ANALYSIS: Empty promises, hollow rhetoric define the ANC today

Officially, the ANC has over the years as a governing party lamented at the erosion of its values of selflessness – the kind of political morality that guided the struggle for freedom.

On important occasions to celebrate its anniversary, party leaders typically reflect on the once-glorious movement of the people. They would recommit to do the right things to improve the lives of “our people” using state power secured through the democratic elections.

Phrases like “organisational renewal”, “speeding up service delivery”, “fighting corruption”, “bringing the ANC closer to the people”, “growing the economy”, “creating jobs”, “promoting social cohesion”, “fighting crime”, “ending inequality” and so on have been the common denominator at party events.

No doubt to be added and repeated in the next few years will be “ending state capture”, “ending load shedding”, “stop the killings of fellow comrades” and so on. ANC leaders will mention these because they know what “our people” would like to hear.

Unofficially, however, many ANC leaders at various levels have become popular, commanding huge support bases within the party, precisely for doing the opposite of what they commit in public. Mobilising personal support has become the single most important task for ANC leaders. More time and resources are spent on this than on thinking about creative ways to use political power to deliver quality public services and unlock economic growth that would in turn create jobs.

For many, ANC politics are more about personal political sustenance disguised as service to the people. At the heart of the problem is the desire to get rich quick through unearned income. In various discussion documents, the ANC has identified this as a problem and promised to tackle it. Reading ANC documents –strategy and tactics, and organizational renewal – you can’t miss the impatience with which the party seeks to rejuvenate by ridding itself of the scoundrels who use the party for self-enrichment.

Yet, this promise has remained just that – a promise. The stakes for personal enrichment are so high that there have been increased in instances of intra-party violence in party structures. In the past, political activists were prepared to lose limb and life in the fight for freedom. Now, they are prepared to cause the loss of limb and life of fellow comrades who stand in the way of looting.

The ANC has been used to legitimise grand corruption. The Bosasa state capture revelations are a graphic illustration of how state institutions were captured via the ANC. A scheme was devised to show that the Bosasa corruption was good for the party. After all, Bosasa donated handsomely. Many schemes, including the Gupta-led state capture, were designed in such a way that the ANC or its leaders were made to be beneficiaries.

The debilitating effect of grand corruption on state-owned companies, public finances and the economy, jolted otherwise apolitical business leaders to enter the fray through donations instead of being spectators to the ruin. Thus, the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg, in 2017 secured the biggest intra-party campaign spending in our history as a democracy. This has introduced a new dynamic in intra-party politics, the consequences of which are yet to play themselves out.

These internal ANC politics would not be a big deal had it not been for the fact that they have a direct impact on the exercise of public power. Notwithstanding all the shenanigans, many South Africans still pin their hopes on the ANC. The hopes are based on promises that are habitually broken in practice and renewed rhetorically.

January 8 statements, once the most serious messages from party leadership, providing guidance to supporters of the movement on the struggle against apartheid, have now become monotonous rhetoric of promises. But the decline in electoral support – from two-thirds majority in 2004 to 57 percent in 2019 – is proof of growing concern about the direction of the ANC.

Despite its electoral decline, there is no party at this stage that can single handedly topple the ANC at the polls. For that to happen, the country will first have to go through instability of coalition governments in the next few years. The political drama series featuring municipalities of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane might well be trial run for a future unstable national government.

Such eventuality would even make it harder to take decisions on critical issues because of the difficulty of pleasing coalition partners on everything all the time. But the snail’s pace with which Presidency Cyril Ramaphosa is moving to fix Eskom, badly run state-owned companies, the country’s deteriorating fiscal position and economic decline among other urgent issues, has all the characteristics of a president hamstrung by demands from clashing coalition partners.

You would think Ramaphosa is leading a coalition government with divergent party-political interests, making it difficult for him to introduce less-fiscal draining governance model for SOEs, fix deteriorating public finances and adopt a radical growth-oriented strategy. To a certain extent, that’s what the ANC has become: many parties in one – a problem that is difficult to fix because it in part requires law enforcement to do its job.

Ramaphosa must realise time is not on his side. The prospects of a credit downgrade to junk status, increased divestment and economic recession are looming large. The situation requires that the president orders all ministers to report on a weekly basis on their actions to stimulate economic growth and create jobs. (Granted, without fixed Eskom, no plan will succeed in the short term).

There is no coalition at national government. ANC factions and problems aside, the national executive authority of the entire republic is vested in one president, signifying huge power. The president is not short of a wide range of policy options to turn economy around and create jobs. He has the power to govern. He is constitutionally obliged to provide leadership. That’s what is expected of him beyond January 8 festivities.

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