ANC has done a deal with the EFF and the Patriotic Alliance (PA) to retain some kind of power there.

The EFF literally wants to overthrow the ANC, and the PA is made up of criminals who publicly say they will deal with whomever will help them benefit materially. 

The ANC is not the only party to make irrational decisions under this kind of pressure.

When the DA lost some support in the 2019 elections, instead of trying to continue the process of broadening its support, it went back to what it knows – its “liberal” white support base. This has resulted in major consequences for the party.

There is also evidence that many of the parties represented in Parliament have almost colluded with each other to prevent changes to the system they know.

Read more in Daily Maverick:South Africa’s proposed new electoral system is complex to understand, complicated to implement and less fair 

It is entirely to the benefit of all Parliamentary parties that electoral reform is not instituted before next year’s elections. This is despite a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020 that it must be implemented, and that individuals must be allowed to run for seats in Parliament.

This is a classic case of people who have benefitted from a system making change as difficult as possible, thus keeping new competitors out for as long as possible.

There are limits to this, however: they cannot keep out people who are already in the system. This is where we are now seeing new formations vying for power, including Action SA and the Patriotic Alliance.

To examine our current crises is to understand that although they have deep roots (apartheid is responsible for so many of them), almost all of our solutions involve politics. Until our politics change, there will be no real change or improvement in our situation.

When politics cannot change, as is the case in Lebanon for example, or, to an extent, in the UK or the US, most people’s lived experiences simply deteriorate.

The longer our situation goes on without some kind of change, the lives of many South Africans will simply get nastier, more brutal, and possibly even shorter. That cannot go on forever. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Wanliss says:

    I’m disappointed that Mr Grootes does not distinguish between “disinterested”, meaning “impartial” and “uninterested”, meaning “not interested”. I know many people muddle these two, but that is no excuse for those who should know better.

  • Alan Watkins says:

    “ANC’s leaders have been told that internal polling estimates that they would only get about 40% of the vote should national elections happen soon.”

    Thats a best case scenario, for the ANC. The ANC are at 40% or therabouts right now after a precipitous slide. But the elections are in about 16 months time. If the precipitous slide continues for another 16 months, what will the ANC’s share of the vote be then?

  • virginia crawford says:

    The ANC and its branches simply do not care about anything except power which is a route to obscene wealth: ethics do not come into it at all. They dont give a hoot about the deteriorating lives off the working poor or unemployed. Understand this, and irrational choices make sense.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    ANC 40 + EFF 15 = Disaster

  • David Walker says:

    As usual, Stephen Grootes dismisses the DA with one throwaway sentence. There is no considered evaluation of their effectiveness at governing the Western Cape or the City of Cape Town. There are parts of South Africa that are functioning despite the failure of national ANC government, almost always due to local DA control. He also repeats the tired racist trope of DA being a ‘white’ party where it clearly has the support of the majority of so-called ‘Indian’ and ‘Coloured’ people, and significant appeal among all communities in the country.

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