After 25 years of governance by the African National Congress (ANC), this week South Africans will head to the polls to affirm their choice for an organization that, despite a myriad of challenges, continues to demonstrate resilience, solid credentials and continuity. Internal challenges notwithstanding, the parliament of the people, as it was characterized at its founding in 1912, and contrary to the worst wishes of it opponents, the ANC is coming out of the once imminent danger of imploding to claim decisive victory in the 2019 general elections.
Its participatory processes and internal democratic arrangements coupled with a historical ability to self-correct count in the party’s favour. The ANC has a solid tradition of internal democracy, consensus building and robust engagement within its structures. It is game over for gatekeepers and other counter-revolutionary tendencies.
One considers for instance that party leaders are elected by a representative national conference (and not imposed on delegates by way of heredity, succession or chosen by a select few). Party lists are compiled following a rigorous and well-established internal process that involves all the branches.
And yes, the public outcry about the parliament’s candidates list is legitimate and cannot be ignored. What is comforting are assurances from the leadership that as far as the next executive is concerned, credible and qualified people will be considered, representing the country’s demographics, age and gender included. With growing public scrutiny, things can only improve. Even better, trinkets will be cut. Ministers and senior officials are appointed to serve the people, not for them to be served cheese cakes and flavored water on first class cabins to European capitals.
Throughout its history, the fortunes of the ANC have not necessarily been tied to an individual – cults are outlived by the collective. The movement draws its leaders from a pool of activists and professionals with both experience and progressive political credentials. Recognizing that the masses have set the leadership bar higher, many education has become sexy again both in the rank and file and at leadership echelons. Society is now refusing to be led by the people who are allergic to knowledge.
It is the ANC that has a demonstrable track-record of governance from which it derives its credibility, coupled with the overwhelming public mandate handed to the organization in successive national elections since 1994. As the internal democratic space widens, past mistakes are being acknowledged and action is being taken. Eventually, the long arm of the law will catch the thieves and servant leadership values will trend again.
The ANC government has successfully delivered public services, housing, social welfare, education and healthcare to our people. It is the ANC’s pro-poor and pro-development policies that has enabled South Africa to steadily increase its ranking in international human development indices since 1994.
In the 2018 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report our ranking was 113 out of 189 countries – with our overall human development (HDI) score increasing. Less than 10% of our population lives in the lower third of the country’s living standards spectrum – from nearly 40% just 18 years ago.
The steady improvement of our HDI score means more South Africans have a better standard of living, better access to education and lead healthier lives as we strive to meet the aspirations of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
In its 2018 report titled “Life in South Africa: Reasons for Hope” the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) noted the following advances since 1994. Real GDP per capita increased by over 30% between 1994 and 2017. The rate of inflation has been kept relatively stable since 1994 – which ‘speaks to sensible macro-economic management.’
In 1994 the rate of participation of black South Africans in the labour market was 43% – in 2017 it was 58,7% – having what the report termed a ‘considerable impact on living standards, independence, dignity and self-respect of households.’ The number of black South Africans with a job increased from 4,9m in 1994 to over 12m in 2017.
Although transformation and unemployment remain our biggest problems, the ANC government indeed has a good story to tell in terms of transforming the lives of our people for the better. With the introduction of the national minimum wage legislation, hundreds of thousands of workers have seen their wages increase without protracted, and often violent, strikes. Introducing minimum wages, literature tells us, is a leap towards the living wage.
Add to this government having expanded social and economic infrastructure such as telecoms and transport networks, built houses especially for the poor, and having amongst the continent’s most sophisticated banking and financial infrastructure and it is clear that the view that ‘nothing has changed’ since 1994 is wholly incorrect.
Beyond its record on service delivery, it is the ANC that still presents the best possible and most viable programme of action which prioritises social and economic inclusion, but more important, the all-important vision of building national unity. South Africans know this and appreciate that no other political party has consistently championed the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous society.
The ANC retains its revolutionary rhetoric and credentials which enable it to constantly review itself, a necessary condition for renewal and management of internal and external contradictions. After all, the character of the ANC as a broad church can’t be sustained outside of an appreciation of the value that diversity brings to the organisation, as mass-based and diverse as it is. In fact, as I have argued in the book ‘The Future we Chose: Emerging Perspectives on the Centenary of the ANC’, the ability to (mis)manage contradictions of a broad church will determine the future of the organisation, in addition to decisively addressing the sins of incumbency and complacency.
Lessons from the 2016 local government elections are on the wall, earn the trust of the people first before asking them to vote for you. And the leadership is responsive to that message hence the president has crisscrossed the country to reassure the people that the ANC of Charlote Maxeke and Albert Luthuli is back!
The ANC’s sustained mass appeal also emanates from the fact that it retains its internationalist outlook and continues to express solidarity with the oppressed people globally.
It is time to acknowledge that the ANC has not adequately communicated its successes, and by equal measure, fallen short of keeping the public on board when its government experiences service delivery challenges. Citizens need to know what government is doing. They must know when the clinic will be built and the bridge finished. They need to know when water interruptions will end and the timeline for electrifying their villages. Government plans are as good as non-existent if they are only known by state officials.
This necessitates that we re-invigorate the role of government communications as a key enabler of development. In many instances had the citizens been adequately and timeously informed of interruptions and problems, the violent service delivery protests we have experienced could possibly have been managed. Social media can never be a substitute for below-the-line communication and public participation.
The ANC led a successful global anti-apartheid campaign and won the battle of ideas at the height of the Cold War and white supremacy. The ANC must win the battle of ideas locally, taking all South Africans into confidence, and walk the journey of change and continuity along with them. In order to ensure consistency in the public mind that the ANC in the halcyon days of OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela is the same ANC of today – the organization must restore its hegemony and lead all sectors of society – black, white, rich and poor – ethically.
So long as the tax base remains stagnant there are serious limits to the expansion of our social security system. At the same time, it must force change and transformation from the chauvinistic and monopolistic white capital that fails to realize that their prosperity cannot be sustained in the midst of poverty and growing inequality. The people want decent jobs, the economy must grow.
Faced with an increasingly disaffected electorate and an environment where public trust has been weakened by a series of internal squabbles and scandals, the ANC must rise to the challenge of renewing itself – for it is only in getting its own house in order that it will be able to deliver on its important mandate.
Society wants to be led. Let it be led.
Busani Ngcaweni is a public servant writing in his personal capacity.