ANC reaches its 105th birthday wobbling
10 Jan 2017 - 20:41
The African National Congress (ANC) commemorated its 105th birthday on January 8, 2017 maintaining its position as the oldest political movement in Africa. It is a proud milestone for the organisation that liberated South Africa and contributed to the liberation of other countries in Southern Africa. The ANC embarked on a very ambitious transformation process, earning praises and accolades from around the world.
The Government of National Unity (GNU) was made popular by the ANC and indeed the Truth and Reconciliation process was another initiation of the ANC which became one of the great South African political exports. Nelson Mandela a “saint” in the minds of most people was the leader of the ANC. The commemoration took place at the Orlando stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg an important place in South African political history.
The day after the commemoration the social media was awash with pictures of exorbitant restaurant bills detailing what the ANC “bigwigs” and “supporters” spent on alcohol. Many comments on the social media criticised the ANC for spending high amounts of money on alcohol amidst poverty. ‘It was like rubbing salt to the wound to many poor people within the vicinity to learn about how much was spent” most comments read. These types of impressions are unfortunately increasingly describing the ANC of 2017, crass and nouveau riche.
Furthermore the political limelight continues to depict the leader of the ANC Jacob Zuma as a Zulu traditionalist who continues to grant political favours to the members of his tribe. The ANC of 2017 has strong tribal factions, this is not been good for the ANC. Zuma has recently decided to address some public gatherings, irrespective of composition, in his mother tongue.
This is a major departure from the political traditions of his predecessors. South Africa has 11 official languages, out of those English is regarded by many as a unifying language and is largely spoken within the professional working environments and at national public gatherings. When he was fighting for his political survival in 2006, his supporters wore sponsored t-shirt with 100% Zulu Boy written on them. Later these t-shirts were wore at most ANC gatherings. This was often in full view of Zuma and some senior leaders of the ANC.
Notwithstanding the obvious dangerous tribal trappings in such clothing, it went without reprimand. It also suggested that Zuma was some sort of a victim because of his tribal affiliation. Outside the courts where he appeared, Zulu cultural rituals were performed again without any condemnation. Since then similar t-shirts and other cultural symbols celebrating other tribes in South Africa have become popular items on sale at various places. Suffice to say since Zuma took office there has been a steady rise of tribalism in the South African political landscape.
How did the ANC which was once dubbed a revolutionary “broad church” and a movement of the people by its founders reach this situation? The glue that held the foundations of the ANC as a “broad church” was ideology and clear understanding of its objectives i.e. “to transform South Africa into a united, non-racial, non- sexist and democratic country” and “to fight for social justice and to eliminate the vast inequalities created by apartheid and the system of national oppression”.
The differing intellectual views on how to achieve these objectives are a large part of what made the ANC a “broad church”. Over the years however the understanding of “broad church” has been reduced by and large to mean an organisation with different social classes, tribes and races. The neglect and lack of emphasis of intellectual political discussions towards understanding and pursuing the political ideology and objectives of the organisation, have over the years weakened the organisation. Consequently tribalism, sexism and corruption within the rank and file of the ANC started rearing its ugly head. That has created acrimony between the veterans and the new populists within the ANC. The president of the ANC Jacob Zuma has in all appearances followed the course of the populists.
Secondly in order to understand the ANC of 2017 it is also important to unpack the traditional membership and leadership structures of the organisation. There were those who served prison sentences in the Robben Island, the Mandela generation. There are also those who arrived in Robben Island after Mandela before 1976 and those who arrived after 1976.
There were also members and leaders of the organisation in exile, that group was segmented between the African based (mostly active members of Umkhonto we Sizwe) and the European based particularly in the United Kingdom (UK).
The last group was the South African based activists most of whom were members of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and various trade unions. Jacob Zuma who served his prison sentence in Robben Island and later went to exile, identifies with the group that was based in Africa particularly former members of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
His predecessor President Thabo Mbeki and many others on the other hand represent the Western educated Eurocentric ANC cadre. Consequently the style of leadership has been different. It is important to understand these differences because they provide insights into the current political prioritizations and polarisations. Moreover they help to understand and locate the criticisms levelled against the ANC of 2017.
Zuma has been a disaster for the ANC. His indiscretions over the years have undermined the presidency and the image of the ANC. They have dominated the international headlines giving a negative reflection of South Africa.
Furthermore under his leadership the ANC lost control of three very important municipalities, the Joburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tswane Metropolitan Municipalities.
This has been a great embarrassment for the ANC, basically the capital city, parliament and economic hub of South Africa are all under the control of the opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The ANC is a wounded organisation, it will follow the fate of other African liberation movements if it does not engage in introspection, rectify and address the sociopolitical challenges faced by the country.
The writer is a Researcher at Aljazeera Studies Centre