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South Africa has to move away from the liberation mode of politics


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

There needs to be a realignment within the ANC to break the paralysis that has manifested from the ‘broad church’ composition of its liberation era. The realignment should extend beyond the ANC where party politics is organised along ideological lines.

India won its independence in 1947. Ghana won its independence in 1957. Algeria followed in 1962. Freedom came later to the settler colonies in southern Africa. Mozambique won its end to colonial rule in 1975 and in Zimbabwe, independence finally came in 1980.

South Africa was an outlier, finally winning an end to apartheid in 1994. In countries like India, Ghana and Algeria, the political movements that led the struggle for independence lost their sheen, and their hold on state power, many years ago.

But in southern Africa, where independence came later, ZanuPF still rules Zimbabwe, Frelimo still rules Mozambique and the MPLA still rules Angola. In all these countries, the ruling party continues to be perceived as the movement that led the fight for freedom, and some people continue to view other parties with deep suspicion. This means that in these countries, the ruling parties’ claim to represent the people rests on a claim about history, a claim that is sometimes given more weight than (sometimes rigged), elections, and their pitiful performance in government.

In South Africa, we are in a similar situation. It would seem that the ANC has failed, sometimes spectacularly, to run an effective state and inequality, as well as poverty, are both getting worse. Crime is at devastating levels and state schools, and hospitals are often a disaster. The kleptocratic element in the party does not even try to hide its predatory relation to society. It assumes that the association between the ANC and the struggle for freedom is so deep that people will continue to vote for the ANC despite the massacre at Marikana, rampant looting and the collapse of much of the state.

When the moral crisis in the ANC reached its apogee during Jacob Zuma’s disastrous rule, there was no credible alternative for the electorate to turn to. The solution to the moral crisis in the ANC was perceived to be a return to what were held up as the “true” and “original” values of the ANC.

Today, the ANC is locked into paralysis – a paralysis that is rapidly dragging the economy and country down. It is true that part of that paralysis is due to the fact that Cyril Ramaphosa is a weak leader, a leader who will probably go down in history as a failed president.

But that is not the whole story. The paralysis in the ANC is also due, to a large extent, to the fact that the party continues to be a “broad church”, including authoritarian nationalists committed to kleptocracy, neoliberals like Tito Mboweni and the remains of the party’s left huddled together in the South African Communist Party (SACP), and Cosatu.

Ramaphosa’s own inclinations are neoliberal, but he can’t continue to rule without the left, or the kleptocrats with the result that there is a permanent political stalemate, accompanied by permanent policy paralysis. This logjam will not be broken by furious opinion pieces, or the media turning, as it has, against Ramaphosa.

The only way to break the stalemate is to realign our politics in a way that moves it away from the national liberation mode and organises party politics along ideological lines. There should be three main parties contesting elections.

On the right, there should be a neoliberal party. This should be the natural home of ANC figures like Mboweni and Ramaphosa, along with people like Herman Mashaba and Mmusi Maimane, and those DA members and voters who reject the party’s dramatic turn to the right following its capture by the Institute for Race Relations.

As much as we may loathe the kleptocrats, and their authoritarian nationalism, which sometimes leans towards fascism in certain cases, it makes no sense for one faction of the kleptocrats to be located in the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and the other to be located in the ANC. The faction of the ANC that used to be led by Zuma, and which is now led by Ace Magashule, should join the EFF.

The left in the ANC needs to make common cause with the left outside of the ruling party. This means that the left that remains in Cosatu and the SACP, needs to link up with the left in Saftu, and Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement. A united left would easily be able to draw in progressive intellectuals located in universities and NGOs.

Of course, not all voters and politicians would be comfortable in this arrangement. There would continue to be some smaller and largely irrelevant parties. The DA’s right-wing politicians and voters should make common cause with the Vryheidsfront Plus. But there is no prospect of such an alliance doing anything other than shrieking from the margins of society.

If we had a neoliberal party, a left party and a party of kleptocrats, voters would have a clear set of choices, and parties could act decisively along clear ideological lines. Of course, it is true that given our proportional representation system we would be governed by coalitions, which raises all kinds of problems of its own. But, at least each party could pursue its objectives in a straightforward way.

If this realignment does not happen, the ANC will continue to rule while simultaneously continuing to be unable to rule effectively. We will remain in a state of paralysis, while our economy declines, the middle classes flee and the suffering of the poor worsens.

But while the logic of a need for realignment cannot be denied, the personal interests of politicians sitting in Parliament, and accessing tenders, means that very few in the ruling party will be willing to forsake their access to privilege and power in the interests of the long-term future of the country.

But no party rules forever. We can only hope that our crisis resulting from our former national liberation movement becoming a ruling party does not plummet to the depths suffered in Zimbabwe before the national liberation mode of politics collapses and there can be a political realignment of party politics on a rational basis.

In the meantime, it is vital that we all acknowledge that our current set of political parties are simply not fit for purpose. DM


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