One of the clearest pictures that has emerged over the past decade of politics and governance in South Africa is that meaningful social change and transformation cannot be had under the current crop of leaders; the Class of 2007. Paradoxically, and this is a difficult claim to make, given that so much has gone wrong on their watch, there is an argument to be made that the ANC is, probably, the best option the country has.
There are two things that underpin this statement. For one, the ANC’s greatest achievement is that they have managed to keep the country together for the first 20 years after the end of apartheid. In this respect, notably under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, the ANC has avoided the ethno-linguistic fractionalisation (ELF) that beset so many former colonial territories after independence. This fissure is especially acute in Africa, which has the greatest number of ethno-linguistic diverse countries in the world. Nine of the ten most ethno-linguistically diverse countries are in Africa, the tenth being India.
The second reason why the ANC are the best bet (against all odds) is that the cadres they have deployed across government, state agencies and private corporations, the nomenklatura of the ruling elite, have gained valuable experience in governance. This does not mean they are good at it, or that we can trust them. To understand how I reach this conclusion, consider this: I am the only writer in my family, but that does not mean I am a good writer. Anyway, we must believe that the nomenklatura have learned something about governance in the past 20 years.
What, then, about the Democratic Alliance? Well, they do not have the support, or the pedigree to govern. That’s a strong statement, but consider that they have historically positioned themselves as opposition. While individual DA Members of Parliament may be smart, experienced, educated, dedicated or sincere, the party is (wrongly) portrayed as a party of past white privilege – that term which is, now, applied to end all conversations and discussions. That, actually, is not the DA’s biggest problem. Their biggest problem is that the ANC would simply sabotage them in government. Part of the ANC’s totalising discourse is that they alone have the right to govern South Africa. They have a scorched-earth type of approach to our society. If they can’t have it all, nobody will have it. Anyone who dares question them is attacked by the grunting hogs of the farm as the enemy of the revolution, or an agent of “neo-liberal fascism”. There is, of course, South Africa’s get-out-of-stupidity-card, race; it works, every time.
What of the Economic Freedom Fighters? Well, if their two most prominent leaders – Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu – are any measure of their epistemic capacity, the EFF will lead South Africa into unprecedented chaos and disorder, very quickly. The disorder that will mark EFF governance would, in no small part, be because the ANC would, as with the DA, also sabotage an EFF government, and render the country ungovernable. It should be said, though, that Malema and Shivambu have significant shortcomings. They display rather dangerous lapses in logic and coherence, and have personalities best suited for a barroom brawl, and not for leading a state as sophisticated, advanced, and as functionally integrated into the global economy as South Africa.
Malema, in particular, relies heavily on rhetoric, and hollow phrases, while Shivambu draws on stock phrases, slogans and catchy lines. Shivambu is sometimes not guilty of stringing together a coherent, logical sentence. (Listen to this radio interview, in which he accuses Helen Zille of “sleeping around”) You wonder, sometimes, when they will tire of repeating the phrases they learned from the dust jackets of really good books. They do ask the right questions, though. Just don’t listen to their answers.
From what they say, Malema and Shivambu, show no regard for constitutionalism, proportionality, process, moral or political sentiments, stability, cohesion or trust. Forget the idea of making some people better off, without making others worse off. Then again, as Amartya Sen concluded, no social system can simultaneously be committed to a minimal sense of freedom, always result in a type of economic efficiency (Pareto efficiency) and be capable of functioning in any society whatsoever. This is all way to complex for Malema and Shivambu. Given their lapses in moral and ethical judgement, and their penchant for inflammatory statements, Malema and Shivambu are dangerous people.
What is cause for concern, is the thousands of people who dance in the streets, proclaiming Malema’s genius, vision and exceptionalism every time he says something – anything. It probably says a lot about South African society that the EFF’s policies of pillage can produce the encomia, vacuous as it may be. It is also quite tragic that Malema, Shivambu and their brigands and predators interpret this encomia as endorsement, and legitimacy. Whereas the ANC would lead us, over several years, to the state that Zimbabweans find themselves in, the EFF would fast-track collapse.
Malema, in particular, reminds me of a neighbour’s son who, many years ago, always complained that we, other kids, would never play marbles with him, but whenever we did, he would kick our marbles off the line, laugh, and trample our wire cars and trucks, and run around pushing everyone to the ground. That was his idea of playing – and he saw nothing wrong with his conduct. Recently, I had a conversation with a three year-old who pestered me with that “why?” question that parents know so well. It goes something like this:
“Don’t play with the electricity switch.”
“Because it is wasteful.”
“Because it costs money.”
“Money does not grow on trees.”
“Just do as I say.”
This, actually, is what the EFF’s leaders remind me of whenever they discuss anything. All of which leads us back to the first problem statement. The ANC as our best bet. We are stuck with the ANC, for better or for worse. For the most part, under the current constellation of leaders, it will be for the worst. DM