The African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa was 100 years old on Sunday (January 8). The ANC has good cause to celebrate: it has come far and it has achieved much. It is a part of Africa’s and indeed the world’s history, not just South Africa’s. South Africa in particular and Sub-Saharan Africa in general would not be where they are to day without the ANC. But for South Africa to move forward as a stable, fair, democratic, liberal and prosperous country, the ANC must cease to exist in its current form.
Two articles on the same day in The Star highlighted some of the key issues that now confront South Africa and the ANC as the latter becomes a centenarian.
Gwynne Dyer, a regular columnist with The Star quoted South African academic William Gumede on the subject (‘Has ANC reached a tipping point?’, January 10). “This is our tipping point”, said Gumede, “from here things will go downhill. No liberation movement has moved upwards from this point.
Whether meaning to or not, Dyer and Gumede had touched on an important point. The ANC is now a political party and what’s more, a party in government. It grew out of, however, a ‘liberation movement’ and for many of its supporters it has yet to truly transfer from being the latter to the former.
The ANC helped to bring down the apartheid system in South Africa. From its ranks grew one of the great world-historical figures, Nelson Mandela but from it too has grown, and continues to grow, an ever flowering corrupt political system.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN PRESSURE COOKER
It is now over 20 years, however, since that terrible system began to be truly dismantled and 18 years since the ANC took power in its own right in South Africa. As Richard Dowden, a director of the Royal African Society, writing in The Star pointed out (‘What has happened to ANC 100 years later?’, January 10), ‘The median age in the country [South Africa] is now 25. That is too young to have known apartheid directly, so blaming the past no longer works’.
In a country where the official unemployment rate is 25 per cent and the real figure somewhat higher, 10 per cent of population is without clean water and 20 per cent without electricity, and with one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, as Dowden pointed out, that has the potential to create a political presser cooker that will have to blow up at some time.
FROM MONOLITHIC ONE-PARTY STATES
Gwynne Dyer suggested that only if the ANC were to eventually lose an election and then go ‘meekly into opposition can we conclude that South Africa really is an exception to the rule that liberation movements don’t do democracy’.
Dyer was right in part. Liberation movements don’t do democracy. This theme could be developed, however. Try this. Think of one Sub-Saharan African country that post independence (which for most meant post-colonialism) didn’t rapidly become a one-party state. And think also which Sub-Saharan African countries have, or are moving to, some form of functioning democracy, where the collapse of that monolithic party wasn’t a prerequisite for achieving something like real representative democracy.
In Kenya just about all our present day politicians were at some point part of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), whether they now be ODM, PNU or whatever. In Malawi every politician used to be part of Dr Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP) but now they are part of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and so on. And thus it went in Ghana, Tanzania and many other countries.
The ANC’s leadership in South Africa, and some former leaders who have now withdrawn from the public scene, are accused of being mired in corruption, of suppressing press freedom and of running a country where ‘black empowerment’ for the many now means black enrichment for the few.
Richard Dowden noted that the ANC has fragmented into cliques and so it has but that is the nature of broad-based movements in the long term, especially when their defining and unifying raison d’etre, in this case the end of apartheid, has been achieved.
For the memory of the ANC and what it helped to achieve not to be tarnished, and for the sake of the future of democracy in South Africa, the ANC should now go the way of post-liberation movements and split into competing political parties.
Happy 100th birthday ANC but the party’s over, or at least it should be.