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The state of the National Democratic Revolution: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride


Dr Phillip Dexter is the Chief Operating Officer of NIH. He writes in his personal capacity.

What is lacking in our country is a common vision to unite us, a programme to mobilise us towards that vision and a cadre to lead us in this effort. For the incoming ANC leadership, there are some key decisions that need to be made to ensure that hope in the future is restored, that democracy is consolidated, that the criminal parallel state is neutralised and that we are not hammered into being an economic basket case.

As we approach the ANC’s 54th National Conference, the dust is slowly settling. Barring any cheating, gerrymandering and the like, it is clear who is emerging as the preferred presidential candidate and the collective leadership around him to take the organisation forward.

The incoming NEC will have to tackle the profound moral, political, financial, policy and organisational crisis that the liberation movement and the country faces. The reasons for this crisis are a toxic cocktail of the legacies of colonialism, slavery and apartheid, the continuing reproduction of a rapacious kind of capitalism that was produced through the history of the country and the practice of poor leadership, a bad organisational culture and shoddy governance of and by the ANC itself. Not that the opposition is any better. There is an increasing resistance to the dreadful reality of poverty, inequality, unemployment, disease, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny and violence experienced by the majority of citizens.

These are all legacy issues, but as they live on, we are clearly in denial about the neo-colonial character of our present reality. If we are to build a national democratic state and society, we need to confront this reality. What is lacking in our country is a common vision to unite us, a programme to mobilise us towards that vision and a cadre to lead us in this effort. For the incoming ANC leadership, there are some key decisions that need to be made to ensure that hope in the future is restored, that democracy is consolidated, that the criminal parallel state is neutralised and that we are not hammered into being an economic basket case. For those of us who want to build socialism, there is no other route to that objective than defeating the worst there is in society and overcoming the challenges of our current reality.

Any sober observer of events in the ANC in recent weeks can see that change is in the air. There is a momentum and an air around the drive to have Cyril Ramaphosa elected as president of the ANC that is fuelled by the sense of impending victory. Whatever the outcome of the national conference, the incoming leadership will have a challenge of mega proportions. It will have to unite, renew, reposition and modernize the liberation movement. This, at the same time as having to govern and especially trying to keep the country from falling into the long-drop of junk status. The moral standing of the ANC has been eroded by the culture and practices of leaders who have paid little heed to almost every constituency in the country, from workers and the unemployed, to the middle class, business, religious leaders and even to veterans of the movement itself. They have all been dismissed with a flippancy and a callousness that beggar’s belief. In the year of Oliver Tambo, he and the rest of our heroes and heroines of the revolution must be turning in their graves. While State Capture is nothing new – Rhodes did it, as did Oppenheimer, Rupert and many others – we never expected this from any ANC leaders.

Our rude awakening, the loss of our political innocence, has been confirmed as we have watched the parliamentary hearings on Eskom, read the Gupta email leaks, Jacques Pauw, Khulu Mbatha, Ronnie Kasrils and Hennie van Vuuren. So many of us – in business, the trade unions, government, in other civil society formations and in the movement generally – feel betrayed now. Some pretend as if they did not know about this system. The masses have been protesting about poor service delivery, against crime, corruption, gate-keeping and other aberrations of our deformed democracy for some time. As always, the political leaders are now following the people. As those in power have played Russian Roulette with the people, the liberation movement has splintered from the ANC, SACP and Cosatu into these plus the UDM, COPE, EFF and SAFTU. It appears there are more splits to come. Whatever one’s views on these occurrences and tendencies, the data speaks for itself. Poverty, inequality and unemployment are up. The rand is down. Racism, sexism, xenophobia and violence are persistent. The political economy of the past, colonialism, slavery, apartheid and capitalism, live on in the present in the master-servant relationships, the low wages, the racism and sexism and the ownership of wealth.

This perverse, resilient reality is so in spite of our relatively stable democracy, the delivery of basic services to so many and our progressive constitution. Our revolutionary theory tells us that it would be so. We correctly characterised the past system as a Colonialism of a Special Type. Why have we not acknowledged that without transforming the system itself – the state, the economy, the property and wealth ownership patterns and the social relations based on these – we would essentially be a neo-colonialism of a special type? Even if such an analysis is too harsh, we must acknowledge that we display many of the features of a neo-colonial society. Those in power protect the property of the wealthy and impose a private tax that they collect on this elite and on the ordinary citizens. This, while nothing changes in any fundamental way for the vast majority.

The vision for our country that was articulated in the Freedom Charter, taken into our constitution and is now that which informs our democracy is still valid but it is not shared by all. The opposition parties and their supporters range from those who copy the ANC to those who basically want to preserve the colonial character of society, with a superficial non-racial reform. The behaviour and practices of the leadership of the liberation movement, the silence of honest cadres in spite of the overwhelming evidence of their comrades aberrant behaviour and the acquiescence of the emerging petite-bourgeoisie, just to get a piece of the crust of the pie, has meant that even the limited objective of building a national democratic state and society has been jeopardized. Lamenting will get us nowhere. It is what it is.

What we need to do now is to ensure that this ANC conference is not about “swings and roundabouts”, where we change leaders but not the culture and essential character of the ANC as it is today. We must rid ourselves of those who lie, cheat, steal and sell out. This is not because lying, cheating and stealing did not happen before. Colonialism, slavery, apartheid and the capitalist system were all built on these reactionary values. We must also acknowledge the weaknesses in the political system that allows leaders to wiggle through the cracks when they are called to account. We must change this system because we are supposed to be different. We are supposed to be revolutionary democrats, liberation fighters, visionaries and the heralds of the end of these corrupt, backward tendencies and characteristics.

We must also avoid the temptation of offering “bread and circuses”, where we amuse the masses by using media to expose those who have committed all these crimes and excesses, without doing anything about it. There must be consequences for these corrupt actions and behaviour. Frankly put, some people need to go to jail. All need to give up their ill-gotten gains. Having political processes – commissions of enquiry, hearings – and exposes in the media are pointless exercises when those the honest are pitted against don’t give a hoot about what people think and say. They are comfortable in their lying, thieving, double-crossing skins. It is only by making such people pay that we will rid ourselves of this psychosis.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”, says an old English rhyme. In our case, this is apt, for it talks to the difference between wishing and doing. We have had the Freedom Charter, Ready to Govern, the RDP, not to mention GEAR and now we are being offered a new deal. These past proposals have all promised to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. Yet the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. The shacks increase in number and the army of the unemployed grows. While it is true that capitalism will never solve all of these problems a different relationship between government, business, labour and other civil society formations could reform our current reality and significantly improve the lot of the majority. We must give content and power to this new deal, to ensure that it is not another slipknot, but a tie that binds all. Socialism is the answer to fundamentally change the world and with it, our society. Yet it is a long way off. We must avoid the temptation of the opiate of millenarianism, where we predict the end of the world as we know it, but do nothing to change it today. Let’s focus on developing the vision we have in the Freedom Charter to unite us all, develop a practical program to mobilise us towards that vision and develop a cadre to lead us in this effort. DM

Dr Phillip Dexter is a member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity


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