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Is the ANC a hegemon in decline? The tea leaves say that like Phoenix, it could rise from its current ashes


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.

With all its flaws and self-righteousness, the ANC manages the race question in SA better than any other political party in the country. Only the ANC can handle the National Question and mobilise the black majority and protect the interests of the white minority. The state of opposition parties in our beloved country should tell us as much.

It has been a rather difficult last few years for the ruling party, the ANC, hasn’t it? The early 1990s was the euphoria of the negotiations and entering into our democratic era. The Mandela years were an adjustment at first, with a cash-strapped government thanks to the Nats, an HIV pandemic and a race project that needed his full attention. Reconciliation and the signing of the constitution cemented our young democracy but the inequality, unemployment and poverty remained stark.

Then came the Mbeki era, the real reconstruction of South Africa began, difficult choices had to be made, hence Gear (Growth, employment and redistribution) and tossing the RDP policy. The result was seven unbroken years of growth of the economy not seen since the heydays of the 1970s. This also meant that we could build up our foreign cash reserves to a respectable level. The most extensive social welfare system with 18 million recipients was rolled out, a massive feat for our citizens, in particular our aged and the children. There were of course also challenges, such as the ANC’s handling of the HIV pandemic and not investing in energy infrastructure for the future. The result of the former is one of the most expansive antiretroviral rollout campaigns in the world, and the latter once we had sufficient cash, investing into an energy build programme, including alternative energy sources. Who would’ve thought that?

Then came the Zuma years, the first five years were pretty decent. We hosted the very successful Soccer World Cup and invested billions in an infrastructure build programme, the likes of which had not seen for a long while, but unfortunately, it was preceded by the worst financial crisis of the modern era in 2009. We lost a million jobs as a result and global trade tanked which negatively affected our imports and exports. This together with the creeping up of the corruption phenomenon from before the democratic era already sealed our fate, it seems.

No surprises here, after all, it’s what everyone expected from these blacks. It’s inevitable that they would fall prey to corrupt practices and malfeasance, what did you expect? And to top it all off, the manner in which the ANC handled this was nothing short of pathetic.

Now, with the Ramaphosa period upon us, we have seen some good decisions in the right direction, albeit slowly. Whether it be their own kin having to step aside and relinquish their leadership positions in the party and in government, or whether it be the restructuring of the SOEs’ governance structures. Contrary to popular wrong perceptions, much has been done to curtail corrupt practices these last few years. Sars and the NPA are back on track, there have been numerous arrests at provincial and local government levels, and pending court cases galore.

Then there was the dismal performance in the last local government elections. All this, according to many, means the final days of the governing party. They won’t last past the 30-year mark, just look at the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, they couldn’t survive 30 years. And after they fell from grace, so to speak, it took them another few decades before they could return to power in some other reincarnation.

Is this the fate of the ANC too? Many liberation parties on the continent did not make the 20-year post-colonial mark. So, what will be the ultimate fate of the ANC? It seems pretty clear for now that President Ramaphosa has no real contender come the ANC’s National elective conference in December 2022. Ace, Gumede, Zwane and many more will receive their well-deserved prison sentences and the respective ANCs in the provinces will buy into the Ramaphosa long game making it easier to support him.

Here’s a scenario: the ANC decides that in keeping with the reform agenda, Ronald Lamola must be the deputy president, young and courageous, a talented lawyer and a rising star in the party. The secretary-general choice is David Makhura. He cut his teeth as premier of the most populous and wealthiest province in the country, his youth and student activism stood him in good stead too. His deputy is Febe Potgieter, a principled cadre, former ambassador and former NEC member. The treasurer is David Masondo — a Marxist and yet a pragmatist. The chairperson position they decide to give to Zamani Saul. A brilliant thinker and a committed cadre to the end.

By 2024, receiving electricity services from three separate entities is the norm, with generation, distribution and transmission all operating separately. The ANC has been considerately executing the land expropriation without compensation policy and the Reserve Bank has not been nationalised, but a State Bank has been set up to effectively deal with a mandate concerning employment among others in particular. The ANC also takes to heart some of the concerns raised by former president Mbeki and has begun to register fewer members believing in “better few but better”.

Next year in February 2022 at the opening of Parliament, President Ramaphosa announces not only the extension of the special Covid grant but also an unemployment grant for those who are looking for work but cannot find it. This will add an additional seven million well-deserving citizens to the social security net. This will go a far way in meeting the most basic needs of the poorest of the poor in our country.

Now, before you all tell me that this is simply fantasy and wishful thinking, let’s take a moment to also interrogate another little phenomenon which everyone among the chattering classes dismisses as “poppycock”, and that is the sentiment that without the ANC, SA will be in peril.

With all its flaws and self-righteousness, the ANC does manage the race question in SA rather better than any other political party in the country. What I mean by this is that only the ANC could have managed the July protests in the manner they did. Only the ANC can handle the National Question and mobilise the black majority and protect the interests of the white minority. The state of opposition parties in our beloved country should tell us as much.

The DA can hardly manage their internal race politics at a leadership level and their liberal emphasis on meritocracy given the recent past of SA tells me they are not ready to govern a complex race question just yet. The less said about white hate and taking back private property rights by the EFF the better. I won’t even dignify the smaller identity politics parties because their contribution to further entrench race politics in our country is self-evident.

So, tell me honestly, who can manage the race question in our country? If ever there is a political party that can negotiate a social compact in our country because they have the majority support through the vote you must agree it’s the ANC, or at least without it at the table, it won’t succeed.

With all these aspects covered, addressing electricity shortfalls, corruption in the ruling party, and needs for reform in the labour and product markets must remain priorities. An added bonus is an announcement that finally, the Guptas’ extradition back to SA has arrived and that they will come and face justice.

I reckon the governing party might survive a little longer than most predict or hope for. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Oscar, you paint a picture we can all dream of. Lets hope and wish these things come to pass.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Despite good intentions, this is just another fairy tale

  • Hermann Funk says:

    “The DA can hardly manage their internal race politics” …and the ANC can’t pay its staff. Oscar your party is rotten to the core, your president sits on his hands and dithers. Just read Pierre de Vos’ article and the editorial about SAPS.

  • James Cunningham says:

    Oscar, what are you smoking? I want some.

    • Coen Gous says:

      Really? I can get you some too. I’ve had some after reading some of the articles in DM, especially yesterday regarding Shell’s seismic survey, and Marianne’s good article on the complete failure of the police. Trust me it works. But please don’t take it whilst consuming a cold Black Label, or a glass of “Doos wyn”. Otherwise you might also start to write an article on how our country is going to be saved from the clutches of failed political parties and their leaders.

  • Steve Otoole says:

    A one sided opinion. Thankfully it remains just an opinion.

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Mr Van Heerden is certainly right about one thing- the July Riots. Putting aside the question of Phoenix, which may have contained racial elements , t.hese riots were fomented by ANC cadres , and carried out by a lot of hungry , desperate and criminal elements. He says “Only the ANC could have managed the July “protests” ( my inverted commas) in the manner they did”. Indeed , the poor , forced to show receipts for possible thieving, while the police and Securityforces looked on, businesses razed to the ground, people killed and, to date, no major ANC party members brought to book! Absolutely that is the way the governing party handles issues!

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Indeed the ANC did manage the July “protests” in the way only they could- apart from Phoenix which contained racial elements , the riots had little to do with race , as hungry , desperate and criminal elements looted, burnt businesses and generally created mayhem. And the ANC response?little if any security presence, ( apart from afterwards asking the poor for ‘receipts’) and no pursuance, capture or imprisonment of the main instigators , all reportedly ANC cadres.


  • Louis Potgieter says:

    A shake of the tea leaves and the contention within the ruling party disappears! Everything is hunky dory. Then the main point is the management of the race question. The ANC excels by silencing the loot-week fallout. A cut below the top 3 parties, and ActionSA fades! Yet ActionSA gets accolades for drawing support from all race groups.

  • Helen Swingler says:

    “Committed cadre to the end.” Words for an epitaph, not governing a country. We don’t need committed cadres (committed to what?). We need committed public servants so that we don’t have to reply on the courts and civil society to wring some accountability from the ANC. Sorry, Oscar, but they don’t deserve you.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    For so long as we use anything other than the proceeds of taxes to educate, provide healthcare and civil services, the poor have little hope.
    BEE, EWC, labour laws and more are all job destroying social engineering policies.
    The ANC deserves to be relegated to the world of coalition politics as it has failed the nation with its racist policies and retention of a socialist/marxist failed ideology

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The heading refers to the “tea leaves says…” … are those from the Nkandla high tea preceding the ‘insurrection’ (called a ‘picnic of patriots’ at the white house on 6 Jan … or marijuana leaves – without the medicinal properties ?

  • Eulalie Spamer says:

    You declare with obvious pride, “Only the ANC could have managed the July riots the way they did” . Damn right Oscar. Some 300+ dead, billions knocked out of the economy, countless jobs lost… And no sign anywhere of leadership or effective curtailment of a week of total anarchy. You say that the performance of the ANC governed state in this disastrous event that shamed us in the eyes of the world, provided a disincentive to capital inflows and job creation, was in your view, this government at

    its best!

    Are you serious?


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