Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 June 2017
South Africa’s governing party, the ANC, holds its all-important policy conference this weekend. The conference comes as the embattled party’s dominance of South African politics is in sharp decline amid growing corruption in its ranks. Writing in theconversation.com, Christi van der Westhuizen points out that the policy documents purport to be about the party renewing itself, but that it doesn’t seem to have the guts to do so.
The documents released ahead of the upcoming policy conference of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) expose a panicking party that sees enemies everywhere. While previous policy conferences addressed real policy issues, all energies are now focused on retaining state power as the leadership faces damning claims of capture by a kleptocratic elite.
The discussion documents show a party that professes a desire for self-correction and renewal. But, it seems to have neither the guts, nor the necessary internal balance of forces to do so.
At the same time the documents point to deepening paranoia and an increasingly authoritarian tendency.
In combination, they seem to emanate from a parallel universe where the party’s interests have become elevated above those of the South African society at large.
Some of the text show a party that’s going through the motions. There’s trotting out of lofty ideals left over from when it still occupied the moral high ground. It’s a rhetoric that used to be meaningful and powerful. But it’s been emptied out by the ANC’s increasing failure to harness the state’s resources for the good of all.
For example, one of the documents “Organisational Renewal and Organisational Design” claims:
[the ANC’s vision] is informed by the morality of caring and human solidarity, [and its mission] is to serve the people of South Africa.
Beyond this nostalgia for what it used to be, the ANC documents display little sense of the depth and severity of the political, constitutional, economic and governance crisis facing South Africa. What does come across strongly, however, is a party that feels beleaguered and panicky about possible loss of state power.
Party and state are conflated
The “Organisational Renewal…” document issues the following admonition:
it is in the interests of the movement to… undergo a brutally frank process of introspecting and self-correction.
This sentiment is overtaken by disappointment over the party’s poor performance in the 2016 local government elections. Several pages are dedicated to investigating how other liberation movements became defunct. It transpires that the primary emergency is “to ensure that the ANC remains at the helm” of government.
Of course political parties are about getting and holding on to power. But because of the ANC’s habit of conflating party and state, there seems to be no understanding that its feeling of destiny – that it should rule “until Jesus comes” as President Jacob Zuma put it – won’t dictate the will of the people.
Parties get reelected because they demonstrably govern in service of the will of the people. If the ANC should demonstrate that, it will be returned to power in 2019 . If not, it won’t.
There is an admission that the,
moral suasion that the ANC has wielded to lead society is waning; and the electorate is starting more effectively to assert its negative judgement.
Significant sections of the motive forces seem to have lost confidence in the capacity and will of the ANC to carry out the agenda of social transformation [due to] subjective weaknesses [in the party].
These weaknesses are identified but in a way that skirts around the extent and depth of state capture. More and more evidence, including hundreds of thousands of leaked emails, have emerged that an Indian family of business people, the Guptas, has over the past numbers of years gained a hold over Zuma and a network of ANC leaders. This grip stretches from national to local level, and from government departments to state-owned enterprises.
But in the ANC documents black capitalists are blamed for “corrupt practices including attempts to capture institutions of political and state authority…” The Guptas only get an opaque acknowledgement with reference to lobbying:
[T]he lobbying process engineered by clandestine factionalism destabilises the organisation… Factionalism’s clandestine nature makes it a parallel activity…
But it’s almost as though the document’s authors don’t believe their own diagnosis, or the implications of the party’s “subjective weaknesses”. The document becomes contradictory. Even as it admits that the “motive forces” … “still desire such change and are prepared to work for it”, it starts to cast suspicion:
the mass of the people can, by commission or omission, precipitate an electoral outcome that places into positions of authority, forces that can stealthily and deceitfully chip away at the progressive realisation of a National Democratic Society.
The people are the problem, not the party
That “the people”, rather than a party that’s lost its way, are in fact the problem becomes more ominously clear in the document on “Peace and Stability”. Leninist vanguardism makes the party still feel it knows best, and that the people are useful fools.
It’s worth quoting the whole section to see the extent of the paranoia in the ANC and the array of enemies it creates to avoid confronting the enemy within.
According to the document, the main strategy used by foreign intelligence services is to:
mobilise the unsuspecting masses of this country to reject legally constituted structures and institutions in order to advance unconstitutional regime change. The alignment of the agendas of foreign intelligence services and negative domestic forces threatens to undermine the authority and security of the state.
Their general strategy makes use of a range of role players to promote their agenda and these include, but are not limited to: mass media; non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations; foreign and multinational companies; funding of opposition activities; judiciary, religious and student organisations; infiltration and recruitment in key government departments; placement of non-South Africans in key positions in departments; prominent influential persons…
A small clique vs South Africa
The proposed organisational renewal is to bolster the ANC secretary-general’s powers. Even this belated and lacklustre attempt to reduce the ANC president’s control over the party is compromised, as the clarion call of the discussion documents is “Let us deepen unity!”.
That’s why the actual enemies cannot be confronted, those that have insidiously corrupted the very life and soul of the party. Instead, a worrying paranoid and authoritarian tendency emerges. Its targets are journalists, judges, church and business leaders, activists, opposition parties, foreigners and intellectuals.
Nowhere is the fact confronted that Zuma, president of the ANC and the country, has ceded South Africa’s sovereignty to a foreign family, or that state-owned entities and government departments are being repurposed to enrich a small clique at the expense of South Africa’s people.
About the author:
Christi van der Westhuizen is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Pretoria