The sophistry of the ANC since its birth

Supporters at the launch of the ANC's election manifesto. Picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)

There is no other political party which plays with words and their meanings like the African National Congress. This pervasive trend in the entire history of its politics is called sophistry. I am referring to nothing other than where the authority and authenticity of words is literally at stake, to the extent that one is compelled to interrogate what does the ANC really mean when they used certain terms.

I can use many examples to illustrate my point but for now I will deal with the term “renewal”. Since its conference in Stellenbosch in 1997 – once the serious problems of the ANC in office became manifest – the ANC committed itself to its “renewal”. While that term has various meanings, within the context of the serious problems which afflicted the party since it took office in 1994, especially the gut-wrenching corruption of the past few years, it was meant to rehabilitate and restore the ANC to its alleged former glory.

Space does not permit me to elaborate, but in politics everything is qualitatively relative. The opponents of the ANC, especially the left outside the ANC alliance, can give you a long history of the fundamentally false analysis of South African society the ANC made since 1912, which determined its false two-stage approach to the revolution in this country. The first stage was artificially restricted to the struggle against apartheid – while leaving, largely, the real engine of that system, namely capitalism, intact – and the second socialist stage at some later, indeterminate and undefined stage.

We still waiting, twenty- five years later for the first glimpse of this postponed revolutionary creature to appear, but in vain, simply because there is no such stage. The second stage was a false and unnecessary postponement from the outset, in order to create the space for an aspiring black middle class and capitalists to join the white-dominated capitalist system, a stratagem nurtured by the ANC leadership and the liberal sections of white capital for decades.

That artificial and false separation of stages is the root cause of the continued poverty and an array of social miseries, especially worsening class-based social inequalities after 1994, which has afflicted the majority black working class worse. For that sad state of affairs and the related systemic corruption which has bedeviled our society over the past decade in particular, it is squarely the ANC leadership and its ally, the South African Communist Party, who bears most responsibility.  

However, not only has no genuine renewal taken place, but things have steadily got much worse. Today, unstoppable corruption oozes out of the pores of the rotting body of the ANC in full public view, to the extent that it has become a gaping and deeply festering sore threatening to tear apart literally the fabric not only of the ANC itself but of our society too. On all fronts we face a very serious and in fact calamitous crisis: basic services, jobs, education, hospitals, electricity and so much more.

However, at the same time that this social crisis has most sorely afflicted the majority black working class and poor, the ANC’s economic and political elite inhabit a completely different world of luxury mansions, overseas holidays, private schools and health care and so much more, all made possible because the ANC leadership not only came to terms with white-dominated capitalism but made its peace with it in the 1990s, to its own advantage and at the expense of its impoverished black mass support base. This opened up a massive and in fact unbridgeable chasmic class divide, ever-widening, within the ANC and black population.

Right there is rooted our current structural social crisis of unprecedented proportions. It is no exaggeration to state that virtually everything in our society is literally falling to pieces under ANC rule. Given space I could easily elaborate at length, but that fact is palpably clear of the situation we face today.

Back to the ANC’s sophistry with words. Remember the days of “build a better life for all”, the “developmental state”, the goal of an amorphous “national democratic society”, the “second radical phase” of the National Democratic Revolution and recently ‘’radical economic transformation”? What next? But none of that posturing and mutating “radical” rhetoric changed the conditions of life of the black working class, which instead got worse.

What is striking too is the timing of this sophistry: when the angry black masses hit the streets with real radicalism or an election looms the ANC’s sophistry follows, deliberately meant to pacify, placate and woo them, not however to lead the revolution but to avoid it. But it is not only the ANC’s play with words that is the problem. Bigger is the problem of playing with people’s lives.  

Ebrahim Harvey is a political writer.