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Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana’s latest book, Anatomy of the ANC in Power, provides a reading into the local government elections

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Mfuneko Toyana is an associate editor at Business Maverick.

Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana’s latest book, Anatomy of the ANC in Power, was my coronavirus read. I read slowly by nature, although sometimes by design, the longue durée of the on-off, on-off seesaw of coronavirus lockdowns has made finishing a book a little bit harder. 

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

It has been easy enough starting a book – I ran out of bookmarks long before the global shipping crunch caused by the Suez Canal blockage began to cause shortages of everyday goods. 

Till slips, napkins, the contraindication sleeves written in -5 size font; this debris of print litters the opening chapters of tangled, half-consumed narratives, squeezing in from all sides. 

Some researchers, one at least from the University of the Witwatersrand, have already suggested that irreparable damage has possibly been done to our neurotransmitters owing to Covid-19 and confinement; and in the wake of the fire in Cape Town that started on Devil’s Peak and snaked its way into the Jagger Reading Room, a library on the University of Cape Town campus housing thousands of rare African manuscripts. 

One side effect to reading, in addition to the epidemic of doom-scrolling on social media for the next Covid-19 update or scandal, is that we have started to fantasise about absent books and missing narratives. 

Books that we imagine should have been written but have not. Stories, real or fictional, or both at once, about ourselves that we dream have been put on paper and given life.

The delayed publication of the final State Capture report is starting to feel like one of those absent books, longed for, already read. We know much of what it will reveal, but the ritual of its publication is essential for us to process its content and what it means for our next steps as a country. 

My theory is that these functional hallucinations are partially an aftereffect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the stories that were buried when a necessary point of closure was drawn under our painful history.

“There is a lot to be said about flying as dreaming. Or dreaming as reading. And reading as crossing distances. A navigational act, flying requires us to confront altitude. To leave behind something or someone of value,” says the Wits researcher. 

Books were part of the oddbin of items early in the lockdown mysteriously declared nonessential items, making them unattainable and therefore all the more desirable. Books, however, were also laden with guilt, an urgent luxury amid a crisis. 

To my surprise, Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana’s latest book, Anatomy of the ANC in Power, was a brisk and breezy read, despite the solemn material. 

It tells a grim tale, brimming with documentary accounts of the ruling party’s foibles and the Faustian intrigues in the Eastern Cape. It reads like a screenplay, with real-life cliffhangers that stretch far beyond the book – the next episode being the local government elections due on 1 November. 

The book tells the tale of the ANC’s electoral decline in Port Elizabeth between 1990 and 2019, with fly-on-the-wall detail, if that fly was sporting a Zeiss-lens monocle. 

Carefully researched and crisply crafted, we are told how the ANC squandered the hard-earned trust and support of the Eastern Cape electorate by allowing the spoils of incumbency to over-ride the liberation party’s organising principle of collaborative forms of politics. 

Slowly but surely the ANC in PE jettisoned its ties with grassroots and civic organisations, alienating home-grown leaders in favour of comrades with struggle credentials or those who had spent time on Robben Island. 

Ndletyana, however, reminds us that this is not a unique situation, but rather the rule in most modern, post-colonial democracies. 

 “The ANC’s decline in the metro is typical of dominant parties. The party’s heroic history was the source of its initial dominance and subsequent decline,” writes Ndletyana.

Ndletyana’s book picks up a once-familiar narrative that has faded from our discourse, that most if not all dominant liberation parties inevitably become distanced from the grassroots that lifted it to popular power. 

That for liberation parties to function better as governing parties, they must be counterbalanced by civic groups and voters. The people must remind those in power what they stood for before they took office.

Most of us will half-read the manifestos political parties have published in recent days, with the sinking feeling that we have read it all before. 

Amid the familiar list of promises and pledges, we might be well served to also look out for the missing narratives, the silences screaming out for our voices. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • Thank you. The first ten paragraphs and last two say more about you and less about the book. You have given little incentive to read it, even if a surprisingly “brisk and breezy read, despite the solemn material”. I’d still like to read a review of it if you’d care to write one.

  • This must be one of those super-thin books, on the shelves alongside Italian war heroes, English cuisine and ANC military victories.