After 20 wasted years, a single arrow remains in the ANC’s quiver


After 20 wasted years, a single arrow remains in the ANC’s quiver

The campaigns for next year's general election have begun. The ANC's primary message to voters? Be grateful you no longer live in the nasty 1970s and 1980s. MAX DU PREEZ lifts his eyes to the hills.


SOMEONE born on the day the ANC took over the government of South Africa will be 30 years old before next year's general election and most likely already have children themselves.

Singapore progressed from a backward, impoverished city-state to one of the more prosperous nations in the world within three decades.

Other examples of dramatic economic growth in a few decades include South Korea between 1962 and the 1980s, Japan after 1945, Mauritius since independence in 1968, Hong Kong after World War 2; even Vietnam after the end of the war in 1975.

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South Africa was on a similar path after 1994, the darling of the world with strong economic growth and ample foreign investments.

But after a decade, the graph started to decline, and the last 15 years show a sharp downturn.

Before the 2014 election, then-president Jacob Zuma and his party looked at the decay and failures around them and declared that the ANC should rather be judged on the progress since the end of apartheid.

We are back there now.

With precious little to brag about and plenty to be ashamed of, President Cyril Ramaphosa has launched the ANC's election campaign with the message that voters should choose his party because they are better off today than under apartheid. Duh.

The ANC has made it clear in the past week that there is only one arrow in its election quiver: blame apartheid.

Ramaphosa was first, with his lament last weekend that apartheid still undermines the government's efforts to transform the country. The decay in our cities is due to the fact that apartheid left us with so few qualified engineers and urban planners, says the president. Thirty years later.

Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development (yes, that's what her department is called), was next. She completely denied her party and government's responsibility for the fiery death of 77 people in a government building in Johannesburg: “Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, this is the result of apartheid, which kept people under such conditions, and we are expected to have changed those conditions within 30 years."

The Minister of Cooperative Governance, Thembi Nkadimeng, was next when she blamed the decline of the metros on “apartheid spatial planning".

She was followed by Sindi Chikunga, the Minister of Transport, who attributed the collapse of rail transportation to the failures of the apartheid governments, which supposedly didn't invest enough in it.

A whole president and three of his cabinet members, all within a few days. Raise the host of apartheid; we have nothing else.

It's about as legitimate as Zanu-PF, which 43 years after Zimbabwe's independence continues to blame its destruction of the economy and the community on Ian Smith and Britain.

As the cynical saying goes: “It's never too late for an unhappy childhood."

Award-winning writer and academic Zakes Mda responded: “In the 30 years of our rule, we didn't have any power to do anything.

“Apartheid continues unabated to this day, and it is so powerful over us that all we can do is sit there in a catatonic position.

“Instead of reversing its evil machinations, we took care of our bank balances (even in our stupor).

“We are weak and hopeless, please vote us back into power."

That is exactly the point: what has the ANC done over nearly 30 years with the power given to it by election victories to make the country a better place for all?

The question is not whether apartheid was a crime against humanity and whether we still see the consequences of centuries of white domination and oppression around us. That is a fact as clear as day.

I had several in-depth discussions with ANC leaders such as Joe Slovo, Pallo Jordan, Kader Asmal, Thabo Mbeki and Chris Hani from the mid-1980s up to the run-up to the 1994 election, focusing precisely on what the ANC's post-liberation approach should be.

We all broadly agreed on this: the ANC's task was to undo the damage of colonialism and apartheid; to build a new, more humane and just society on the ashes of a bitter past.

No one could have expected it to be easy. Apartheid as an ideology did not want black and brown people to reach their full potential. Most black leaders were in exile, fighting in the bush or imprisoned before 1990, rather than being educated in governance or economic management. The explosion of black students at universities only came some time after 1994.

The undue rush to get rid of white expertise, while emotionally understandable, was nevertheless reckless and disastrous. 

But the naked truth is that most in the ANC's leadership enjoyed the newly acquired power and access to wealth so much that they forgot their true mission.

It was their time to eat, to hell with the masses.

There was a big club of rent-seekers in Luthuli House and the Union Buildings, and a slew of smaller clubs in the civil service, public enterprises and provincial and local governments.

Zuma, we now know, was not an aberration, an unexpected, strange phenomenon. He was just a highly visible manifestation of what had long been brewing in the ANC's bosom, and continues to brew.

There is much to be said about the reaction of the white privileged establishment to our new democracy, and little of it will be flattering. But that is a conversation for another occasion.

Right now, the ANC is trapped in the five-yearly process of selecting candidates for national and provincial elections. The harvest is meagre.

The problem is that few of the country's best talents are willing to get involved with a party that, in less than three decades, has transformed from a proud liberation movement into a criminal syndicate of sorts.

I lift my eyes to the hills.

♦ VWB ♦

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