Arrested Development: The ANC’s decade long hangover

The ANC never truly recovered from the devastation and division of the 2007 Polokwane conference. Ten years later, it seems we are on path to repeating the same mistakes, writes YONELA DIKO

The African National Congress is headed for its 54th National Elective Congress in three months and all the Presidential hopefuls have begun their campaign in earnest. As with all ANC national elective conferences since 1991, this conference will be no less eventful. This is because since 1991, it has always been understood that whoever becomes ANC President will later become the President of the Republic in all its might.

In the country’s courts, however, and in society’s psyche, the country is still stuck in the ANC’s 52nd National Elective conference in all its excesses. It’s almost as if the last ten years since Polokwane have been a rollercoaster ride, with all its adrenaline and occasional scary moments. It is 2017 and it feels like we have not moved an inch since 2007.

The ANC’s high-minded provincial chairperson of Northern Cape, Zamani Saul, has drawn rather canny parallels between 2007 and 2017, articulating the ‘new boss same as old boss’ narrative, an organisation changing players but entrenching the same disturbing culture that came to its brutal peak in 2007. As it turns out, even the players have not changed.

The last few years of the ANC government have felt like the ANC is suffering from a case of arrested development. All the accusations of the 52nd conference, the state institutions being used to fight party battles, the personality cults, inability to interrogate presidential hopefuls, blind loyalty primarily based on your disdain for the other side than your love for your side, it’s all there. The next ten years, as with the past ten years, will likely be defined by the outcomes of this conference and if we don’t kick out this political malaise, we will be having the same frustrations ten years from now.

The generation that followed Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Govan, whether they like to admit it or not seem to have a different attitude towards politics and towards one another as if they were raised in relative comfort without the common respect of shared struggle and pain.

In the back and forth between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma post the 2005 suspension of the latter by the former, the next two years into Polokwane sometimes felt as if one was watching a psychodrama – a tale of sons and daughters whose parents had already paid the price, old grudges and revenge plots latched in exiles and prisons by people who already saw themselves as leaders of an almost free South Africa. These groups, to spite each other, have adopted a certain zealotry. Each group wants to take over the party, fill it with loyalists and enshrine their ideas into organisational culture and where they can, enslave their ideas into law.

The fact that ten years later, the ANC is still dancing in the same disintegrated space, a party incapable of breaking through from its political malaise to the other side can only mean the ANC is suffering from a case of arrested development.

ANC has never truly recovered from its devastating and divisive politics of 2007. The reasons for that is because 2007 exposed a very troubling phenomenon about us. Polokwane showed us that even values presented as commonly held by an organisation and its members, are really not all that common. For example, the ANC extols values such as “freedom” and “Democracy” and voters agree that those are important concepts, and yet it turns out we actually disagree deeply on what those concepts really mean.

Is freedom supported through social programs that redistribute wealth — or is freedom served through being left to our own devices with minimal government intervention? “Freedom” can be used in both ways and exists as a common value only to the extent that people define it in the same way.

For example, in 2017 everyone agrees on the concept of Radical Economic Transformation. But how radical is radical? If in 2017 we have 17 300 black dollar millionaires in South Africa and 5.81 million black middle class (Those who earn between R15 000 and R50 000), which we did not have in 1994, is that not radical in just 23 years? Is it about land?

With more people moving into urban living, is land still the number one demand from citizens or is it jobs? What about the concept of white monopoly capital or monopoly capital? If a whole 5 000 delegates at a conference cannot agree on such a seemingly straightforward concept then why would we hope for a breakthrough in our political milieu?

There is no doubt that the current generation of ANC leaders has made South Africa a better place for all South Africans. They have fought racism, poverty, inequality, unemployment and have made real sacrifices to get us to a better décor. But what has been lost in the process is unity, shared aspirations, trust and fellow feeling – bringing both organisation and country to a very tense antagonism.

So where does that leave us, today’s generation? With many young people having chosen to adopt the grudges and divisive behaviour of their elders, it seems as if the future will be no different to the present. Are we going to let that happen? Are we going to let the battles and fights whose source we do not know define our future as young people?

It’s time for young people to reject this past and forge a new future, one defined by a realisation that young people have a lot more in common today than their parents ever had and that is a critical pillar to build on.

Diko is a media strategist and consultant

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