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Our own ‘sovereign’ ANC is out of touch with its subjects

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Just as the British royal family had to reinvent itself to keep in touch with the times, so too does our own 'royal family', the ANC, need to realise that it is in need of soul-searching.

While enjoying the Netflix series The Crown, which deals with the trials and tribulations of the Windsor family over the years, I realised that we have our very own monarchy here in Mzansi – the ANC.

In the Netflix series, we are constantly reminded that “The Crown” takes precedence. The question that pops up all the time is, what kind of marriage is this? What kind of family?

King George VI, when speaking about his daughter Elizabeth, states: “Loving her, protecting her; she is the essence of your duty.”

The queen herself remarks that, “I am aware there are many who feel they can do a better job than me, strong people with powerful characters, but for some reason the Crown has landed on my head.”

And the Queen Mother concludes that, “I have seen three great monarchies fall because they put personal indulgences before duty. You must not allow yourself to fall prey to this.

“The Crown must win; must always win.”

Members of the ANC, like the courtiers around the Windsor family, agree with the sentiments above. The Crown takes precedence above all else; it is always about protecting the family. As for the sovereign, loving her and protecting her is the essence of your duty as a member of the ANC. They utterly believe this to be true. There are, of course, other opposition parties in our land, who feel they can do a better job than the ANC – strong people with powerful characters but for some reason the Crown has landed on the head of the ANC.

Many have fallen over the years because of personal indulgences (crass accumulation) instead of their duty to serve the people. And so, if the Crown must always win, then some reform is needed.

In steps Lord Altrincham, after the queen delivers a dreary speech at a Jaguar car factory, which many believed at the time was a clear indication of how out of touch the monarchy was with the ordinary people.

He penned a response suggesting reform was needed if the Crown were to remain relevant. He promptly received an invitation to Buckingham Palace to meet with one of the junior private secretaries to discuss his utterances. To his utter surprise, the queen herself stood before him.

The conversation went something like this:

Altrincham: “Your Majesty (head bowed), it’s not so much that the Crown (ANC) must change but an acknowledgement that IT has changed.

Queen: What?

Altrincham: Everything, and to prepare yourself for the fact, we now live in a time where people like me…

Queen: Can say exactly what they want.

Altrincham: Yes.

Queen: In any way they want?

Altrincham: Yes.

Queen: And remind me, why is that, exactly?

Altrincham: Because the age of deference is over.

Queen: And what is left without deference, anarchy?

Altrincham: Equality.   

Deference meaning “respect and esteem due a superior or an elder”, also “affected or ingratiating regard for another’s wishes” or “respect shown for another person especially because of that person’s experience, knowledge, age, or power”. Now the ANC can continue to pretend that they are different and hence a set of different rules apply to them and their members or they can admit that the age of deference is over.

Like most subjects, if you commit a crime, you must face the music for such. The fact that some leaders still think the rules don’t apply to them and hence they question the Crown and having to step aside, is hugely problematic.

Altrincham suggested to the queen that he had a list of three starts and three stops. To which the queen indifferently said, “Let’s start with the stops, shall we”.

I won’t presume to bore you with the detail of his suggestions, suffice to say, Altrincham’s article that preceded this meeting attacked the queen’s style of speaking as a “pain in the neck” and blamed those around her for the content of her speeches. He stated that, “The personality conveyed by the utterances which are put into her mouth is that of a priggish schoolgirl, captain of the hockey team, a prefect, and a recent candidate for confirmation”.

According to Altrincham, the queen’s court was too upper-class and British: It no longer reflected 20th century society and it damaged the monarchy. In a subsequent interview, when asked about his criticism of the queen, he said, “You have no choice but to criticise the boss. Only the boss can get rid of bad servants. She hires them and she alone can fire them. It’s her responsibility.”

So, in keeping with Altrincham’s bravado, let me then also suggest three starts and three stops for the ANC, our very own Crown, if indeed it wants to survive the 21st century:

  • Stop being a mass-based organisation (better few members, but better) – you clearly can no longer control the calibre of persons joining the organisation.
  • Stop the manual membership system: it’s open to abuse and manipulation, as we have seen on countless occasions.
  • Stop insisting on being a liberation movement and become a modern political party. Cadre deployment in the government and the state as a whole and democratic centralism are strategies of a bygone era and must come to an end.

As to what should start:

  • Significantly reduce the national executive committee; 86 members are too many. Remember, there was a time when the NEC consisted of only nine individuals.
  • Start an electronic voting system at all national elective conferences enshrined in the ANC constitution.
  • Start regular lifestyle audits for all persons in leadership positions in the ANC and the government.

So, if we are to believe that “the Crown must win, must always win”, then these simple suggestions must surely be adhered to. After all, though the Windsor family never formally acknowledged Altrincham’s intervention, they did implement almost all of them in time. And till this very day, Queen Elizabeth reigns. Will you, mighty ANC?

Your Majesty (head bowed)! DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stephen Davies says:

    “For some reason the crown has landed on her/their head”. Well, in the case of Queen Elizabeth the reason is pretty arbitrary. But fairs, fair: the crown fell on the head of the ANC because that’s what the majority of South Africans who voted, wanted.

    • Dick Binge Binge says:

      Steve, it’s called blind loyalty and not necessarily what they want. Our democracy has yet to mature. Is democracy an elaborate con?
      With a firm base of die hard voters it is important to note that you only need to work on the people who will swing their vote. This works in an evenly matched party system with few parties. However while we have the kind of political climate we have the diehard voters will always win the day. Is this the real reason why the ANC finds it so important to hold its ranks?

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