Here are some of my notes of a disscussion related to the Centenary of the ANC and held at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Johannesburg. The discussion was entitled ANC 100 years and the future of South Africa and was held on 20 February 2012. The speakers gave their views on the situation within the ANC currently and on whether new strategies are needed to keep the original values and objectives alive.
The ANC appears to lack a blueprint for South Africa. It appears to want to address a need for a major plan, for example, through emphasis on infrastructure in the (most recent) State of the Nation address. It is not clear if this (plan to emphasize infrastructure) is sufficient, and whether it will address critical issues.
The ANC faces the reality that, even in its own terms, there should have been more socio economic liberation than what we have.
But the organisation enjoys tremendous trust from the larger section of the populace. This trust is not always logical. Especially against this backdrop: During the struggle, although not perfect, things went well; thereafter, there has been progress but there have been major mishaps. Things have not always gone according to plan.
There have been compromises & even some gains, but there also have been flaws, deficits and disgraces. One has the sense of a declining colossus. But the ANC still has huge advantage over others – whether others be opposition parties and social movements. It will take a long time for others to catch up. There is no political collapse; there is no rising of opposition on the horizon. After being there for 18 to 20 years, it is still the main political determinant. There are problems, there are mistakes but its popular support remains strong, as does its electoral support. It can boast that, unlike governments in so many places its power and legitimacy is not maintained by force. (It has this strong position despite the flawed realisation of ideals when measured against transformation objectives and the bill of rights). Many people believe that, despite its problems and flawed leadership, is still more likely than other parties to bring them a better life. The ANC is skilled in communication; it is skilled in leveraging its history. It even has some elements of engagement with its popular support (imbizos) although this takes a very narrow form that is closer to staged consultation or co-option.
The organisation has legitimacy; it is enjoying a period of grace. There is also among its populace a remarkable tolerance. People are not put off by the contradiction between the high life and delivery; there is a tolerance of corruption and flawed leadership.
Where there is criticism and opposition, the ANC has managed to achieve the internalisation of opposition. At the grassroots level, people draw a line between the ballot and the brick. They will conduct angry service delivery protests the one day and vote for the ANC the next day. When asked they, community members reply that voting and taking up service delivery issues are completelt different issues. They hold this ambiguity.
From the point of view of alliance groups, there is also internalisation of opposition. In the past there were public spats between alliance partners; these days there are fewer “loud” and angry disagreements on issues of governance from COSATU.
Among the opposition, it will be a long time before any others catch up with the strength of the ANC. However there is a de facto and very ad hoc alliance which includes DA, Public Protector, Media, the Chapter 9 organisations. They pick on issues such as education, corruption and are sometimes given issues such as the secrecy bill and the role of the judiciary.
What happens to the ANC in the long term? The legitimacy is fraying at the edges and the factions are taking their toll. But big parties don’t go away – they go into coalitions and alliances, they merge with others, they transform themselves.
Take note of Nelson Mandela’s statement in 1993 to a Cosatu rally debating the question of whether the ANC will sell out. The response by Mandela was they would not (given their history of militant struggle), but regardless of whether or not this was believed, the challenge for the workers was to organise, to strengthen their position and to convince others of their position. The real issue is not friendship but political and social forces.
The nature of the compromise: There was a need to negotiate to stop the bloodbath that was in progress. There was the reality of regional politics for Govt and defeat at Cuito Carnavale. For the ANC, there was the power of capitalists states globally as well as the fear that if the police and army engaged in a full-scale counter-revolution. In response to the question “did we sell out?”, the answer is this: it was not clear we could hold on to power; in some ways we achieved more than we thought e.g. to get the Nats to agree to a TRC.
Business: In the past, denial of political rights ensured cheap labour. Currently the granting of political rights ironically enables a system of cheap labour. Both BEE and white business have moved theoretically from the idea of exploitation of black labour - but the reality is, for many, one of a liberation non-dividend (unemployment and poor service delivery).
The ANC NEC: It includes elected leaders plus those from structures. The NEC structure does not allow it to properly and fully engage with the issues. With 90 people present (60 elected and 30 from structures), the kind of in-depth engagement that is needed is impossible. The proceedings are thus based on what the top leadership propose and recommend. This situation also means that the NEC cannot assess itself.
If you want progressive social forces to shape politics, you have to organise.
There were different phases in the ANC 100 years – from the period of picketing and petitioning through armed struggle through mass mobilisation. Now the liberation movement has become to a great extent an electoral party. We need to look at what remains of liberation parties after their entry into electoral parties on the continent after a decade or two.
The ANC is struggling with become a modern political party. There is a tension between old values and new materialist and individualist culture. There is also a tension between what may be seen as values in the mass culture versus the values of the new bureaucracy. This came to a head in the Polokwane revolt against Mbeki.
The attempt at Polokwane was to regain the trust of the grassroots as well as the values. This struggle over the identity of the ANC continues. Of course, there is also a challenge to the values from below. Which segments of membership (if at all identifiable) erode the values of the ANC? When the IFP shrinks and ANC grows at its expense, do the members who have crossed into the ANC display IFP values or ANC values?
We can thus ask: will there be “multiple” ANCs with different value systems or one ANC based on the old (but still current and relevant) values?
The way forward revolves around two pressing issues:
- Values and identity in the ANC (based on the resurgence of old values).
- Dealing with inequality
(Please feel free to comment on this post.)