A bleak future for the ANC

The ANC is convulsed by leadership battles, corruption scandals and failed promises.

The ANC's path has veered away from what Mandela envisioned in the early 1990s, writes the author [Getty Images]

On April 29 South African public television was invited by the governing ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, to film an exclusive and very special event. Led by the state president, Jacob Zuma, the party’s top six officials arrived at Mandela’s Johannesburg home – where he was recovering after yet another stint in hospital for his recurring lung infection – and posed for the cameras with him.

In the ghoulish footage that was released afterwards Mandela is silent, stoic, and opens his mouth once to make a gagging sound. Zuma and his team, sitting around him, are beaming and trying to make small talk.

Mandela is either oblivious to it all or cannot respond. He looked like a man in pain as camera flashlights went off, despite the world knowing he cannot stand them since his eyes were damaged in prison.

The visit and photo opportunity angered ordinary South Africans and the Mandela family.

“I honestly cannot put in words how hurt the family was. It was one of the most insensitive things for anyone to have done,” Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of the anti-apartheid icon, said later.

The visit was important to the ANC. Zuma was engulfed in yet another of his many scandals, with his personal friends – the influential Gupta family, who are in business with his son and pay his fourth wife’s mortgage while also employing her in one of their companies – landing a chartered jet from India in one of the country’s key strategic military bases without permission.

For the ANC leaders, the visit to Mandela was an attempt to keep its “struggle credentials” intact by ensuring that it owned the name and legacy of Mandela. Secondly, amid scandal and failure to deliver on crucial promises, the party sought to burnish its image with the Mandela name. The visit underlined just how desperate the ANC’s cause has become.

Growing anger

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ANC veteran and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki (the brother of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor) said in July 2013, as Mandela lay in hospital with yet another lung infection: “You can see the ANC is starting to peel off. The reason is that it has been in power for 20 years, but what does it have to show for being in power for 20 years?”

Nineteen years after Mandela took over as president of a new and democratic South Africa, the party he once led is facing massive internal convulsions and the challenges of government incumbency. Its internal structures are failing, with purges of maverick members occurring frequently, while perceptions that it has become corrupt are on the increase. Its leadership is under scrutiny, with many alleging that the Zuma administration is lining its pockets and has forgotten about the plight of the poor.

Dissent and dissatisfaction is growing inside and outside the ANC. In the past three years three splinter parties have emerged from the ANC.

Outside of the ANC, police data shows that there is a protest for services – either violent or peaceful – at least once every two days across the country. The people who have overwhelmingly placed their trust with the ANC over two decades are now protesting against their leaders.

In his first speech to Parliament in 1994, Mandela set out exactly what the ANC’s government would be about: “My government’s commitment to create a people-centred society of liberty binds us to the pursuit of the goals of freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear.”

Few now believe that Mandela’s dream is still being pursued by the ANC. Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister in Mandela’s post-apartheid government, recently wrote that the ANC lacked leadership and this “is starkly illustrated in such matters as sections of the police being out of control; such scandals as the non-delivery of textbooks to schools; and the wasteful expenditure of over R200 million [$19m] on security alone at the president’s Nkandla home”.

What went wrong?

Although South Africa is a peaceful country that has made massive strides in many respects, storm clouds are looming. In the third quarter of 2013, the official unemployment figure stood at 25 percent, while economic growth stalled to 0.7 percent. The country considered the economic powerhouse of Africa is projected to record economic growth of only 2 percent this year. Of the unemployed, 70 percent are young people under 35. Post-apartheid South Africa has become, alongside Brazil, one of the two most unequal societies in the world.

A recurring motif in the ANC story is corruption. A common example is the construction of a $20m palace for ANC president Jacob Zuma in his rural village of Nkandla. Pictures of the massive compound paint an incredible scene: Right next to the house is a mud hovel that houses a poor family.

Scandals such as this one (aptly called Nkandlagate) are frequent. ANC leaders in many provinces face criminal charges over graft, leading ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to quip: “The flow of cash is so much that money has more power than political ideology and political consciousness – that is the biggest threat (to the ANC).”

Through its investment wing Chancellor House, the ANC has flagrantly channeled taxpayer funds towards the company for its own uses. Its members have done hugely lucrative deals with government and forwarded part of the proceeds to the party.

Speaking at a fund-raising dinner recently, Zuma told assembled businesspeople: “We are not forcing people (to support the ANC)… you can support who you support and be a supporter, but if you go beyond that and become a member… if you are a businessman, your business will multiply.”

A substantial chunk of ANC leaders left the party in 2008 after President Thabo Mbeki was fired just months before the end of his term by the then new Zuma leadership.

The death of 34 mineworkers at the hands of the police in the infamous Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012, an event which ANC leaders dismissively refer to as an “incident”, has for many underlined the party’s distance from the people-centred society that Mandela sought to build.  

Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, who served as Mandela’s finance minister, says ANC members must do some introspection about why there is disconnection between them and ordinary people. “It is fundamentally important that we understand this … Do we ask how we are so disconnected from our people?” he asked at a memorial lecture in Cape Town. “We’ve got to get back our people,” he said.

South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, was even harsher: “If (the ANC) does not pay attention to the importance of being relevant to the people of South Africa then it will run the risk of losing power.”

What are the chances, therefore, that with Mandela’s passing the ANC will find its course again and fulfill his promise of a people-centred organisation? They look slim. From the behemoth that commanded a two-thirds majority in elections in 1999, the ANC is projected by analysts to get less than 60 percent of the vote in 2014. Power is seeping away.

“The crisis (in the ANC) must reach its apex first… I think it will be self-delusion to believe it’s something that can self-correct. It has to get worse first,” said Deputy President Motlanthe to the Financial Times.

These are words that would break Mandela’s heart.

Justice Malala is a political commentator and newspaper columnist. Malala writes regular weekly columns for The Times newspaper and the Financial Mail magazine. He also presents a weekly political talk show, The Justice Factor, on the eNCA and eTV.