Mr President, you asked us to be honest with the ANC
At the ANC Manifesto Consultative Workshop on Monday, the state president invited the public to speak truth to power. We should respond to this invitation.
Since our politicians are about to become obsessed with the 2019 election, thinking people have to contemplate the track record of the elected. This is called engaged citizenship, or one might say, a time to become politically "woke".
We will soon be given a menu of policy manifestos from which to choose. These will contain competing ideologies, dressed up as promises that seek to embody our aspirations as voters. Like a marriage proposal, the ANC will offer us a future. Should we accept their offer?
Political scientists say that an ideology is a system of ideas and ideals that form the basis of economic or political policy. That means that ideology is a form of social or political philosophy; a system of ideas that aspires both to explain the world and to change it. The ANC will soon seek to explain South Africa and to change it. Can we trust them with this task?
When we talk of the ANC's ideology, we talk of the movement's worldview, its belief system and values. Not only those that it proclaims or prints on paper, but its true character, expressed by its actions.
No doubt the ANC has tried to change South Africa and has largely succeeded. The movement has referred to this effort as "transformation", the act of shape-shifting the nation to a preferred socioeconomic form.
But the flowery dream of a "free, equal and non-acial South Africa" is a far cry from the reality on the ground after two decades of ANC government. This is because the ANC has not to date practised what it preaches.
My take is that the ANC's real ideology can be described in four concepts; greedy egalitarianism, democratic opportunism, distributive consumerism and the struggle for self.
The ANC is not communist, not libertarian, nor socialist, nor capitalist. It is essentially an ideologically schizophrenic movement — as is South Africa as a nation.
The ANC daydreams of a nation equally able to consume, but in practice, not all benefit equally.
Allow me to unpack these:
1. Greedy egalitarianism
The ANC has preached inclusiveness and fairness, but has been overrun by a culture of greed. The state of the SOEs and municipalities are basically an embodiment of the contradictions between the movement's stated values and its lived character.
The question for the new ANC president is not so much whether we can Thuma Mina, but whether or not we can thula the "me, myself, I" culture that has infected so many ANC cadres, and reignite a passion for the greater good?
2. Democratic opportunism
The ANC's willingness to allow the IEC to conduct free and fair elections nationally has proven their commitment to democracy. However, within the movement itself, the democratic ethos seems to have come undone, with conference after conference being contested in the courts. Worse still, political opponents from KZN to Mpumalanga face threats of violence or actual death at the hand of their fellow ANC members.
While the movement was born of democratic ideals, opportunism seems to have hijacked its internal processes. This has massive ramifications for the country.
It means that although the ANC departs from a democratic point of view when thinking of the role of government within the state, in practice it ends up repeating interventionist intrusions into SOEs and the private sector, often with the purpose of ensuring that the preferred faction within the alliance gets its hands on the benefits of incumbency.
3. Distributive consumerism
The ANC has no real vision of a socialist state, even though it prides itself on having its roots in worker power. Rather, the ANC conceives of the economy as a free enterprise within rules set up to transform ownership and participation along racial lines.
The implications are that a muzzled version of market forces, intended to serve the social good, end up serving the connected, as we learnt through the recent report on who benefits from the IDC's incentive programmes. The ANC daydreams of a nation equally able to consume, but in practice, not all benefit equally. This is an important ideological error. Consumerism without productivity is the path to indebtedness, at the personal, community and national level, as the ANC is now learning.
The alternative to the ANC's track record would be a principled party that looks a lot like the ANC's own stated ideology but without the cohort of rotten apples that have failed to live up to their own roots.
4. Struggle for self
The ANC has drifted from a party of labourers to a form of labour tokenism, propped up by a professional class and middle class of mostly black South Africans who voted for the party alongside a bank of rural poor. For the latter, the struggle — for survival — continues. For the former, the struggle is now against creditors and the lifestyle diseases that are emerging, as takeaway meals in suburbs replacing ubuntu in the townships.
While the ANC has shown that it cannot stomach starvation and extreme poverty and has all but eliminated these through social grants, it is yet to learn that deep social transformation cannot be "granted" by the state to anyone. Instead, it has to be constructed through a nexus effect of good governance, investment and value addition. These, quite simply, are the mirror image of the current cycle of corrupt patronage, inefficiency and class bifurcation that continues to mark South Africa after liberation and under ANC governance.
Is there an alternative?
We have to wonder what an alternative would look like. If one remedied the ANC's ills, one would likely emerge with a ideological perspective that: effectively seeks the common good, builds and strengthens our democratic foundations, and spawns a productive, efficient economic environment and policy framework conducive to investment, thereby enabling our society to become a modern, urban, advanced people who enjoy the best of what global development elsewhere has to offer.
The challenge then would be to achieve development without trading our natural environment, fiscal health or ethics down the river of pollution, avoiding burdensome socialism on the one hand or extractive capitalism on the other. The alternative to the ANC's track record would be a principled party that looks a lot like the ANC's own stated ideology, but without the cohort of rotten apples that have failed to live up to their own roots.
To be fair, by comparison, the DA would need to move considerably to the left to be attractive, particularly in terms of social policy. The EFF, on the other hand, offer a far starker option — a fascistic abandonment of equal rights and democracy, in favour of nationalistic Africanist revolution.
The EFF is offering a call to militancy without military action (for now), to soldier towards massive disenfranchisement for those who enjoy historic privilege, under the illusion that this will reset the social trajectory of the masses without collapsing the country entirely.
Against these two alternatives, the ANC looks relatively good, if one assumes that the worst deployment of cadre criminality is now behind us. Who knows? At least the ANC has struggle cred, without which a political party in SA would, in any case, struggle to find resonance with the vast majority of voters.
Perhaps only after the ANC has played all the cards in its historic hand, such a party will emerge to finally liberate South Africa from exclusion and underdevelopment.
Governance, governance, governance
South Africa's future is path-dependent on who governs, how they perform and what they stand for. It is to this question, of whether the ideological posture and programmes of the ANC are helpful or harmful, that we as voting citizens have to now exercise our minds.
Do we want more of the self-contradictory not-so-inclusive development that the ANC delivers?
Do we rather want a red EFF tsunami of reversals in development towards equality in poverty?
Do we want to experiment with the DA's Keynesian bargain in the hope of long-term inclusivity?
Given the choice, I would have preferred a hard-nosed pragmatic party that wants to govern through clean institutions, leaving business to business, but cleverly connecting the business world and social sphere with bridges of access through robust gains in education and aggressive investment in job-creating industry.
Maybe a bright young South African in a township somewhere will one day start this party? I will vote for them immediately. Perhaps only after the ANC has played all the cards in its historic hand, such a party will emerge to finally liberate South Africa from exclusion and underdevelopment.
Until then, we roll the dice.