The early days of 2018 will show the extent of compromise that was required to give us the outcomes of the ANC’s 54th National Conference. They will also be an important indication of what is to come.
The outcomes of the 54th National Conference of the African National Congress did not spell calamity; however, the outcomes pose a serious and ensuing threat to our democracy. South Africa is burdened with an ANC that must navigate the way forward with a split top six and a National Executive Committee after an elective process that has reaffirmed the prominence and the role of slate politics within the ANC (and our contemporary political environment).
In December last year, the ANC avoided electing the slate of Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, not because the vision and policies of Ramaphosa were better, but rather because deals were struck that in many ways embody the South African body politic. The compromised outcomes were not premised on great ideas, real solutions or meaningful policy, but rather on compromise, promises and a great deal of manoeuvring that was required in order to elect Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa with the help of David Dabede Mabuza and the Premier League.
The ANC may have avoided complete capture by the Premier League (and the private self-interest, corrupt and criminal capture that it embodies). However, South Africans should not get captured by the idea that the Buffalo alone can resolve all the ills that South Africa must confront in the coming months. We will have to guard ourselves carefully against buying in to the idea of a rebirth, a renewal or even the more dangerous idea that the election of one individual to the position of ANC President presents the solution to South Africa’s triple threat of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
We cannot afford to lose focus now. We must not stop the fight; we must intensify the work required to make South Africa a more humane, a fairer and a better version of itself, so that it can serve the millions of South Africans that continue to bear the brunt of poverty, inequality and unemployment. South Africa must not only wrestle with the legacy of the lost years of Jacob Zuma but also the yoke of corruption and capture that has been entrenched under his administration and patronage network. That work will be made harder by the entrenchment of people like Mabuza, Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule, Jessie Yasmin Duarte and the series of individuals that still sit on the ANC’s National Executive Committee, as well as other provincial and branch leaders across the country.
We have long known that our politics reflect a certain degree of elitism, callousness and expediency. We witnessed this during the years of HIV/Aids denialism of the Mbeki administration, the 2008 xenophobic attacks and again in the unfolding suffering and pain of the Marikana massacre. We should not be surprised that our democracy and its elected officials (from across the political spectrum) have caused immeasurable damage. Damage that cannot simply be erased by the rise of the Buffalo, damage that will not simply be resolved because of the election of a negotiated slate of officials to head up the ANC top six.
We must continue to fight. We must continue to speak out and guard our democracy from those that are elected in to office to serve, but then so easily forget to serve. We need to do a great deal more to shift our approach to the issues confronting millions of South Africans. However, it appears that South Africa’s body politic is unable to wrestle with this larger picture threatening the fabric of our society, as to do so would distract from the electioneering machinery that is being plotted and strategised before the 2019 national and provincial elections. In this vacuum, South Africans, as they have in the face of State Capture, must continue to provide leadership and guidance to ensure South Africa begins to serve the interests not simply of business, the chattering classes, or the middle class, but rather the people of South Africa. These are the voices that must be heard by the Ramaphosa-led ANC and by other political parties across the country.
As 2018 unfolds rapidly, it is not surprising that lists are circulating of a proposed South African Cabinet headed by Ramaphosa. In the weeks leading up to the 54th National Conference, senior leaders and campaigners of the Ramaphosa campaign were hard at work to secure and protect the outcome and so it is not surprising that many of those people feature in the ‘list’. However, before that, the ANC will have to do a great deal of soul searching as it confronts its own internal processes, in order to confront the question of the continuation of Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
This coming week, Ramaphosa and the newly elected ANC NEC will need to consider how to confront the immediate threat to its own survival that is so intertwined with the South African collective future. A threat that continues to destabilise South Africa and the ANC, and one that can still cause much damage to the country before the 2019 elections. A threat that has a toxic legacy that has caused much suffering and dwindling opportunities for so many South Africans.
These early days of 2018 will be important, as they will show the extent of compromise and dealing was required to give us the outcomes of the ANC’s 54th National Conference. It will be important sign of what is to come, but South Africans must not allow themselves to get lost in the allure of an era that is only defined by the fact that it does not include Jacob Zuma and the Guptas. We cannot set our sights so low, especially as South Africans themselves will need to reimagine our country – so that we can truly achieve the ideals of our constitutional democracy. DM
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Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.
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