Local Government Watch Opinion

ANC battle for survival has started – history against it

Zuma dance not over, yet
Zuma.jpg

The ANC’s top leadership, over the weekend, launched a survival strategy for the party, after suffering serious setbacks in the local government elections. History suggests the odds are against them.

Ironically, the signs are there that the party is on a similar trajectory to the erstwhile National Party (NP). Soon after the ANC had replaced it as government of the day in 1994, the NP disappeared from the political scene – having been in power for well over 40 years.

The NP came to power in 1948 on the back of a surge of a white Afrikaner nationalism, launched 10 years earlier with the 1938 symbolic re-enactment of the Great Trek of a century earlier to the north of the country, to escape British colonial rule in what is now the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. This nationalism was solidified by the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the 19th century.

For the ANC, taking over government, came on the back of black nationalism, launched by its defiance campaign in the 1950s and solidified by the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto student uprising of 1976.

By that time, fracturing within the NP between so-called ‘verligtes’ (reformist) and ‘verkramptes’ (traditionalists, bent on retaining and strengthening the existing apartheid system) started in earnest.

The result was that the reform efforts that came during the 1970s and early 1980s were too little too late to deal with the internal and international pressures (mainly in the form of economic and other sanctions) and to facilitate a transition to a new dispensation.

NP’s final play

By the late 1980s and early 1990s the situation reached the stage where the then leader of the party and president of the country, F.W. de Klerk, confronted the collective leadership of the party – as represented in its parliamentary caucus – with the choice to either try to fight the developing revolution, inspired among other things by international trends, as the Cold War was ending, or to manage an orderly transition process with the ‘enemy’, presentenced in the main by the ANC.

This move came just in time to facilitate the ‘miracle’ of the constitutional negotiations and the birth of the ‘rainbow nation’.

For the NP, however, it came too late for survival and it very soon disappeared from the political scene.

ANC stuck in the past

Having won the first fully democratic election in 1994, the ANC got stuck in a similar trajectory by sticking to ‘liberation politics’ and race-based policies, which hinder rather than facilitate the development of the ‘rainbow nation’ to its full potential.

In the meantime, with the development of new international factors like globalisation, with its integration of the world economy and markets and, especially, the phenomenon of social media, the demands for adaption to changed circumstances, which include rapid growth of the middle class, faster urbanisation and escalating expectations, have sped up the trajectory considerably.

The bottom line is that the ANC has arrived at the point of choosing between fighting a looming revolutionary process of change or managing it with imaginative initiatives just more than 20 years after assuming power instead of the just more than 40 it took to bring about the end of the NP.

Positives and negatives of response

There are some positives in the response of the ANC’s National Executive Committee at its meeting of the past weekend to consider the disappointing (for them) results in the municipal election.

Among these is the fact that the collective leadership has taken responsibility for what happened, and accepting there are messages from the voters to take to heart and address.

There were, however, also serious negatives. Top of these was the decision – or non-decision – regarding the position of President Jacob Zuma. Fact is the controversies surrounding Mr Zuma and his network of patronage will intensify rather than abate in the months to come.

The uncertainty created by the announcement to reprioritise the national budget could also play havoc with international investor confidence, which could negatively impact on economic development and employment creation.

Lessons from the past

In this regard the ANC could also take a leaf out of the book of the NP and consider how they, in an orderly way, got rid of then president B.J. Vorster and other leaders involved in the so-called Info scandal.

With creative responses to international economic sanctions the government also succeeded in triggering strong growth and the modernisation of the domestic economy, building a strong manufacturing sector under the slogan “buying back the farm”.

Conclusion

How well the ANC manages the transition to an era of unavoidable post-liberation politics in the immediate to mid-term is not only going to be critical to the future of the party itself. It will be even more critical to the future of the ‘rainbow nation’. As white race-based policies ended with apartheid, the question is: Will the ANC succeed in ridding itself of black race-based policies as the era of liberation politics is coming to an end?

by Piet Coetzer

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