It’s becoming clearer, almost by the day, that the governing alliance and all its tentacles live in a parallel universe, and perform public service duties as if they’re doing everyone a favour. Worse still, the ANC-led alliance is hostage to its own beliefs and identity as a liberation movement that makes it appear more like a stubborn and demanding adolescent than a grown-up with adult responsibilities.
In any other democracy run by responsible adults – and not by performative liberators, who once they attained their liberation goals did not know what to do with themselves – the governing party would, by now, have severed ties with people such as Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule and any number of “comrades” who add absolutely no value to society.
Recently, there appeared on social media a photograph of politicians “celebrating” the installation of a tap with running water. Unless you’re in the Atacama Desert, installation of a single tap of running water in a middle-income country, a democracy, that has a sophisticated political economy, is not something to celebrate. It’s embarrassing. But, if that’s what gets you off, then you should probably start reading top-shelf magazines.
It is not just the dogma and delusion that has us where we are today, it’s the inertia, sense of entitlement and people who are not fit for purpose. They are tied to ideological beliefs that belong on a different planet (if its inhabitants would deign to accommodate them). The problem with the type of loyalty to particular ideas that have been extended universally and presented as eternally valid, is precisely what is wrong with ideologues who are quite unable to revise their theories when the evidence before them does not support said theories.
If the evidence does not fit the theory – dump the theory
Fully aware that one should not generalise from personal experience, I will risk any shade thrown my way for what I’m about to put down. I became disengaged from my personal ideological beliefs a long time ago; longer than I can remember. This disengagement was not part of the “end of ideology” and other “endisms” that emerged after the end of the Cold War. I still believe in the same things – social justice, equality, pacifism etc – but my drift from ideologically inspired rigidities was partially inspired by the perception that my fellow travellers seem to view the world in a very outdated way.
They spend more time discussing what the founders and successors of ideological beliefs said or wrote 150 years ago, with scant concern for the blind faith they display – as opposed to observable conditions or states of affairs. I am not terribly obsessive about empiricism; there are structural, historical and social forces, causal mechanisms and tendencies that can’t be observed through the senses that have, and may well continue to change the world.
The limits of my empiricism are shaped by philosophy, but also by science; we know, for example, that gravity exists, but we can’t see it. While we’re discussing changing ideas, it’s worth mentioning that our understanding of gravity changed significantly from Newton’s “simple” example, to Einstein’s more complex conception of general relativity. Anyway, let me reel that in, before we end up pretending that the social sciences are the same as natural sciences – and that economics is, as Larry Summers would tell us, “a science, like physics”.
Some ossified ideologues – including my fellow travellers – would quote extensively from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and all that utility maximisation jibber-jabber, but conveniently ignore his statements on moral accountability, sympathy or empathy, virtue, justice, and beneficence – as expressed in Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Others prostrate themselves to Karl Marx, but ignore Friedrich Engels’ observation (at Marx’s grave) that it’s really stupid to think that the ideas you hold at any given time remain valid for eternity.
Anyway, what I guess I am trying to say, in a long-winded way, is that the ANC ought to look at itself carefully, adapt itself to the realities of the world in the early 21st century, act like a democratically elected government, and treat the publicae with decency and respect. Let me try an analogy.
Soon after I left the World Bank in 2001 to return to graduate school, I had an idea for a book. I thought about calculating the value that the very presence of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) brought to small (and big) business in the greater Washington, DC, area. Imagine how much money the two institutions spent in the capital of the world’s wealthiest country? What prevented them from relocating to, say, Cape Town, or Lagos, or Tunis, or Nairobi. Now let’s test the analogy. It would place them closer to their main constituency. That’s when I realised that so many people work for the World Bank for the money (and have admitted as much), and less so for its policies…
Now consider, how much time and money the ANC has spent (wasted) on preserving its presence and power in government. How much time and money have they wasted on the performativity of their annual rituals; their birthday celebrations, elaborate lekgotlas, opening of Parliament, State of the Nation Address, the Budget speech; their range of expensive luxury automobiles; keeping tenderpreneurs, and corpulent cadres drooling over feasts that would make Mr Creosote look like a starving child from the Dust Bowl?
The point is, that all that money spent was on the ANC, and its followers, friends and membership. Testing the analogy a bit further. Imagine if the Word Bank spread its wealth a bit further from Greater Washington, DC. (I don’t think the analogy works, but… ) I get the sense that should the ANC abandon its liberation movement identity, they would have to behave like a political party, and we would have none of this entitlement – which Jessie Duarte so sweetly summed up, when she told a journalist “you want to defend freedom of speech [which] you never fought for”. Hauw! Was the liberation fight only about the ANC, or was it to get rid of injustice, racism and to establish democracy and greater justice for all? I guess not.
Should the ANC behave like a grown-up, and have the courage to become a political party, it may have an obligation to rid the party of very many “comrades who fought in the trenches”. As if having fought in the trenches comes with a stay out of jail card. But for now, we wait. Magashule is still in office. Zuma is still on the National Executive Committee, the MK Veterans’ Association still looks like a cringeworthy replicant of a GI Joe action figure.
In the meantime, that pile of orange overalls is gathering mould in a corner of a textile factory somewhere.
There’s a statement often attributed to an American officer during the US war against the Vietnamese people (I seem to recall a similar sentiment by Mark Twain, but can’t be sure). It may be apocryphal, but the statement (about the US in Vietnam) is: “To save the village, we had to destroy it.”
I would suggest that for the ANC to save itself (and South Africa, for that matter), the ANC might have to destroy itself. DM