In his recent article [Notions of life and death in the ANC], Gareth van Onselen takes to task what he sees as the nine-lives syndrome of the ANC, blaming everyone and everything, except the failure opposition parties to appeal more to voters, for the ruling party’s seemingly permanent moribund state but refusal to die.

He associates its perpetual appeal to the unseeing ANC establishment and secretive manner in which it operates. To make his point he begins by quoting Zizi Kodwa: “The ANC is incorruptible as an organisation.” The incessant preoccupation of opposition parties with the demise — rather than the history — of the ANC, real or otherwise, is one of the least endearing qualities to this voter at least. This betrays their paucity of vision.

I am not sure if it is accurate to extend the metaphor about the spiritual inviolability of the church to political parties; it probably depends on the moral foundations of that organisation. But the ANC, which incidentally was founded by mostly black religious leaders, happens to have been founded also on inviolable moral grounds of human equality, liberty and universal franchise. You can never understand the hold the ANC has on black people of Southern Africa if you don’t know its history.

It has massively violated what I call its operations manual, otherwise known as the Freedom Charter. Since 1994, as the governing party, it has changed its economic policies, like dirty underwear, from one to the next, to whatever it operates with now. For a systematic failure of these policies, especially in addressing land and economic redress for the majority of South Africans, you can read Tembeka Ngcukaitobi’s Land Matters. 

So I am not certain why anyone would say the ANC operates with vague policies. It is probably the most democratic in the sense that these are thrashed out at its transparent policy and elective conferences.

This is a far cry from the lobbied positioning within the DA conferences, or the authoritarian policy state of the EFF that depends on the mood of the supreme commissar. Most of the rest also operate in an obscure and non democratic manner.

Perhaps the ANC derives its enduring appeal, even when sometimes under questionable leadership, from its respect for clear democratic processes. This is a strength because people are also able to call it out when it betrays those founding policies and values. It is an unfounded wishful principle to call the ANC a universal church. I am not sure why the deliberately petulant mind of Van Onselen is not able to see this, when trying to assess the failures of the ANC.   

Quoting the known corrupt leaders of the ANC for declaring that they would die in the ANC, and insinuating that this implicates the ANC for lack of renewal or self cleansing itself, betrays your lack of understanding of the internal culture of the liberation movement. Dying within the ANC has always been the saving mantra of even the scoundrels of the ANC. It is their last plea not to be thrown into the wilderness.

The real tragedy of current South African politics, beyond the failures of the ANC, which we kind of expected from the Fanonian categorisation, is the howling lack of a real alternative. The DA is a pseudo concealing party of white conservative sophisticated racists, the EFF is an unpinned bag of grenades that hinges on the politics of emotion. 

Instead of researching ways of attracting politically-neutral black people, like me, into the DA, condescending white public intellectuals make it their sport to insult us as idiots who vote only through emotions and nostalgia. And you wonder why it all leaves us with parched political tongues like the Ancient Mariner after being subjected to the fate of being surrounded with political party - water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

Mphuthumi Ntabeni
by email


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