At an ANC-SACP rally in 2008, then Bushbuckridge Executive Mayor Milton Morema proudly proclaimed that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes back. Morema’s words were repeated by former ANC President Jacob Zuma in 2016. Many will be waiting to see the return of Jesus following the massive decline of the ANC in the recently concluded local government elections.
Since the 2007 conference of the party, its leadership and membership has demonstrated an uncanny ability to misread the political direction the country is taking. Understood in this context, the words of Morema and Zuma demonstrated the failure of the ruling party to notice the ground shifting under its feet. The poor showing of the party in the 2021 local government elections is a continuation of a long decline of the party’s support due to perennial scandals, a growing disconnect from the electorate and seemingly irreparable fracturing of the party’s unity. Poor service delivery and disdain for the electorate demonstrated through corruption and ostentatious displays of ill-gotten wealth have forced many to question their continued loyalty to a party that only interacts with them during elections. For the first time since 1994, the ANC failed to secure over 50% of the total votes cast in an election. It remains to be seen whether this result will be repeated in the 2024 General Elections.
Despite still being South Africa’s most popular political party, chickens have started to come home to roost for the party of Oliver Tambo. Years of internecine infighting have rendered the party a shadow of its former self, rendering it impotent in the face of an emboldened opposition which has defined its task, in simple terms, to be the removal of the ANC from power.
Instead of honestly reflecting on its decline, the party has sought to blame anyone and anything but itself. The blame and excuses ranged from loadshedding weeks before the elections, the election date falling on a Monday, ‘decampaigning’ by state broadcaster SABC, to not having enough time to campaign.
The renewal process that President Cyril Ramaphosa has been punting since being elected leader of the party in 2017 seems to have stalled, with the so-called Radical Economic Transformation wing of the party refusing to go quietly into the good night. More worryingly, it is now debatable whether Ramaphosa has the resolve to embark on the much-vaunted renewal as it seems his own wing of the party may have started fracturing.
The government’s inability to capacitate the state to restore South Africa’s institutional governance is proving to be the President’s undoing. The latter’s penchant for task teams, commissions and advisory bodies comes across as an attempt to evade responsibility rather than the actions of a decisive leader. Three years after promising tough action on corruption, very little progress has been made. Ructions with the NPA are making things worse on this front. The National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi has come under fire from Accountability Now for failing to prosecute high-profile figures implicated in corruption. Despite the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) uncovering acts of corruption relating to COVID-19 procurement, very few arrests have taken place. Months after the so-called insurrection, the supposed 11 ringleaders of the mayhem have yet to be apprehended. In the event, many are wondering not only about the ANC’s commitment to renewal, but the President’s ability to save the party from itself. In the process, the party is alienating many who had re-engaged in its processes following the departure of former President Jacob Zuma. Now, many are wondering if the President sold them a pipedream.
Former President Thabo Mbeki has noted “that the renewal process of the ANC was necessary, but it was going to be painful as a lot of people would be heavily affected”. Ramaphosa is intent to avoid this pain. ANC members should fully expect to lose electoral support sooner rather than later. A party obsessed with navel gazing, which is completely disconnected from the struggles of its supporters is one destined for opposition benches.
The ANC must make the hard decisions. Promoting unity of the party is meaningless if it means doing nothing about the rot in the party. The party should settle for a smaller membership which enjoys widespread support from the electorate, rather than compromised mass based one. As Vladimir Lenin said, “fewer, but better”.
Written by Keabetswe Kganticoe _ Published by Cape Times