ANC’s time is up, but who can fill the gap?


ANC’s time is up, but who can fill the gap?

It's easy to see that the governing party has run out of time and credibility. It's much more difficult to discern who is ready to take over, writes ISMAIL LAGARDIEN.


BARELY anyone, apart from card-carrying members or people waiting cap in hand, believes the ANC should be the majority party and lead the country after May’s election. This is probably a good thing, especially for those of us who make decisions based on evidence, policies and ideological preferences. One glaring problem is that in terms of numbers, there is no viable alternative. In terms of policies, a subjective reading, the ANC stands apart.

I should add, in haste, that good policies are meaningless without implementation and solid ethical foundations and practice, and when corruption, maladministration, cronyism, division of justice (some people deserve more justice than others), incompetence and a lack of professionalism are the defining features of the state. Let us return, then, to the top.

On the basis of its performance since 2008/09, the ANC must be removed from government. There is no need to go over the data since it is clear to everyone. The country is in a worse place than it was before Jacob Zuma and friends took the reins. We want economic expansion and growth with just and equitable distribution (funding of education, jobs, healthcare, housing), and South Africa was well on the way to achieving all that during Thabo Mbeki's presidency. Under Zuma the country became a kleptocracy, wealth and opportunities were siphoned off, and state-owned enterprises plummeted into dysfunction, maladministration and graft.

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The people who were placed at the helm of agencies like Eskom became wealthy but the utility slowly deteriorated to the point where there is a veritable industry filling electricity supply gaps. Emergency lighting, generators, uninterrupted power supply units, gas lighting and heating, solar lighting and batteries are flooding the shelves and floors of shops.

Elites, many of whom have become wealthy through state tenders or well-placed directorships, deployments and purposive employment, have become a new “exploitative class”, which highlights the contradiction between reality and constitutional rights. This may account for brazen statements about the poor. “Fuck them,” a former top executive of African Bank, Tami Sokutu, was reported to have said.

Card-carrying members of the ANC would expect such wealth and opportunities to accrue to them. Because of their party membership, they have places at the front of the queue of supplicant citizens.

Public goods and supplicant citizens

There is nothing wrong with expecting the government to provide public goods and services. Ideological hard nuts may disagree but they are typically people who can pay for private goods and services or who have lost faith in the government. For instance, we would pay extra for a private delivery service because the Post Office is either unreliable or has collapsed. We would pay extra for private home security because the police are unreliable and either corrupt or underfunded and made up of people who are physically unfit and in the job because it’s a job. It is difficult to believe that anyone is interested in public service as a calling, as civic duty, a type of national service for the common good, when there is such a desperate need to place food on the table and any job will do, as long as it pays something.

Amid all of this there are millions of people who are effectively supplicant citizens. There should be no negative connotations to that. The neediest among us, those who cannot afford to pay for goods and services, have a right to expect something and to call on the state as a lender/supplier of last resort. We know from the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2008 recession that states around the world expanded their role and served as financiers of last resort. Governments focused on companies, with large-scale financial support including loan programmes, equity injections and credit guarantees.

Early in the 2008 recession, the British government bailed out the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds-TSB and HBOS by taking large ownership stakes and guaranteeing their assets. Institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements and the Financial Stability Board, as well as emerging regional banking regimes and institutions, are preparing for forthcoming crises.

If governments are prepared to save banks, they can and probably should step in to save communities. The immediate response, I imagine, would be that the tax burden is disproportionately shared. The assumption is that that those community members, the supplicant citizens, don’t pay tax but want to benefit from state subsidies. That may be a reasonable response but we live in times that defy reason. Also, probably more importantly, it really depends on what type of country we want to live in; do you want to live in a country where the middle class, the wealthy and the “haves” live and do as they can, and the “have nots” have to “suffer what they must”?

If not the ANC, then who?

There is no disputing the statement that the ANC is the most experienced at governance. Two things stand out. First, experience is sometimes meaningless. You can go to your desk diligently, do 10 things all day, return the next day, do the same 10 things, and repeat this for 20 years. On the face of it, you have experience, but it is inconsequential. Second, the evidence shows that in the first 12-15 years the state delivered many of its promises. Again, only the tough-nut ideologues and people who are hardwired to oppose the post-apartheid dispensation may disagree. If we have to approach the election with an anyone-but-the-ANC approach, who else can be trusted?

Having looked at the spectrum of persons and parties, only one stands out as trustworthy, humble and clear in intent. The problem with Zackie Achmat is that he is very much a local figure with a slim chance of getting to parliament. A vote for Achmat will be based on conscience and wilful resistance to the status quo, but it may not change things.

The DA would be the next best thing after the ANC, in terms of numbers, experience and policies. It is the second largest party and it has experience in local and provincial government, but its policies appear to be insufficiently pro-poor. The DA is also wedded to liberal capitalist orthodoxy and belief in “the market”. This free market approach is also promoted by ActionSA with dangerous touches of xenophobia and elements of economic nationalism, which somehow contradicts free market orthodoxy.

The other problem the DA faces is its history as part of the sad old liberal opposition to the National Party then the ANC. Sad, because the DA lost its best people (like Van Zyl Slabbert) a long time ago and became the party of Tony Leon and Helen Zille. Rightly or not, it will forever be considered “the last bastion of white power”.

John Steenhuisen is probably the most uninspired, dour and intellectually wanting person. There are times when he can be a bit of a philistine, like Julius Malema, Herman Mashaba or Gayton McKenzie but without the politics of revenge and recrimination, the explicit xenophobia. Steenhuisen reminds me of the difference between analysis and description (posing as analysis).

The EFF, notably its leader, Malema, thrives on bloodcurdling remarks about dying or killing for the revolution or stochastic terrorist statements: he demonises groups like “non-Africans”. When his followers run amok, burn and destroy, he claims he did not tell them to do so. When you remove all that talk of violence, revenge, cruelty and ethno-nationalist violence, the EFF’s policies may appeal to a tiny group of traditional Marxist-Leninists. My guess is that people support the EFF because they are angry and desperately in need of the pleasure derived from revenge.

Inkatha is a regional party. It has the numbers in KwaZulu-Natal. McKenzie's Patriotic Alliance is a small race-based party, as is the Freedom Front Plus. The FF+ may be superficially race-based but I’m not sure it is racist or xenophobic; it's unabashedly a party that works in the interest of Afrikaners, also a small group. My guess is that if you calculated Afrikaner support for political parties, there are probably more “Afrikaners” who support the DA, the ANC and Rise Mzansi.

Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi represents something of a “refreshed ANC” with better liberal appeal than the DA. In terms of policy, a vote for Rise Mzansi represents a break with the past only at the level of perception. Almost all political watersheds (especially elections) represent a choice between rupture and continuity. The political settlement of the early 1990s was about stability and continuity and it achieved both, with caveats. Thirty years later, the EFF is the only party that would insist on returning to 1994, as it were, to effect rupture. At the extremes the EFF would go back to a type of “year zero”, that prelapsarian past “before the white man came”.

Rise Mzansi seems to be the “stable” option, the one that would take care of the middle class while addressing issues like unemployment, poverty, inequality, lack of growth, dysfunctional redistribution measures and probably advancing privatisation of state-owned enterprises and agencies. The sense I get from this is that if you made a stew of DA and pre-Zuma ANC policies, you end up with a dish called Rise Mzansi.

Zibi remains the face of the party and he should shave votes from the ANC and the DA, even ActionSA. I will not put money on Rise Mzansi getting more than 10-12% of the vote.

The only thing that is clear is that the ANC has run out of time and credibility. Like the Indian National Congress and United Malays National Organisation, both of which held an iron grip over politics after independence in India and Malaysia, the ANC may be entering a period on the opposition benches, if not in the political wilderness.

The evidence is clear and the damage runs deep. The question that keeps nagging (at least at me) is twofold: will the ANC/EFF allow the next government policy space, and not be disruptive for the sake of disruption? And before that, will the ANC/EFF accept the outcome of the election — if, at least the EFF, does not get more than 20% of the vote?

♦ VWB ♦

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