EDITORIAL: ANC is lavish on rhetoric, meagre on action
Don’t be fooled: this isn’t so much a party grappling with a crisis of conscience as it is a party aware that the looting has become too brazen — which could have nasty consequences at the ballot box
The bold outcome of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, suggests the governing party is well aware that it’s been placed on notice by a corruption-fatigued electorate.
On paper, the party’s promises look good: those facing corruption cases must step aside from their government posts, while those with convictions should step aside and face disciplinary action.
But don’t be fooled: this isn’t so much a party grappling with a crisis of conscience as it is a party aware that the looting has become too brazen — which could have nasty consequences at the ballot box.
The ANC’s electoral support has declined rapidly since 2009 and last year its national support slipped below 60% for the first time since 1994. Having seen what happened in the Western Cape, if there is one thing the ANC understands, it is that once it is out of power, it will be nearly impossible to claw its way back.
In 2019, the ANC held onto the economic heartland of Gauteng by a narrow 50%; in KwaZulu-Natal its support slipped to 54%; and even in the Northern Cape, a former stronghold where it has a loyal base, its share of the vote dipped to 58%, below 60% for the first time.
It was only the fact that Ramaphosa was at the helm that kept it from a far more precipitous fall. Nonetheless, the message from the electorate last year was clear: shape up or ship out.
That message would be enough to bring about deep change in many a political organisation invested in the raison d’être for its existence: retaining power. (And let’s not pretend the ANC is in politics for more altruistic reasons.)
But since that election, blindingly stupid own goals, economic decline and a pandemic have worsened the ANC’s prospects. Not for nothing is the hashtag #VoetsekANC now a regular feature on any given day on social media.
But instead of implementing meaningful change, the party has been paralysed by factional feuding since last year’s poll. The group informally led by secretary-general Ace Magashule continues to have the audacity to assert itself, with no shame for its role in the plunder of state resources during the administration of president Jacob Zuma.
There’s good reason for the ANC to be worried. Ramaphosa was given the benefit of the doubt based on his promises of reform.
But the fact that some saw Covid-19, the worst public health emergency in a century, as an opportunity to loot, will have been the last straw for many. As the government killed off small businesses and removed citizens’ freedoms, the looting was an unforgivable sin.
The Zuma administration left the electorate disillusioned; the Covid corruption has left it disgusted.
If the party had any plan for economic recovery, this would at least mitigate that revulsion. But it hasn’t — and this could be the final nail in its coffin. If so, SA may be on the brink of an era of national government by loose, messy coalitions.
Later this week, ANC leaders will meet to discuss next year’s local government elections — a discussion deferred after the corruption issue took up most of their time over the weekend.
The NEC also deferred discussions on economic recovery to a special lekgotla, which will include bureaucrats from the state.
Expect the ANC to emerge full of resolutions on how it will change. But the country is getting wise to this: history has shown that the party is lavish with rhetoric and meagre with action.
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