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Can the ANC extricate itself from electoral decline?

The truth is all liberation movements have lifespans, their longevity is obviously dependent on a cocktail of factors, and the same holds for the ANC, writes social activist and commentator Masingita Mkhawana.

As the ANC reels from its worst electoral decline since 1994, where for the first time it dropped to below 50% nationally in the recent 2021 LGE, everyone is trying to make sense of what does that mean firstly; for the ANC as an organization, and secondly; for South African politics broadly. It seems like the hegemony the ANC has enjoyed since 1994 has irredeemably crumbled and disintegrated.

It is critically important to mention that the organization throughout its 109 year old history has never been impeccable, from time to time it confronted challenges, some miniscule while others even threatened its own existence owing to their size, the ideological stalemate that preceded the 1959 breakaway group led by Robert Sobukwe and the historic Morogoro conference in 1969 immediately come to mind. The ANC was able to emerge out of these two watershed moments.

The gradual decline of the ANC as we have witnessed it unfold in the past twelve years or so was closely observed by Political analysts Prince Mashele and Mzukisi Qobo in their book entitled: The Fall of The ANC. They cogently argued that among others; factionalism, patronage, rampant corruption and Iack of service delivery would ultimately lead to its demise. When some gave a prophesy that the ANC would govern until the return of Jesus Christ, Mashele and Qobo gave a counter-prophesy and predicted that the ANC would not govern beyond 2034. Interestingly, if the recent election results are anything to go by, their prediction might come to pass earlier than they predicted, possibly by 2024 the ANC could sit on the opposition benches in the National Assembly.

As mentioned earlier, while the ANC has never been a perfect organization, it appears that the moral decadence that began to creep in under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma was off the charts and also expedited its demise. Notwithstanding his being a leader of low moral standards, unable to control his carnal urges and ‘a man of a very simple mind’ as Ronnie Kasrils would put it, the ANC had increasingly become extremely arrogant and recalcitrant under his leadership. It was under President Zuma where arrogant slogans such as ‘Asinavalo’ were introduced to our political lexicon, and a swimming pool became a firepool.

 

Between 2009 and 2018, the ANC and its leadership expended vast amounts of time mollycoddling President Zuma rather than attending to the urgent socio-economic needs of the South African populace. Defending wrongdoing became an anomaly acceptable in the organization. During this period the ANC was engaged in what Political analyst Dr Rich Mashimbye refers to as ‘arguing the illogical is actually logical’.

Where to from here?

As the ANC stands on the edge, facing a murkier and uncertain future there are still people who hold dearly the belief that the incumbent, President Cyril Ramaphosa has the charm and charisma to arrest the situation which is not borne out by any facts. On two successive elections (in the past three years) under his helmsmanship the decline continued unabated to a record breaking 46% nationally. Clearly the depredation done to the brand ANC is huge.

The next three years will be a ‘wafa wafa’ kinda situation for the ANC to extricate itself from the morass of electoral decline. Reckless decisions are likely to be made so as to prevent the organization from further sinking into a vortex of political obscurity, logic and rationality will be thrown out of the window. Decision on the controversial e-tolls project which has been a political hot potato for almost a decade is going to be made and one can already extrapolate that it is going to be favorable to the wishes of Gauteng motorists who have been calling for the system to be scrapped, the Finance Minister might be given an instruction to find ways to fund unemployment grants on a permanent basis.

As indicated earlier, the next three years are going to be the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase Charles Dickens. Whatever hasty decisions they make at this point are a little late, the fate awaiting them like all other liberation movements is unavoidable. The persistent problems that continue to rip to shreds Eskom are an albatross on the ANC’s neck. How do you woo foreign investments and stimulate economic growth in a country bedeviled by power crisis? It boggles the mind. But one also finds comfort in the fact that the ANC seems to be warming up to the idea of occupying opposition benches nationally. That is commendable and good for democracy.

Coalition arrangements are a nascent feature in our politics but it seems like they have become ‘a new normal’ since 2016 henceforth. They ought to be embraced and honed for them to be effective. Stability in coalition deals must be reinforced and prioritized to ensure that service delivery is not negatively impacted.

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