Let's Think

ANC following in NP’s footsteps?

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It increasingly appears as if the African National Congress is reaching the end of a road, like the one that led to the demise of its predecessor in government, the National Party.

The details of, and the intensity of, various factors now plaguing the ANC differ from the process that played itself out in, and around the NP, but the process itself is fundamentally the same.

However, one should hurry to say that there is a vast difference in the way the process is being managed by the ANC, and the quality of its top leadership to what was the case with the NP in the days of the final phase of its existence.

As the final phase for the NP arrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the then leader of the NP, President F.W. de Klerk, persuaded his caucus to accept the inevitable, and embark on a managed process of transition, started by his predecessor (PW Botha), to a new dispensation.

I can clearly remember how De Klerk, summarising the domestic situation, and the prevailing international environment after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, confronted his caucus with the reality of pending revolutionary change.

“Our choice colleagues in the face of inevitable revolutionary change is, are we going to attempt to fight it, or manage the process,” he told the caucus.

A deliberate and planned process to manage the end of white domination followed, which included the release of Govan Mbeki as scene-setter for the later release of Nelson Mandela.

The NP, under the leadership being given, succeeded in engineering the country’s peaceful transition to a full-fledged democracy.

The ANC contrast

 The ANC in contrast is being led by a leader, President Jacob Zuma, who punts the notion that the ANC will govern “until Jesus comes.” He believes that the ANC can, and shall, dominate the politics of the country despite a constitution based on proportional representation aimed at accommodating minorities through coalition governments.

Like the ANC, the NP also in essence, started out as a liberation movement in the aftermath of colonial domination with a mission to uplift its largely impoverished people.

After its plans over many decades to establish an exclusive geographical domain for firstly Afrikaners, and whites generally, via so-called grand apartheid’s separate development failed, it made its peace with the inevitable. It was forced to close the book on itself for the sake of the greater good and the survival of its own people.

Probably the biggest mistake of the NP was that it waited too far down the road of transition before it opened its door to membership of the party by blacks.

The ANC, however, on the other hand, as happened to other liberation movements across the continent, has not yet made the full phycological transition from being a liberation movement to a political party.

It has become noticeably common that, whenever commentators, and scholars refer to the ANC, they use the term ‘the former liberation party/movement.

It’s initial historic mission, liberation, has been achieved and, unless it adapts – and quickly so – it will also die. Its new mission to create a better life for all, and not just a new power elite, has thus far largely failed.

White domination did not work, neither will domination by any other group, however defined, in the longer run.    

 At this stage, the ANC lacks a central unifying mission – or maybe not the mission as such, but the ideology or plan – to create a better South Africa for all.

It does not have the civil support structures in place, as the Afrikaners had over the years, to get them there.

Time has come for those from the liberation struggle who “made it” in the new ‘South Africa’ to club together to get the broad public uplifted.

Too much reliance is being placed on the state to do the job. Present efforts fail to develop the potential, energy of, and mobilize, the ordinary people in the street to uplift themselves.

Time to hurry

A time of transition, as the ANC is experiencing now, is always a tremulous one, and the NP went through it in the 1970s and early 1980s with its so-called “verlig/verkramp“ battles – including known ‘verigtes’ being put on death lists.

Against this background it is interesting to note that the ANC chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, last week referring to the atmosphere in the party’s caucus as a "toxic space."

The same can be said not only about the build-up to the party’s elective conference in December, but also for society in general.

However, the world is moving a lot faster than it did four decades ago. The time has come for the ANC leadership to arrive at point where they pose themselves the question, “are we going to fight the revolution or manage it?”

The dangers to the country, if the party consciously, or by default, chose the former is, amongst other, illustrated by the marked uptick in political murders, and the downticks on the economic front in recent times.

There are chilling implications in a remark by an activist about recent violence in KwaZulu-Natal: “Here, we kill people who mess with the food chain.”

by Piet Coetzer

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