Revive the fortunes of the once proud

President Jacob Zuma often seems to forget to be accountable to the people who put him in the National Assembly, the writer says.Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency/ANA

BY NOW, new ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa should have a clear idea of what is required to revive the fortunes of the once proud, but now battered, ailing organisation.

There should be no reason for retaining Jacob Zuma as President of South Africa. The wheels of bureaucracy should be set to maximum speed to ensure that he is recalled as quickly as possible.

In short: he must go.

Calls that ways should be found to ensure that he is allowed to leave office with dignity should be rejected out of hand. Zuma has 783 criminal charges hanging over his head. That should be his priority. This should be the priority of the state.

“State capture” has done irreparable harm to this country. It has destroyed the hopes of the poor of South Africa to break out of the spiral of poverty. Democracy promised them – and their children – new opportunities. And democracy has let them down.

Ramaphosa would do well to remember that in many instances the fruits of these promises were stolen from the poor by a family originally from India, aided and abetted in many instances by ANC members.

The new ANC president and his NEC must ensure that those within the Cabinet and party who have been accused of corruption are investigated. If there is evidence to back up these accusations, criminal dockets should be opened, and charges laid. Those found guilty should be sent to prison for the maximum sentences allowed by the law.

When Zuma is recalled, and when Ramaphosa takes over as president of South Africa (it would be mind boggling if this doesn’t happen), the first job of the new president should be to reduce the size of the Cabinet – and to kick out the deadwood, of whom there are many.

Once upon a time the ANC’s description of itself as a “broad church” of disparate political groupings and individuals was regarded by its admirers as its biggest strength.

But that was when there was a clearly identifiable enemy – the apartheid state – and unity of purpose was a crucial element in the struggle for freedom.

After the defeat of apartheid and the advent of democracy, the “broad church” concept has also proved to be one of the ANC’s biggest weaknesses – especially in the light of its struggles against corruption and its inability to deal with a never-ending series of fall-outs due to the actions of its president, Jacob Zuma, who has been at the centre of some of its biggest scandals.

This is not to say there was no corruption in the ANC in exile. In fact, it was rife. But much of what happened in this respect was closely guarded by the organisation’s top echelons of leadership.

Many of its members speak passionately about the necessity for preserving unity within the organisation. Of course, unity is desirable. But only when the costs are weighed up – and are found not to be too high.

Over the years, Ramaphosa has built himself a reputation as a master negotiator. South Africans should reject outright the notion of a united organisation, but, as a result, a government of incompetents. The interests of the people – especially the poor – should be placed first.

Having said this, having examined the history of the ANC (even from its foundation) and having weighed up the speeches and promises made by Ramaphosa since his election as ANC president, the signs are not good.

The ANC has a sad history of promises made and broken over the years. It has become renowned for pussyfooting around issues. It has failed to act strongly on issues. It has allowed itself to be carried away by slick slogans.

Sometimes, a political organisation needs to build for the future, even if it means ignoring the old maxim of “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it”. What if the “broken-ness” is to be found elsewhere – among the poor, for instance?

The ANC’s general inability to act decisively has not only been the sad trait of the Jacob Zuma administration. Thabo Mbeki was not Mr Action Man. We must never forget that he did nothing about Aids or electricity, and how our country and our economy suffered as a result.

Even Oliver Reginald Tambo, who has been celebrated by the organisation this year, made some serious errors of judgement, among the admittedly many good things he was responsible for….

Well into the 1980s, a stance centred on being “most things to everyone” was working very well for the ANC. It was not surprising therefore that a member of the organisation’s London Mission should have written to one of its members, reminding him that the ANC “is not an organisation of a particular class: it is not a worker’s movement, nor a peasant’s movement,” he wrote. “It is the national liberation movement’.

He further backed up his argument by quoting from Tambo’s speech at the ANC conference held in the Zambian town of Kabwe in June1985.

“Our broad movement for national liberation contains both a nationalist and a socialist tendency. Our national democratic revolution has both class and national tasks which influence one another,” Tambo said.

In October of that year, the erudite Tambo, invited to give evidence to the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, strongly denied the ANC intended destroying the capitalist system in South Africa. He told the British MPs that the organisation’s aim was to correct the unfair distribution of wealth through the mechanisms of a mixed economy.

Making allowances for the fact that Tambo, as the ANC’s chief diplomat, laboured under extremely trying conditions to “market” policy in a largely unfriendly Western World, it was hard to escape the impression there was a distinct “make it up as we go” or “change it when we need to” bent to ANC policy as espoused by him.

This manifested itself in December 1990 when he returned to South Africa to attend an ANC consultative conference in Johannesburg after three decades in exile. To the surprise of many, he called for the ANC’s sanctions policy to be “re-evaluated”. Everyone knew that in “diplomat-speak” the word “re-evaluated” meant dropped.

His argument was typical of someone who been out of South Africa for 30 years, and because of this, did not understand the nuances or appreciate the struggles of the people who remained in South Africa.

Tambo said that the ANC had to recognise international realities and that in the face of strong forces in Europe and America calling for the relaxation of sanctions they would be internationally marginalized if they did not follow this trend.

In a display of independent thinking, the conference voted to retain sanctions. But the matter didn’t rest there.

On 16 December, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) head, Trevor Huddleston, a life-long friend of Tambo, wrote to him, expressing the AAM’s support for the retention of sanctions.

Shortly afterwards, AAM stalwart and Labour Party MP Bob Hughes took up an even stronger stance. He warned the ANC about being “too hasty”. He said it would be difficult to sustain any subsequent international action against the apartheid regime once sanctions had been relaxed, and very difficult to re-impose them.

The ANC paid no heed to these warnings, deciding instead to lift the ban on new investments. At a meeting of international AAMs in January 1991, delegates accused the ANC of trying to operate a “partial boycott”, allowing some people to visit South Africa, but not others.

This has been typical of the ANC stance in the era of democracy – many promises and dark hints of radical action to enable the poor to enjoy the fruits of democracy. But not even coming close to delivering.

In 1994, the British sociologist and prominent Marxist author Ralph Miliband gave his views on the chances of South Africa implementing a socialist programme. It was a most unpromising prospect, he said.

“It is most unlikely that an ANC dominated government could do more than extract from South African capitalism enough revenue to ensure real advances in housing, education, health, transport and other services for the black population: in other words, to turn South African capitalism into something approximating to the welfare capitalism that has hitherto been reserved for whites.

Looking at things as they stand now, much more has to be done to create a more equitable society.

Your move, Mr Ramaphosa….

Dougie Oakes has been a journalist for more than 30 years, specialising here and in the UK in sportswriting, politics and features