“The ANC is in danger of looking old, feeble and… not important”

“South Africans still love the ANC — which makes their treatment all the sadder”

Source: Daily Maverick

The ANC is looking old, tired, divided and left behind

By Stephen Grootes• 13 January 2020

ANC Ramaphosa

 It has become clear that the divisions in the ANC make it difficult to come up with solutions to fix the country’s problems, says the writer. 

On Saturday, 11 January, the ANC released its full 8th January statement, its agenda for the year. Unfortunately, despite the clear evidence that South Africa is caught up in a series of multi-layered crises, Precious little new has been offered. Solutions to our current problems may well be hard to come by.

One of the defining characteristics of the ANC has been its ability to be reasonable when assessing its problems. Its policy documents ahead of conferences and national general councils have often been accurate and transparent about issues like corruption, and internal divisions. They are usually written by committees, which allows the document to be honest without any one person being vulnerable to political attack.

But another defining characteristic of the party has become its perennial inability to fix those problems, to do anything to resolve the issues it so precisely described in the first place.

The speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday was a shortened form of the document. The full 8th January statement, approved by the national executive committee (NEC) is the official document. It encapsulates this problem in its entirety. It describes how the party “stands at one of the most challenging and fraught moments since our movement’s historic Morogoro Conference of 1969”. And yet, there are no new solutions on offer.

Importantly though, it is possible that there may be something happening in the area of (electrical) power generation that could be important in the future.

That the ANC is divided and torn between different factions is known to almost everyone and the party has given up hiding this. It has also become clearer and clearer that it is these divisions that are making it difficult to come up with solutions to fix the country’s problems.

It is perhaps this situation that drove Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to tweet on Friday night that proper reforms were needed now. It was a sign of his impatience, and perhaps desperation, with the lack of action.

Unfortunately, the statement written by the ANC, despite its honesty, simply covers up the cracks.

It says, for example, that, “in the year ahead it is essential that we make clear and irreversible progress in building a united, cohesive, ethical and strong ANC – an ANC that is able to continue effectively serving the people of South Africa”.

But the how is missing. There is talk of “rebuilding branches” in the movement. But that seems unlikely, if not impossible, considering that every branch is a potential vote at a conference that could determine the future leader of the ANC and president of the country.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the lack of new ideas for growing the economy. This is possibly the biggest crisis we face (more on electricity in a moment). The NEC says “we reiterate that the creation of jobs is at the centre of our economic agenda and it must remain the central priority for 2020”. Well, obviously.

It then says, “this requires the full implementation of the measures outlined in the 2019 Election Manifesto, including a substantial increase in investment, a massive infrastructure build programme, steps to improve the ease and reduce the cost of doing business, and the expansion of pathways for young people into the world of work. We welcome the significant investment commitments – totaling more than R600-billion – that have been realised through the first two South Africa Investment Conferences.”

But that is it. There are no new ideas.

Of course, as Mboweni may well remind us, there is a set of proposals on the table, from the National Treasury. For the moment, almost none of them have been implemented, nor has any timetable been set for their implementation. And yet South Africa simply continues to burn through the problem of unemployment.

Related to job creation is the issue of Eskom. The NEC states that “we must give priority to the urgent and necessary work required to ensure the stability of electricity supply. This means that we must both accelerate the introduction of new electricity generation and complete the measures undertaken to ensure the financial and operational stability of Eskom.”

The key here, of course, is what kind of power generation? Does the NEC mean simply bringing Medupi and Kusile to the boil (in terms of generating their full potential), or do they mean introducing more power from independent power producers (IPPs)?

This is likely to be a burning issue this year. Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has already been accused of preventing IPPs from selling all of the power they produce to the grid. Some of these IPPs have already said as much. Then there is the economic impact of allowing big corporations, as well as individuals, small companies and shopping centres to simply produce their own power and sell the excess. That would surely unleash the need for more workers to make that change and have a positive economic effect.

But none of that is mentioned in the NEC’s statement. It is surely a function of the broken politics of the party, and the fact that Mantashe is the chair of the ANC, that none of that is included.

Then there is one of the other big issues, the fate of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Again, the ANC says it takes their situation seriously and “the movement must undertake a thorough and sober assessment of the state of our SOEs and take clear decisions about what must be done to place these entities back on a sustainable path”.

However, it would surely be against the interests of any political party, and any of the people within it, to give up the kind of power that SOEs can provide. Within them, there are resources, patronage opportunities and pure political power. At SAA, it took a major crisis, and the prospect of the airline actually completely collapsing (with the added possibility of a “cascade effect” leading to a financial disaster for the entire country), that led to Cabinet accepting the option of business rescue.

It is unlikely that the ANC will ever give up power over SOEs regardless of who is running the party at the time. The vested interests against it are simply too strong.

And then there is perhaps the biggest long-term problem facing the party: corruption.

The NEC says, “holding elected representatives accountable is a task for each and every one of us. The ANC will become more vigilant in screening its candidates and ensuring that these comrades meet the highest standards of ethics, morality and service to the people. Once elected, the movement must ensure that ANC public representatives serve the people with distinction. Where this does not happen, there must be consequences – and there will be consequences.”

The ANC has tried for many years, literally since the Sarafina II affair in the mid-1990s, to deal with this. On all of the available evidence, it has failed miserably.

The high point last year in the ANC’s ability to deal with its deployed cadres accused of corruption was the process that led to Zandile Gumede being removed as mayor of Ethekwini. It was an important momentsuggesting the balance of power was moving towards Ramaphosa (particularly because of the role played by the leader of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Premier Sihle Zikalala).

But then, as the year drew to a close, the party elected Geoff Makhubo as mayor in Johannesburg, after the resignation of Herman Mashaba. This was despite the investigative reports by amaBhungane that Makhubo benefitted from financial services contracts signed during the ANC’s previous tenure in Joburg.

The real test for the ANC this year is likely to be what happens if the National Prosecuting Authority actually charges its secretary-general, Ace Magashule, with corruption. Magashule himself has not legally responded to the book Gangster State while last year saw testimony at the Zondo Commission about the Estina Dairy Project.

If the NPA does charge him in relation to this, the political fallout in the ANC is likely to be intense – it could make or break the party’s future.

However, the ANC may now be facing a much bigger problem. It appears to be losing the ability to lead.

On Sunday, 12 January, not one of the three big English-language Sunday newspapers carried a report about Ramaphosa’s speech or the NEC statement itself on their front pages. In the past, during the eras of Mbeki and Zuma, it would be a huge event, it would be impossible to keep the event off a front page.

Not anymore.

Our society is changing quickly: younger people do things very differently from older people, there are incredible advances in producing electricity – literally from the sun and the wind – economies are changing, the process of urbanisation is moving quickly. Younger people demand far more from life than people did 30 years ago. In these fast-changing times, the ANC’s old slogan: “The ANC lives, The ANC leads”, may be a hollow one. The ANC is in danger of looking old, feeble and… not important.

It may find that unless it is able to deal with this growing perception, and cannot muster enough unity to come up with solutions, it runs the risk of being left behind. Permanently.


South Africans still love the ANC — which makes their treatment all the sadder

By Rebecca Davis 13 January 2020

The ANC is the only political party in South Africa for whom elderly people will travel for days to attend events. That fact was proved again at the party’s lacklustre 2020 birthday celebrations. But for how much longer?

On Sunday afternoon in Kimberley, with ANC leaders long gone after the party’s birthday celebrations, it started to rain. The downpour was welcome in this drought-dessicated province, but its effects were not. Within a few hours, the main road into the town had become a river. A tow-truck waited for waters to subside before it attempted to rescue a car stuck in a pothole which had become an invisible trap as the road flooded.

We are told that Eskom’s primary problem is that adequate maintenance has not been undertaken on its power stations for years. In that case, Eskom’s problem is also shared by almost every municipality in this country. The further one drives out of the major cities, the higher the level of municipal neglect.

ANC bigwigs escaped not just the flooding which ensued after their departure from Kimberley, but also the rolling blackouts which would return to the town after they left. As a result of the ANC’s birthday celebrations, the lights were kept on in Kimberley from Wednesday to Sunday — while the rest of South Africa experienced Stage 2 load shedding almost continually during that time.

A spokesperson for the Sol Plaatje municipality explained that the “little reprieve” was being granted to Kimberley because “the president of the country is here, as well as many other national ministers and dignitaries”.

The weekend of the January 8th statement has become synonymous with a massive piss-up for those ANC officials and supporters who can afford it. Young women boast on social media about a weekend spent with older men in generous moods; young men boast on social media just how wild the party is.

Even the ANC leadership got in on the bacchanalian references, with national chair Gwede Mantashe joking to the crowd at the stadium rally that Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s advice for the day was not to “drink under the influence”.

Of SACP leader Blade Nzimande, Mantashe quipped:

“Let’s hope there’s not too much blood in his alcohol”.

The crowd gathered in the stadium for the birthday rally were rewarded for their attendance with the following: free food on the event buses; free stadium wifi; and free entertainment in the form of musical performances from some well-loved local artists.

Of course, the ANC’s VIPs and guests did not slum it in the stadium for long. Virtually as soon as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech had ended, members of the party’s NEC were whisked away in air-conditioned buses to lunch at Kimberley’s shiny Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre. The same venue had already staged the party’s Friday night black-tie dinner; later on Saturday, the centre would play host to the real (though completely unofficial) ANC birthday bash: “Thee January Party”, featuring top DJs, with tickets at R600 a pop or R2,000 for VIP entry.

During his speech to the stadium, President Ramaphosa would note approvingly:

“We found that the people of the Northern Cape actually love the African National Congress”.

It’s not clear why he added the surprised-sounding “actually”: the Northern Cape has never been at serious risk of slipping out of ANC hands since 1999, even if the 2019 elections saw the party’s support in the province slip to a low of 57.54%. (In 1994 elections, the party gathered 49.74%)

Perhaps the “actually” was a kind of Freudian slip resulting from the scale of the problems with which Ramaphosa was confronted during his provincial walkabouts.

During the birthday rally, the crowd was repeatedly told that the ANC was “the only party” capable of ensuring their aspirations were realised. The message was reiterated to the point where it began to sound a bit like cult programming — or the kind of line with which an abusive husband keeps his wife in the relationship. Nobody else will ever love you like I do.

Ramaphosa was not wrong: South Africans actually do still love the ANC, despite everything. At the birthday celebrations, Daily Maverick spoke to ordinary party supporters who had driven 13 hours to be there; who had slept overnight in a train station to be there.

Theirs is a support which goes far deeper than the modern model of political party membership. The ANC is not just a political party. It is a home, a sanctuary, a community; it delivered South Africa from apartheid. It is the oldest political movement on the continent. Even by international standards, its 108 years of existence make it a venerable elder.

It is this that has to go some way towards explaining why most South Africans find it so hard to give up on the ANC — despite the fact that the majority of those gathered in the stadium on Saturday returned home to lives deprived of basic services while the party leadership clinked champagne glasses.

But for how much longer? The most passionate ordinary supporters tend to be older. Of the ANC Women’s League members dutifully gathered at the rally in their green blouses, there was barely one to be seen under 50.

For younger South Africans, the relationship is different — particularly for those shut out of the Instagrammable world of parties and champagne. For those not yet born when apartheid ended, the ANC’s saviour status is considerably reduced.

What they want is not nostalgia, nor the frisson of seeing Top Six members dancing together on stage. What they want is jobs. If the ANC cannot deliver that, the days of these wasteful celebrations have to be numbered.