After observing what happens these days at provincial elective conferences of the governing party, one has to wonder whether the ANC has now become an ant colony?
It’s actually not bad to be an ant: this tiny creature is revered in ancient mythology and folklore, and the secrets of its way of life have inspired important inventions in science. The ant is not just industrious and an example of dedication to hard work, but it is also an engineer in how it manoeuvres through most ecosystems, and an architect in how it transforms habitats to create its home, the anthills.
They may be tiny, they may look weak, fragile and feeble, but ants can carry objects bigger than their size. As a collective, through their cooperation, they work together as a well-oiled machine to achieve wonders; each one acting individually but in the interests of its community. Individualism has no place in the ant community.
To many ancient people, these creatures were highly regarded not only for their industry but also for their thrift, forethought and providence in how they cared and managed the resources at their disposal. Their complex, community model inspired the ant colony optimisation algorithm in computer science and swarm intelligence in the growing field of artificial intelligence. Organisational development theory and leadership studies have produced tons of literature focusing on their teamwork, division of labour, effective communication system, and colony organisation.
In the biblical tradition, they even appear as a symbol of wisdom: “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6).
Our governing party seems to have heeded this biblical counsel to consider the ways of the ants but by copying only the wrong things from these insects.
The ants have a caste system made up of four classes. At the apex is the queen, the leader and mother of all, the true fat cat, the Madam who has two privileges — the exclusive monopoly for laying the eggs to populate the colony, and the only female around with wings. She’s not just well protected by her subordinates; she’s also bigger, fat, and lives longer than the rest, while other ants dedicate their entire lives to pampering her with food and all sorts of courtesies.
The ants we see outside, toiling, foraging and walking up and down, carrying objects, going about their respective jobs diligently, are the mass class of the so-called “workers” — all females, and all at the service of their revered queen. They are much smaller in size, with no wings, and no privilege to lay an egg. The lifespan of an average worker ranges from a few weeks to a year.
The poor males who are hardly seen outside the colony, known as the drones, also serve their queen by mating with her, only to die soon thereafter. The fourth class are the newly born, known as the reproductives, the winged males and females from the hatched eggs of the queen, who ordinarily exit the colony in swarms once they have reached maturity stage to establish their own colonies. It is the job of the workers to care for the eggs and act as nannies to these offspring of their queen.
The ANC of today resembles the ant colony in its system of stratification along caste lines, and in the practice of dedication to a queen, a faction. The mass of ANC members found in the branches has become the equivalent of the workers in the ant colony whose role in the organisation is to serve factional interests and become voting fodder for slates.
Nowadays at elective conferences, this mass of workers spends day after day without any sleep, sometimes with no food, singing and singing as high as they can to praise their queen. Some queens have a name, others bear a human face. So, the poor workers have to sing for this name and carry the face of their queen on their T-shirts.
Another striking feature of the ants that the governing party has copied is that they are completely oblivious to the world around them. The proverbial Rome may fall, but an ant wouldn’t be aware. It’s different with the ants though because they are just too small to notice any major developments around them. We even step over them all the time without looking down.
By contrast, the ANC is an organisation of humans, two-legged species with two eyes that are big enough to see the world around them. We even have bigger brains with sharper cognitive ability than our insect friends. Yet, like the ants, in its actions, the ANC is oblivious to the state of our country and its disheartened people.
It is even unaware in the subconsciousness of its behaviour of challenges that have existential implications for its long-term survival. No delegate to elective conferences these days seems to care that their party has suffered a significant decline in recent elections, nor is bothered by the fact that outside the conference venue the country may be going through Stage 6 load shedding. Instead, the order of proceedings at these conferences tends to be as follows: singing, credentials, singing, court application, singing, voting, and more singing!
Many ants are literally blind, and even those that have compound eyes rarely use them the way humans do. Instead, they rely on their legs and antennae, and for their communication on touch, noises and chemicals (called pheromones). In the ANC colony, the members are as blind in their loyalty to their faction and to the likely end of their organisation that is fast approaching.
The life span of an average ant is very short — as little as a few weeks. Like the ant, the ANC of today lives for the moment, for the now. For the ants, however, even if they die, they have their way of passing their knowledge to the next generation — like where to find food, which pathway to take or to avoid, and intelligence about predators.
Unfortunately, the ANC has lost this essential ability; the tables have turned, experience is no longer treasured and the veterans of the party are treated shabbily and dismissed as deadwood. As to the value of knowledge, this resource has since lost its appeal in the ANC colony.
The governing party is primarily a liberation movement, but because of our post-1994 multi-party democracy, it also participates in competitive elections as a political party. It is now struggling with these two roles — failing to fully transform our country as per its liberation movement agenda, and maintaining its hitherto unchallenged electoral dominance as a political party. Possible scenarios for the future of the party should be worrying for its members and admirers.
Still, the party can save itself by learning from the positive attributes of ants — not the undesirable things like religious allegiance to factions and their respective queens, being oblivious to Rome falling around us, small-mindedness, or suffering from the blindness of the mind, eyes, and the heart.
Leslie Anglesey wrote about “five leadership skills we can learn from ants”, which she suggests are: ants aren’t intimidated by the size of their workload; ants value teamwork; ants are organised; ants save for rainy days; and ants get the job done.
In Puget Salish Native American folklore, the “Story of Ant and Bear” is a lesson offered that can help the ANC : “A long time ago the world was different than it is today. First of all, there were no people in the world, only animals. And something else was very different. It was always dark. There was no light in the world at all. No sun, no moon, no stars, no fire. The world was in darkness.”
So, the story goes on, “this was very hard on all the animals. They could not find their food or their way. All of the animals suffered. But it was especially hard on the Ant People. The ants always work and never rest. The darkness made it hard for them to do their work. They knew they needed something. They knew they needed light.”
For this reason, “Ant woman went out to find Bear. Bear is the one who kept it dark all the time. She decided she would challenge him to a contest. If she won the contest she would get light for her people. If Bear won it would remain dark forever.”
At the contest, food was in abundance: “Ant woman came to the place. She saw the food and she was hungry for she had not eaten since she had left her home. But she knew that because Bear was so big and strong and she was so little she would have to do something special if she hoped to win. She decided she would fast. She would not eat during the whole contest. But her stomach was grumbling because of her hunger. She was wearing a little belt around her waist. She pulled it tight so she would not feel so hungry.”
By contrast, “Bear saw all the food and he did not even think of the contest. He began to eat as much as he could. He knew he would win because he was so big and strong.” The contest continued, and towards the end: “Bear stood up to dance, but he was so tired and full of food he fell to the ground asleep. Ant Woman won the contest, but she said to bear, ‘We will share. The Ant People will have day, and you will have night’.” According to this story, “this is why we have day and night.”
This cheeky ant won the contest because of her work ethic, being a strategist, tightening the belt, and for her unmatched resilience. The bear had himself to blame for losing — he was just too arrogant, sure of himself, pompous, and suffered from gluttony and showboating. To the big guy, the ant lady was just an underdog, a walkover, a non-starter. This arrogance became costly. Literally, the ant won the day. DM