ANC – Phoenix rising from the ashes or carcass in the dustbin of history?


The ANC is currently at a crossroads and the way ahead is unclear. The options facing ordinary citizens are equally confusing, but need close examination if our country is to find its way out of this maze.

We are living in a time that constantly presents new revelations of corruption and maladministration. The previous public protector’s report on state capture has been pushed aside for the moment, but the network of corruption it highlights is only a small part of the broader crisis we face. 

We need to closely examine the assumptions that underpin the drive to remove the Zupta cancer from within our state and economy, critically necessary though this may be. The singular focus on President Zuma and his connection to the Gupta machinations makes it seem as if the removal of this particular cancer will result in a new era of enlightenment, democracy and good governance (I hope it is obvious that I am not questioning the need to remove that specific cancer – but I am concerned about how effective this will be in eradicating the root causes of many other such cancers.)

A number of court cases are currently exploring the judicial processes available to civil society, in its efforts to effect such healing. Mass marches; overt public rejection of various leaders within the ANC; the weekly emergence of new alliances aimed at strengthening the forces fighting for fundamental transformation; all of these point to the ferment and dissatisfaction expressed by many ordinary South Africans. But where is it all going and what are the possibilities of achieving the fundamental transformation of our leadership?

Can the ANC reform itself as part of this process – and what will happen if it cannot?

The motion of no confidence in the president – being proposed by the UDM within the legislature – is one attempt to break this impasse. It can only succeed if some ANC MPs vote with the opposition to remove the president, so vast energies are being expended to persuade many ordinary ANC MPs to vote “with their hearts” or “for the sake of the country and not the party”.  

Some are hoping that the courts will assist the fainthearted amongst those ANC MPs, by forcing Parliament to vote on this motion via a secret ballot. Many argue that a lot – maybe even a majority – of the ANC MPs would like to remove President Zuma, but are concerned about the implications of ‘siding with the opposition’ – the implications for their party and for themselves.

What will happen if such a motion succeeds in removing the president and as a result, his entire Cabinet?

A new ANC leader will have to emerge as a candidate for president of our country. The ANC has an overwhelming majority in Parliament, so the possibility of someone outside of the ANC being elected can be ignored for now.  Let us assume that Cyril Ramaphosa (arguably the front-runner amongst the anti-Zuma crowd within the ANC) gets elected as President of the country.  

What then?

Obviously, the ANC will be in turmoil as the sitting ANC president will have been removed as president of the country – with the assistance of some ANC MPs – and against the wishes of many other ANC MPs. Let us ignore such turmoil for the purposes of this article and just assume that they are able to reconcile themselves to the fact that the Zuptas are gone and that they need to move on with a strategy to position themselves for the forthcoming national election in 2019.

What then?

The passionate hope of those within the ANC who are working for such changes, is that this enables them to transform the party. They want to demonstrate to the people that the ANC is still the leader of the struggle to bring about justice and freedom – with the drive and ability to tackle unemployment and poverty and the gross inequalities that still characterise our society.

What are the credibility gaps that they will need to overcome?

No-one is going to believe the usual promises to “get rid of corruption” that, in the past, have been led by the very same leaders who were at the forefront of attempts to steal as much as they can – as quickly as they can. Let us assume that the “ANC reformers” will understand that removing the Zuptas is just the first step in a very long and difficult path to transform the ethos that has permeated the entire political establishment – which can be summarised as “I didn’t get into politics to be poor” or “I’m going to make sure that I use every opportunity to enrich myself as fast as possible” (before some reforming idiot removes me).

The new leader of the ANC will be faced with trying to transform the entire ethos or culture within the ANC structures, at every level of the society. The ‘buying of votes’ before every internal election process (within the ANC) very aptly symbolises the existing culture – the drive for self-enrichment by building up the political clout needed within the party, to achieve political office at a local, provincial or national level. 
Once there, the opportunities for self-enrichment depend only upon your imagination and your greed. Appeals to morality have little effect when “everyone is doing it” – this has become normal behaviour within the culture that has taken root in a party that came from a very different place.

If the new leader wants to go back to the culture of Luthuli, Mandela and Sisulu it will require a process of revitalising the party ‘from the ground up’. Existing officials at every structure will arguably have to make way for a new breed that will emerge within a new ethos and a new commitment. This will have to happen before the process of choosing candidates for the 2019 election takes place – and have to continue until the current batch of local leaders has been replaced or re-elected – under the new dispensation. This is a daunting task for anyone and for any political party – regardless of its history. The chances of success are obviously quite slim as the interests of all the current power-brokers – including all the current MPs, MPLs and councillors – will lean towards “fighting this to the very end”.

The next hurdle will be the public service itself. It comprises a very large number of ordinary South Africans who have learnt (from the politicians and their apartheid predecessors) how to milk the system at every opportunity – at every level of government. The need to transform the public service deserves a special focus of its own.

For the moment, a few points will have to suffice.

Transforming the public service in the post-apartheid era required a massive effort against very substantial resistance. The newly elected democratic government faced massive challenges in changing the focus of the public service – and the demographic make-up of that public service.

The extent of the policy changes required meant that unless the public service was fully behind the new direction, the chances of achieving those goals was very slim. The incumbent senior public servants had come from a very different policy environment. Even if they possessed the best will in the world (which many of them did not) – they were not equipped to even understand the new environment – let alone lead the drive to transform it. Politicians thus needed to appoint people they could trust – people who believed in the new policies and understood the extent of the challenges being faced. These were often people who were politically and ethically committed to the new direction, but in many cases, without the skills to drive that implementation process.

Without getting into all the complexities of this situation, this entrenched a reliance on “political appointments” within the civil service, to drive the implementation of the policies that emerged from the new democratic government. Although this was felt most acutely at the top levels of the civil service (those officials who worked directly with the new ministers, MECs and 
councillors) this quickly became the norm throughout the many levels of the civil service. 

Even though we find it difficult to accept this today – this happened due to imperatives that are rooted in our oppressive history – and in the need to transform the country in the post-apartheid democratic era.  

This trend is understandable and even justifiable – but it does not change the fact that these imperatives have left us with a civil service that is very far from being the independent, professional, corps of skilled administrators who (efficiently and effectively) implement the policies of the government of the day – regardless of who they may be.

That was always our desired end-goal, as epitomised (or at least striven for) in many of the best models of governance that exist globally. We have instead created a politicised civil service that is inclined to carry out the will of their political master, no matter how corrupt or self-defeating that may be to the policies of the country.

The new ANC leadership will also have to contend with the fact that 23 years after democracy – 23 years of ANC government have failed to fundamentally tackle the major problems we face as a country. Our education system – despite spending significantly more than many developing countries – has failed to achieve our basic goals, thus failing our children. Our criminal justice system, despite having one of the best constitutions in the world, and despite efforts to learn crime-detection and crime-fighting skills from the best examples available world-wide has left us with a police force that has been crippled by politicians who fear being held to account for their transgressions. Our economy has made important strides in the first decade after liberation, but since then it has been on a downward slide that has been entrenched by politicians who are more interested in short term gains for themselves, than in doing what is needed to strengthen our economy.  

A transforming ANC will have to persuade our people that they are now putting in place measures that will allow them to tackle all the crippling blockages that prevented previous administrations from being able to address these imperative social needs.

Is all this possible?  

If not, is our only option to vote for another party in the hope that they will be able to do something to address these challenges?

Our history since democracy has demonstrated that the bulk of our people do not really believe that there is a viable alternative to the ANC, within the current political set-up. Small numbers have moved to other parties – the DA has consolidated its support base within the white and the coloured communities – with increasing numbers of Indian people also voting for them. Within the black (African) community, they have only attracted a small group of middle class / professional individuals to their camp. The EFF has attracted a smaller group of dedicated supporters – including some of the bright youngsters emerging from our universities – but they are not (at this point) a viable alternative to the ANC for the bulk of our people.

The option that most disaffected ANC supporters take – is to stop voting in our elections. This obviously has an impact on the ANC’s ability to stay in power – as witnessed in the various metros and other councils that have fallen to coalitions of opposition parties.
But is this enough to transform our society and to address our challenging social problems?

The ability of a new ANC leadership to persuade our people that they are able to move away from the devastation caused by their predecessors, is arguably quite remote. On the other hand, our recent history has demonstrated that most ANC supporters are more likely to abstain from voting at all – rather than vote for the existing alternatives.

Is there any other alternative?

If the dedicated leaders within the ANC decide to split and form a new party – perhaps with sections of the existing opposition parties – then maybe an alternative can emerge from this mess.

A Phoenix that can rise from the ashes of our failed democratic transformation!

– Mike Roussos was a trade unionist with various unions during the anti-apartheid struggle. He has been the CEO of a number of companies, ranging from IT to legal insurance to metal manufacturing. He has worked for government as a consultant and as a Head of Department.

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