We stand at a another turning point or a crossroads in our country. In fact, this seems to happen every other week. Everything from “Zuma Must Go”, to the rise of the EFF, the proclaimed demise of Cosatu, to the presumed rise of the Workers Summit, the increase of overt racism, to the “Rhodes Must Fall”, point to a fractured, divided and directionless polity.
This is because the 1994 political, economic and social compact that was codified in our Constitution in 1996 has clearly run its course. The failure to transform the economy and the seeming inability of those in political office to address poverty, inequality and unemployment are a testament to this fact. This is not a failure, or the fault of any one political party. It’s a national failure. A failure of vision, of leadership and of responsibility. In some perverse way, it’s a coming of age.
We, as a country, have to now grow up; having been suckled and protected by the political class of revolutionary democrats that led the fight against apartheid and defeated it, we are soon to be on our own, as so many of them have passed on.
They, rightly so, solved the democratic challenge, but they did not solve the issues of land, property, and wealth and the lack thereof. The democratic breakthrough of 1994 kicked the issue of the economy into touch. With it went social justice. But the ball is back in play and the side that does not pick it up will lose.
This impasse or crisis in the National Democratic Revolution, depending on one’s view, is the real, underlying cause of our national woes. Corruption, Nkandla, the Spy Tapes, rising racism and the stagnant economy that perpetuates and reproduces unemployment, poverty and inequality, are symptoms, not causes. These issues point to the need to have a discussion about the current state we are in.
Neither the DA nor the EFF can lead such a discussion. The DA is essentially a neoconservative party, cloaked in the guise of some vague commitment to a liberalism of sorts, paternalistic at best and institutionally racist at worst. The EFF is a populist party, cloaked in the guise of a socialist one. Just as with previous breakaways from the ANC, such as COPE and the PAC, every ill the EFF cites of the liberation movement, it suffers from itself. The United Front is a loose coalition of socialists, issue-based campaigners and anarchists with a committed but small and relatively ineffectual base.
But what does that make the current ANC, SACP and Cosatu-led Alliance? It seems to be a movement that has truly lost its way. While it has a radical vision, has delivered democracy, a truly radical Constitution, ensured the delivery of basic services, social welfare and the beginnings of transformation, the weaknesses and failures of the current ANC leadership are undermining these gains and its proud track record. The current leaders of the ANC and its allies no longer lead society by mobilising the broadest range of forces. They lead by bombastic claims to legitimacy. The movement is no longer directed by the revolutionary national democrats and democratic socialists in the organisation, but by a small, acquisitive elite, with their material interests as the priority and patronage as the method of maintaining power in the organisation.
This leadership has made the programme of the movement, the National Democratic Revolution, literally grind to a halt. It has made the interests of the nation secondary to the interests of a few individuals and families, some of whom are not even South African. Xenophobia is unacceptable, but subordinating the national interest to foreign interests is usually called treason.
The balance of leaders, who hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, have their heads buried in the sand. They think that by deciding on postage stamps, cutting ribbons at 12 new houses, or by holding a prayer meeting, the world will change. It’s a shame, actually. Class formation has captured the leadership of the ANC and those who have not aligned themselves with the programme of the new elite simply sit quietly. The silence of the lambs.
There seem to be four responses to this situation in our organisation. One is to hark back nostalgically to the ANC of the past and try to wish it back into existence. As one sage political activist said, in the middle of the road crossing from the parliamentary precinct to a luxury hotel, “Comrades, that ANC you keep talking about, of Oliver Tambo, of Chris Hani, of Dora Tamana, face it! It’s gone! Its never coming back!” The politics of reminiscence.
The second response is to think that a process of reform of the movement can happen gradually, slowly educating cadres to become principled revolutionaries and relying on a kind of magic that will ensure that the values and principles that are written in the historical documents of our organisation will somehow enter these cadres by a process of osmosis. This in the current milieu of the sick, twisted, warped and perverse capitalism that is the product of colonialism and apartheid, and super-charged by globalisation. This is politics as ritual, a kind of magic, or muti.
The third response is to actually ignore the reality we are in and to blame all the ills we face on the opposition, on enemy agents, on anything and everything from pixies to the Illuminati! The “run-and-hide-from-reality” approach to politics.
The fourth view is to recognise the challenges we face as being part of the success of the NDR. This is about owning the changes we have brought about, in terms of race, class, gender, differently-abled people, youth and the elderly. It is a position that accepts that it is right that we have black millionaires, but wrong that we still have poverty. It accepts that it is right that we have universal social grants, but wrong that so many are still reliant on them. It accepts that while we have built many houses, these are not of the size and quality we want our people to live in. It is also a position that is uncompromising about corruption, nepotism, a poor work ethic and a two-tier society, with one world for the rich and another for the poor. It is a position that understands that this success, a success of the ANC, has created new challenges and that we need to grasp the fact that this means that we in the ANC have to radically change the way we organise, mobilise, debate, discuss, contest ideas, elections and practise governance.
The revolutionary approach to politics. We cannot leave revolution to the EFF, the UF or the DA. This is an ANC-led revolution. It must therefore lead it. To do so, it must be the first to proclaim that there are no holy cows. Even the ANC itself cannot be a holy cow.
Significantly, its not the Constitution that is the problem, even if there are crucial amendments to it that are required. The Constitution remains a radical, progressive and visionary document. The reality of our situation is that the poverty, inequality, unemployment, patriarchy, economic stagnation, poor governance, poor leadership, and many other negative features of our society, are a result of the failure to achieve the realisation of the society envisioned in the Constitution.
It is the timidity of leaders that is the problem here. For instance, nowhere in the Constitution does it prohibit nationalisation, land reform, a basic income grant, aggressive redistribution of wealth or compensation for the effects of apartheid itself, if those are what are required to transform our society in socio-economic terms. Those who say that we could never have achieved socio-economic transformation in 22 years are correct. But the achievements we have made, while these are definitely an improvement on the apartheid past, are simply not good enough. More, far-reaching progress could have been made.
Countries such as China and Brazil have shown this. So have Singapore, Korea and Taiwan. Each of us may have different views about why this is so. Those who never supported the ANC will blame it. Those who have lost power to others in the ANC will blame the current leadership. Those in power now will blame the former regime and even, bizarrely, “enemy agents”.
This blame game is really only relevant in an academic way. The key issue is, we are all responsible. We have had 26 years to change peoples lives in a substantial way and we have squandered the time. The former NP dragged the negotiations process out and encumbered us with a system of provincial government and protections for the ill-gotten gains of colonialism and apartheid that is costly, ineffective and is simply a further obstacle for taking government closer to the people. The ANC in government adopted policies that stifled growth and led to the exacerbation of the infrastructure backlog apartheid bequeathed us.
The current conservative opposition are now intent on ousting the ANC from power and will replace it with a neoconservative one that will further impoverish people and retard development and socio-economic justice. If the populists win, we will spiral down into a state of chaos, as the demands they are making will lead to increased social conflict.
The question we must ask is, what do we have to do to move beyond this crisis and restore hope and movement towards the society defined in our Constitution? Equally important is the manner in which we do this. The programme to achieve this vision must be radical, but also democratic, inclusive and responsible. As important is who leads us in this effort. We must identify, promote and support a calibre of leaders who don’t steal public money, who don’t lie to their people, who stand up for the poor, the weak, the exploited, and who fight for political, economic and social justice in a principled manner. The ANC must lead this national dialogue.
Instead, members of the ANC are currently being whipped into line by a leadership that is too caught up in trying to cover up for its own indiscretions, and to protect its continued incumbency, to see the damage being done. Even worse is the possibility that they may not even care about this damage. This they do, while sitting on the top of the pyramid, when the system has manifestly failed to allow the country to move forward.
There are three challenges the ANC leadership is failing to address that must be dealt with if we are to move beyond this current situation:
Some ideas for discussion
What are the game-changers that would ensure our country moved forward out of this quagmire? Among these are;
Organisational Reforms the ANC and its allies need to make
Race, class, gender, differently-abled people and youth
A To-do List
While we have your attention...
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