May elections a dire moment for the ANC

South Africa - Durban- 31-03-19 - ANC supporters at the party's elections campaign in Clermont Picture Bongani Mbatha / African News Agency (ANA)

History will regard the elections on the 8th May 2019 as by far be the most serious test for the ailing ruling African National Congress. Ailing because the ANC of today is a sad shadow of the movement that was once the unrivalled leader of the black masses of this country and a beacon of hope for them.

When I interviewed the former president, Kgalema Motlanthe, on his 100 days in office for the Mail & Guardian in 2009 his main message was that the only way in which the ANC can be saved is for it to ‘go back to the masses’. But instead of going back to the masses the ANC experienced its worst days in office, which coincided with the reign of former president, Jacob Zuma. This was the decade during which the ‘state capture’ shenanigans that dominates the news today was steadily weaving its trail of corruption in the state.

I believe that more corruption is going to be unearthed beyond the remit of the Zondo Commission of enquiry, especially at local government level. Corruption has penetrated every nook and cranny of all levels of state, every government department and every public sector sphere.

I however predict that though deeply troubled the ANC will win the election but much below the 62,15% of the national vote it secured in 2014, somewhere between 55-58 %, which will be the least impressive victory since the 1994 election. But we need to turn our attention beyond statistical predictions of the election results and towards what these do to the politics, policies and strategy of the ANC thereafter, especially on how it impacts on the balance of forces between its factions. This is where the much bigger battles for control of state procurement and ministerial and other senior posts will be fought, but behind the scenes.

What the ANC does after the election, especially over the next one to two years, will determine whether it survives intact the worst crisis of its existence. It is in fact precisely because the opposition parties are going to gain ground against the beleaguered ANC, but not enough to dislodge it from power, that the post-election period might turn out to be as stern a test for the ANC as the election will be.  

What however will complicate and hinder any ‘renewal’ of the ANC is the barely disguised fact that it is today riven with such debilitating factionalism that it might steadily devour the ANC and destroy any semblance of unity within, unless it is dealt with decisively, which is going to be easier said than done. Once embedded factionalism has distinct material and financial roots, which is exactly what most of it is, there is going to be a gigantic battle. In fact, the state capture revelations might serve to deepen and solidify factionalism in the ANC, rather than erode it. President Ramaphosa, to put it mildly, has his work cut out for him.

But the ANC is in fact fortunate that their mass support base, despite all the disappointments and though their numbers have seriously declined from the 1990s, still harbour hopes in it. There can be little or no doubt that the lack of clear and strong political consciousness among large swathes of its membership and supporters, especially in the rural areas, and the lack of a credible mass alternative helps keep the ANC in power. Besides, the electoral results for the ANC would be very different if the social grants of 17 million people did not exist.  

But whatever happens in this election one thing is beyond any doubt. Many people who were once fervent supporters of the ANC for decades, especially among the so-called ‘minority’ coloureds and Indians, are so totally alienated from the ANC that it can forget about probably ever receiving their support in large numbers in an election again. My sense is that this applies to the majority of these ‘minorities’. The Democratic Alliance, despite its own travails, will continue to benefit from such alienation.     

The main reason for this distinct alienation – besides the revolting explosion of corruption in the ANC since the 2014 election and the neglect in ‘service delivery’ – is their marginalisation in the state and public sectors since the 1990s, regarding both jobs and business opportunities, where a narrow Africanist majoritarian chauvinism has been rampantly holding sway.  

Ebrahim Harvey is a political writer and commentator.