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Why the ANC cannot return to its Glory Days – despite Ramaphosa’s claims


Ian von Memerty is a Zimbabwean-born South African entertainer, actor, singer, musician, writer, director and television presenter.

Six reasons why the Top Six in the ANC are fighting a Sisyphean battle.

Sometimes the headline says it all, plastered all over our streets – “Ramaphosa – ANC will return to its Glory Days”. It was of course what a party in decline needed to hear. But in that simple statement lie many of the huge problems that Cyril Ramaphosa now has to tackle as party leader.

1 Looking Backwards

It is a universal truth that it is impossible to return to anything, anywhere. Circumstances change, innovations revolutionise, and society moves relentlessly forward. The fact that Ramaphosa said ‘return’ is indicative of one of the reasons the ANC is stuck. They are trying to prepare for the future by moving backwards. The road ahead cannot be charted whilst looking over your shoulder.

2 Leadership

In the Glory Days of the ANC, it was led by people of political principle, governmental efficiency, vision and moral integrity. Where in the current NEC do you find anyone who matches the giants of effective and emotive government like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Trevor Manuel, and Ahmed Kathrada?

Undoubtedly Ramaphosa was the best choice for the party and the country – in terms of experience and policy; but he comes with a lot of his own political baggage. From Marikana to his silent endorsement of Zuma’s kleptocracy he has proved to be incapable of taking charge and making bold and patriotic moves.

Imagine yourself as a (former) ANC voter, poor or unemployed, trapped in an economic apartheid, and compare Madiba’s iconic status of sacrifice, moral authority, accessibility and discipline, and contrast that with Cyril’s image as an aristocratic, whisky drinking, buffalo-purchasing billionaire.

3 Unity of Vision

The ANC is a rigidly structured environment, and what the NEC says is what the party does. Aside from the rumour that the Mpumalanga faction voted for David Mabuza’s promotion simply to get him out of their province, Jessie Duarte’s increasingly aggressive, and suspiciously pro-Gupta voice mean that there is no clear 20-20 vision (very handy pun there).

And then there are Ace Magashule and Paul Mashatile, both of whom have done such damage to their party in their respective provinces. Mashatile was head of the Gauteng ANC and governed in such a way that Joburg and Tshwane are now lost to the party. Magashule comes to the table with his own shower head raining down allegations of corruption and pending legal cases.

4 Cleansing or Amputation?

We must rid ourselves of corruption, lack of accountability, and poor governance.” We have heard this over and over from both the old NEC and the new one. But how do they do that? They will have to cleanse themselves of the worst parasites now entrenched in both the yin and yang of the party.

All those beta males like Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula, Shaun Abrahams, Tom Moyane etc who are obviously drowning in the very muddied waters into which they were thrown. How can the party remove them and where do they go?

Then there are the ladies who lunch. Baleka Mbete, Bathabile Dlamini, Lynne Brown, Angie Motshekga, Faith Mutambi, Nomvula Mokonyane, Lindiwe Zulu et al. These luxury-addicted politicians are not going to willingly leave the bountiful banquet which has left them drunk with power.

If these corrupted cadres won’t leave – how does the ANC eject them? Where do they go? And more important – who do they take with them when they go?

Never mind the legal hydra that lies in wait for the Zuptas. When, how and where will JZ go? Will he go quietly? Quietly into court? Quietly into the sunset? Quietly to Nkandla or Dubai? And worst-case scenario, into jail or into the politically dangerous arms of a presidential pardon?


In 1994 the ANC won every province and metro. Since then they have proven that once the ANC loses power, it NEVER recovers. From Midvaal in 2001, to Cape Town in 2006, to the Western Cape in 2009 once they lost power they were unable to regroup, recover and regrow.

Their share of the vote steadily shrinks, and they become ever more fractured and factionalised. How then do they hope to undo the political damage of losing Joburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay? To achieve that they must be prepared to undergo a transformation that is unlike anything they have undergone in their 106-year history. It will require a political bone marrow transplant – including a donor, chemotherapy and radiation.

6 Legless

If the period before the Elective Conference proved anything it was the weakness and chaos that afflicts the grassroots of the ANC. In its Glory Days, aside from strong leadership, the greatest strength of the party was the vast, efficient and interactive system they developed during the liberation struggle and that connected them to the new electorate.

Now they are a like a centipede whose legs become more crippled and are unable to work as a cohesive unit. Those multiple legs, once healthy and connected to the party, all moving in the same direction, are now damaged, weak or have withered away – and each leg marches to its own rhythm on its own road. And the body of the party is twisted and buckled as these legs either collapse or move away from each other.

And those are just six reasons why the headlines will soon read “ANC Glory Days – what happened?” The Glory Days will not return – they will steadily recede as the ANC finds itself unfocused on the future, and unable to restructure itself in the reality of its many afflictions. DM


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