Opinionista Phillip Dexter 10 April 2016

The ANC, Nkandla and #ZumaMustFall: A Watershed or a Drowning?

As debate rages about the ANC positions and desired decisions on the future of the president, it also subtlety talks to the actions of the current leadership collective of the movement and the organisation itself. Many commentators are trying to write the ANC off. While there is no doubt that this crisis is a deep and serious one, those who proclaim that the end of the ANC is nigh are being unrealistic.

The time has come, the Walrus said,?
To talk of many things:
?Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings.

The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

The ANC must take some serious decisions and make some fundamental changes if it is to strengthen itself and to have the moral and political authority to lead our country in the way it has historically.

It could well face electoral defeat in many councils across the country later this year in the local government elections if it does not.

Similarly, its majority in 2019 could also be seriously eroded. Such defeats of the ANC do not augur well for our country. The alternatives for our people are the DA’s rampant neoliberalism, or the EFF’s rampant populism. The future of our country rests with those elected at the Mangaung conference of the ANC in 2014 and with the members of the ANC across its branches.

As in other moments – in more recent times, the formation of Cope, the formation of the EFF, the Polokwane conference and in the past, in 1991 with the suspension of the armed struggle, in 1985 in Kabwe, in 1969 at Morogoro and in 1961 with the formation of the PAC – it is what enlightened leaders do in response to their mass base that counts. History is weighing heavily on these individuals. Given their performance to date, can we expect what is required of them? If not, can the mass base of the ANC remove these people and replace them with a more radical, more accountable, more representative and more responsive leadership?

As has been much debated, state capture, corruption, maladministration and the indifference of political representatives to the masses are all symptoms of the postcolonial malaise we live in. It is naïve and opportunistic to talk about these as being new issues or ANC issues, when the state has been the hostage of capital since the time of the Heeren 17 and later Cecil John Rhodes.

It is hard to swallow the neoliberal critique that things are bad now, when the entire edifice of apartheid was premised upon corruption. When the former homelands and black local authorities, as well as national departments, provided inferior services to the majority of our citizens, none of these newfound radicals were anywhere to be seen. It is true that Parliament and our provincial and local authorities have never really responded to our people’s needs, except for during the democratic spring of 1994 until about 2004. But to be honest, for 400 years, they never have.

This does not absolve President Zuma, his Cabinet, the current ANC MPs, MPLs or councillors of their responsibilities. It is simply to point out that they are now in danger of being defined as being the briefly interrupted continuation of a line of mediocrity, dishonesty and callousness that stretches back to the time of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. History will judge them harshly if they do not act decisively at this juncture.

The ANC has faced various crises throughout its long and proud history. In the period after its formation it degenerated into a petitioning organisation that sought to convince racist colonialists to be fair with the natives, by appealing to their nonexistent better nature.

In the 1950s, militant youth within the organisation had to radicalise the organisation and steer it away from its then conservative leadership. In the 1950s, Africanists broke away from the movement, challenging the hegemony of nonracialism.

In the 1960s MK cadres had to mutiny to get the leadership to focus on the armed struggle and conditions in the camps.

In the 1970s students and Black Consciousness leaders also challenged the ANC’s weakened status after the brutal crackdown on the movement by the apartheid regime.

In the 1980s the ideological struggles within the UDF and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) saw the congress charterists again challenged.

Since the democratic breakthrough of the 1990s, the ANC has consolidated our democracy and governed almost the entire country. It never did this unchallenged. Despite the splits of the UDM, Cope and EFF, the ANC has remained in power. Today, it stands challenged again. This time, various forces, both in the opposition but also significantly, internally, have thrown down the gauntlet to the leadership of the oldest liberation movement on the African continent and said, “Enough!” Can the ANC renew itself again and breathe life into the wobbling national democratic revolution?

Typically of this leadership cohort of the ANC, who are a mixed bag of not loyal and tested, but also of compromised, Guptarised, inexperienced, factionalist and opportunistic leaders, there has been a variety of confused responses. Various statements suggest some are ready to go toe to toe with this new opposition. Others wish to engage it. Still others want to bury their heads in the sand in the hope that it will go away.

What the current leadership is either unwilling to do or incapable of doing is recognising that this is a wonderful opportunity to renew, reinvigorate and to reform the organisation. Various conferences of the ANC have debated its structure and form, the difference between it being a national liberation movement or a political party, the concept of democratic centralism and the relationship between the ANC, SACP and Cosatu.

The issues of vote buying, of business interests and state capture have been raised at every conference and national general council since 1998. What is telling is that due to the slavish adherence of many at the centre of the ANC to a brand of dogmatic, dumbed down Marxism, mixed with just enough legitimacy based on an appeal to the authority of incumbency, all these well-meaning debates and resolutions have ended up in file 13 – the trash can – along with all the reports from visits to China, Cuba, Venezuela and other countries where national liberation movements and left-wing political parties have managed to bring about fundamental and radical change to their countries.

Across the board, people of different ideologies have praised the ANC for ushering in democracy, a radical Constitution, consolidating the gains made since 1994 and ensuring a largely nonviolent polity. There can be no rational, sane or honest person who can deny the incredible achievements of the ANC in bringing real change to so many South Africans’ lives, whether through housing, water, sanitation, electricity, transport, healthcare, education, social grants, school feeding schemes, skills development, access to funding for entrepreneurs, workers rights, access to markets for businesses and so many other things. These are real, tangible results of the success of the national democratic revolution. But the criticisms are mounting and though they started as a whimper, they are now as loud as the praise.

Most people, including members of the ANC, believe there is too much inefficiency in government, that services are too poor in quality generally, that there is too much corruption in society, that workers’ wages are too low, that unemployment is too high, that the black middle class is too small numerically, even though it has increased dramatically, that BEE has only benefitted a tiny black elite, and that inequality remains obscene.

It is against this backdrop that the actions of the current leadership of the ANC, SACP and Cosatu are being measured. Even if we were a wealthy country, with full employment, Nkandla would be unacceptable. That we are as we are, a society still mired in poverty, makes it simply shocking. Even if we could afford the nuclear build programme being pushed by a few seemingly maniacal people, the fact that we don’t actually need it, can’t afford it and that renewable energy can create more jobs and provide cheaper energy without damaging the environment, makes the decision of the government to forge ahead with it incomprehensible.

Even if there were real economic reasons for the poor performance of SOEs such as Eskom, SAA and PetroSA, to allow these to limp along sucking scarce resources out of the fiscus would be a ridiculous management strategy. These are the many Nkandlas, some of far greater consequence than building a traditional version of a gauche, Sandton mansion in KwaZulu-Natal.

What’s more is that even if there is a third force that is sowing the current political strife we are experiencing, the decisions being made by our leadership, on the problems at universities, on Nkandla itself, on e-tolls, on the nuclear build and on many other issues, is playing into the hands of these counter-revolutionaries.

In any case, there are always enemies of any revolution! The point is to have a programme to contain them and ultimately to defeat them. Whining and complaining about them is nothing but a yellow, cowardly excuse. But the strategy of this leadership seems to be to at best ignore these real, material issues of the people and at worst, to fan the flames of unrest by claiming that they are not real.

The disastrous effects of events such as Marikana and of the continued assassination of individual activists such as Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, which are not planned by government but which are treated with cold indifference by it, create the impression that even though we have a black majority government, here in South Africa, black lives don’t matter. Similarly, on issues such as xenophobia, the violent attacks on gay, lesbian and transgender people, as well as the violence inflicted daily on men, women, children and the elderly in general, the non-responsiveness of the leadership of the movement to these issues is chilling.

The calls by ANC leaders for debates to happen exclusively in the structures of the organisation are questionable at best and cynical at worst. The reality is that even where ANC structures function, the idea that debate takes place in them and that decisions are communicated upwards to higher structures, that in turn synthesise these views for the leadership, is a fantasy. Many people are resorting to public utterances, just as they did during the previous moments of crisis, precisely because the ANC leadership is ignoring the reality we face as an organisation and as a country.

The process of organising the structures of the ANC into a coherent force was long ago abandoned. In truth, most branch meetings are held to vote on slates. Community issues are never seriously taken up. If they were, we would not have social unrest led by other forces than the ANC. ANC branches would lead change in communities and its elected representatives would actually work with these structures, rather than brand them as counter-revolutionary. Hence, the rise of social movements and other organisations, including the opposition from within the ranks of the ANC itself, is a function of a leadership that is blind to anything but its own interest, deaf to any voice except for those that praise it, and speaks only to defend itself and to denounce any critique or detractor.

It is obvious to any member of the ANC and for that matter, of the SACP and Cosatu, as well as Sanco, who has been part of these organisation since the time of the unbannings, that a series of bad decisions and omissions of decisions and action has created the current crisis in the national liberation movement. The lack of any serious and systematic political education, the failure to enforce discipline, the enforcing of a factionalist tendency that characterises debate and critique as disloyalty, the promotion of individuals in a cultish manner or for patronage, the blurring of the lines between party and state intelligence structures and between party interests and business interests, among just a few of the worst tendencies, has corrupted our movement and allowed a situation of grave danger to develop.

It is one where leaders can argue that if courts make decisions against them, then the courts are wrong. It allows them to argue that if money is earned by foul means by someone in a leadership position, this is justifiable because of the past. It allows them to deny responsibility for all our ills – poor services, unemployment, inequality and poverty – because somebody else caused it.

We don’t need leaders who absolve themselves of responsibilities because of the failure of leaders of the past. We need leaders who articulate a vision of a future we can all believe in, desire, work for and fight for.

The former commanders and commissars of MK, in a recent statement, stated that:

Over the years we have witnessed, amongst other things, the rise of factions and slates, the diminishing quality of ANC cadreship, the rise of antagonisms within the Alliance, the breakaway of Unions from Cosatu, the break-up of the ANC Youth League, the marginalisation of committed ANC comrades, the rise of vulgar and unsophisticated politics within the ANC, the silencing of critical but necessary voices within the ANC, the wanton destabilisation of critical state institutions, the wasteful expenditure of state resources, the devaluing of the critical institution of Parliament, the erosion of trust within the various arms of the state, the unprecedented rise of patronage and cronyism, the juniorisation of the state and the ANC and most alarming of them all, the use of the state machinery for the private interest of the few.”

While this is true, it is not the fault of President Jacob Zuma. It started long before his incumbency. These tendencies have been on the ascendency in the ANC for more that a few years. But the reality is that he was elected to govern and he should have dealt with these tendencies. Instead, he has ignored them, possibly even encouraged them and he has definitely benefitted from them materially.

These leaders, who have pedigrees that is statures above the current incumbency of office in the leadership of the ANC, the SACP, Cosatu and Sanco, went on to say that:

In the light of the many challenges facing the ANC and the state we further call on the leadership of the ANC to urgently convene a special national conference to assess these challenges and chart a way forward to restore the prestige of our glorious movement and the state. The membership of the ANC and the country as a whole have entrusted them with this responsibility.”

This is the call we need to heed and respond to. We cannot allow a leadership who are at best cowards, and at worst compromised, to lead the national democratic revolution.

The apology of President Jacob Zuma is noted. Now we need the apology of the NEC of the ANC. Then, in an orderly fashion, they must all resign and allow us to go to a conference of the ANC and elect a leadership that loves this country, that defends its Constitution and that will, in the words of Kalushi Solomon Mahlangu, “nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom”. DM

Dr Phillip Dexter is a member of the ANC, an activist, a Marxist, a father and an entrepreneur.


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