The stature of the ANC as the leader of society has significantly dwindled in recent times, coinciding with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency of both the ANC and the Republic of South Africa.
The recent talks in the South African political context regarding coalition government at the national level is an undisputed admission of failure by the ANC leadership to steer the ship in the right direction while staying afloat throughout the sailing storms. In the recent past, South Africa has seen unprecedented developments in the political space characterized by the ruling party warming up to the coalition talks, while the formation of the Moonshot Pact raised eyebrows alongside the unconventional meeting of “friends of the ANC” on the sidelines –
A wave of political developments that left more questions than answers
The Moonshot Pact is a pre-election opposition alliance led by the Democratic Alliance. It would be hard for South Africans not to see this as a repeat of the Convention For A Democratic South Africa (CODESA), a negotiated political process ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994. It is a second installment of betrayal and compromise, which CODESA is known to be in some quarters. What makes it even worse is the much intriguing coincidence in the fact that the common denominator in these transitional talks is Ramaphosa, the so-called chief negotiator of CODESA.
Could this be another negotiated political settlement underway? Time will certainly tell. This may be deeply unsettling for the majority of previously disadvantaged citizens of the Republic of South Africa, who are still struggling to recover from the gruesome consequences of a compromise made through CODESA on the eve of democracy in South Africa, three decades ago. Citizens were sold the sham idea of reconciliation, reconstruction and development without economic freedom and prosperity.
Short-lived happiness and the everlasting marginalization
This could be a serious betrayal to citizens who believed in the ANC to liberate them. The same goes for ANC branches and voters who give the ANC a mandate through elections, to take the country forward as leaders of society and champion the struggle for the marginalized. The prevailing apprehensiveness around this development emanates from the impending total dilution of the ANC’s mandate and resolve to wage the struggle for the marginalized should they join forces with the opposition.
The talks about coalitions seem to have replaced the usual talks and campaigns about winning elections to continue the delivery of aspirations of those who have not reaped the fruits of freedom yet. For the majority for whom the struggle continues every day, as they would sum it up, is the popular motto “Aluta Continua”. The contemplated power-sharing arrangement is more like a power hand-over by the ANC to the opposition while in some quarters, the same opposition is still seen as proxies of the erstwhile oppressor.
In this context, this would be a blatant treachery of the struggle and the cowardice retreat by the ANC, while the freedom project remains incomplete. When it was predicted in the past few years that Ramaphosa would collapse the ANC and hand over power to the erstwhile oppressor, this was rejected by his defenders as conspiracy theory and hogwash.
The conspiracy theory narrative was dealt a blow by Deputy President Paul Mashatile’s video clip that went viral recently, where he was caught on camera saying that they want to ‘keep the ANC votes below 50%’. This didn’t come across as a slip of the tongue, especially when the coalition talks were also making waves alongside. Who would have thought that conspiracy theories would come to pass in our lifetime?
Governance failures since 2017
From the resolutions of the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec conference to the most recent talks about the country’s future, very little indicates Ramaphosa’s much desired esteemed leadership, which, in most critical circumstances, has always been a missing piece of the puzzle. This happens when the ruling party and the country require a clear direction and program of action in many respects to address service delivery, governance issues and the implementation of ANC resolutions and government programs.
Such leadership deficiencies in Ramaphosa’s position have led the country into governance failures in numerous instances. A great deal of reputational damage has occurred to the ANC brand during Ramaphosa’s tenure, more than in any other term of office since the inception of democracy in South Africa, from how the ANC has failed to implement its own conference resolutions, to general failures of governance in the government structures and parastatals.
Glaring examples include failures in the delivery of basic services like uninterrupted supply of water and electricity in many parts of the country, including the capital city, Pretoria, and the economic hub of South Africa. Power and water cuts have become a norm, especially in big cities and industrial towns, with significant repercussions to the economy and on how South Africa competes with its peers globally.
Continuous failure to supply basic services remains a good example of governance failures and compromised political leadership at the national government level. To make matters worse, the ANC intends to escalate the governance fiasco of coalition governments from the local government to national sphere. The current chaotic scenes of coalitions at the local level are an indication of what should be expected in South Africans as a whole should the idea of a national coalition government come to pass.
If the ANC were indeed the leader of society, it would have managed to keep the stronghold of municipalities, as a direct link to the people. Furthermore, the same governing party would have been able to achieve and sustain decent levels of service delivery, security and prosperity in local communities. The country has seen continuous degradation of urban infrastructure and growth in the number of dilapidated CBD buildings in major cities, including Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
This highlights inefficiencies in the town and land management space, resulting in the mushrooming of informal settlements and the total decline in the quality of life for town residents. The ANC has not just lost its status as society’s leader, but also its political strength and morale to stand firm on matters critical to the agenda of interest and struggles of the people, especially the voters who put it into power.
The government and the ANC have become aloof to people who have continuously called for the transformation of the economy, especially those who want such transformation to happen radically. The fat-cat syndrome among the ANC leadership has distanced the organization from the people and the general membership, causing organizational damage that is hard to mend.
This also finds its basis in the abuse of organizational principles that have kept the organization going for more than a century. Recently, the ANC has seen its top leadership boasting emphatically that the National Executive Committee (NEC) is the only decision-making structure between the conferences. The tendency normally arises when ordinary members want to vent their frustrations on day-to-day issues that keep the organization alive.
Even if this could be arguably constitutional in the context of the ANC, it should be applied with due consideration for the democratic space the organization should always provide its members. This notorious principle is apparently abused to suppress lower structures and individuals who may have dissenting views on an array of issues regarding the organization.
This hostile attitude has left a bad taste in many within the organization where branches are seen as voting cows, who are only important during voting seasons, whereafter, any arising matter can only be deferred to the next conference, five years later. In the recent past, many ANC structures have been run by Provisional Task Teams (PTTs) and other undemocratic temporary structures for an extended period of time.
These temporary structures of dictatorship don’t carry any mandate from the general ANC membership but only operate on the basis of a briefing from the top leadership. This has eroded the spirit of democratic engagement in favour of a growing tendency of elitism and the boardroom approach to leadership. This has killed the spirit of robust debate in what used to be referred to as the battle of ideas within the movement.
The ANC has become more like a dashboard-managed organization, with a narrow base of intelligentsia to support its organizational strength and ideological trajectory. The recent resignation of ANC struggle veteran Mavuso Msimang, even though his resignation was later retracted, is an indication of a questionable state of affairs within the ranks of the supposed leader of society.
This is also a good sign that the ANC is not only losing its support and general membership, but also that it cannot keep its high-caliber leadership. It is indeed a sign of the sinking of the once gigantic ship that used to carry the hopes and dreams of the oppressed and marginalized.
According to Stats SA’s figures released on 14 Nov 2023, the official unemployment rate in South Africa is 31%. This, compared to 27% in 2017, shows a spike of 4%. It means more South Africans were condemned to unemployment between 2017 and 2023. To make matters worse, the inflation rate, according to Stats SA, grew from 5.9% in 2017 to 6.9% in 2022. This, in many respects, can translate to socioeconomic challenges that ordinary South Africans are experiencing daily, which is sharp in contrast to what citizens were made to believe when Ramaphosa was presented as the best presidential candidate who would turn the economy around.
A Business Tech article published on 20 April 2016, reveals an interesting trend in socioeconomic transformation through the growth in the number of dollar millionaires in South Africa. It reflects 6 200 millionaires of historically disadvantaged individuals (HDI) in 2007, compared to 17 300 in 2015 – a tremendous growth of 179% was noted in the said period.
Considering the 21 200 white millionaires, South Africa had 38 500 millionaires in 2015, compared to 37 000 in 2022. The 2022 figures indicate a decline from the 2015 statistics. In another article on 13 June 2023, the same publication reflected that 400 millionaires had left South Africa in 2022, while 500 more were expected to leave in 2023.
This paints a gloomy picture of South Africa’s economy during Ramaphosa’s term, especially when the comparison is made to the growth of black millionaires during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure. Some credit regarding the apparent economic decline can indeed be attributed to COVID-19 and the 2021 July riots. However, in many respects, it does appear as though such a credit is being overstretched. The huge proportion of economic stagnation can be accredited to the void of decisive political leadership both in the presidency of the ANC and the country in the past six years.
In conclusion, the ANC would need a miraculously scrupulous political leadership to turn its fortunes around. This is a daunting task to imagine when there are numerous clues to suggest that the current leadership only represents their economic interest rather than the aspirations of the people. As a result, it is difficult to point to any significant achievements of the current ANC leadership, both in government and the organization. Indeed, the once glorious movement is slowly sinking like a gigantic ship while the oblivious leadership continues to pontificate without providing solutions to the basic challenges of the nation.
Sifiso Mkhize is a researcher and analyst at the Gubela Research Institute.