Fear and loathing: The ANC’s enemies are everywhere

The discussion documents for the ANC’s upcoming fifth policy conference reveal a party that professes a desire for self-correction and renewal but seems to have neither the guts nor the necessary internal balance of forces, to do so. Simultaneously, the documents speak of deepening paranoia and an increasingly authoritarian tendency. In combination, the documents seem to emanate from a parallel universe where the party’s interests have become elevated above that of society.

Some of the text shows a party that is going through the motions, trotting out the lofty ideals left over from when it still occupied the moral high ground. It is a rhetoric that used to be meaningful and powerful but that has been emptied out by the ANC’s increasing failure to harness the state’s resources for the good of all. For example, the ANC’s vision “is informed by the morality of caring and human solidarity”, and its mission “is to serve the people of South Africa”.

Beyond this nostalgia for what it used to be, the documents display little sense of the depth and severity of the political, constitutional, economic and governance crisis currently in South Africa. What does come across strongly, however, is a party that feels beleaguered and panicky about the possible loss of state power.

Document Two, titled “Organisational Renewal and Organisational Design”, issues the following admonition: “it is in the interests of the movement to… undergo a brutally frank process of introspecting and self-correction.” This sentiment is overtaken by disappointment over the party’s poor performance in the 2016 local government elections. Several pages are dedicated to investigating how other liberation movements became defunct. It transpires that the primary emergency is “to ensure that the ANC remains at the helm” of government.

Of course, political parties are about getting and holding on to power. But because of the ANC’s habit of conflating party and state, there seems to be no understanding that its feeling of destiny – that it should rule until Jesus comes – will not dictate the will of the people. Parties get re-elected because they demonstrably govern in service of the will of the people. If the ANC should demonstrate that, it will be returned to power in 2019. If not, it won’t.

There is an admission that the “moral suasion that the ANC has wielded to lead society is waning, and the electorate is starting more effectively to assert its negative judgment”. “Significant sections of the motive forces seem to have lost confidence in the capacity and will of the ANC to carry out the agenda of social transformation” due to “subjective weaknesses” in the party.

These weaknesses are identified, but in a way that skirts around the extent and depth of state capture. Black capitalists are blamed for “corrupt practices including attempts to capture institutions of political and state authority….” The Guptas get an opaque acknowledgement with reference to lobbying, which is how they apparently got a foot in the door with the ANC leadership: “[T]he lobbying process engineered by clandestine factionalism… destabilises the organisation… Factionalism’s clandestine nature makes it a parallel activity…”

But it is almost as though the document’s authors don’t believe their own diagnosis or the implications of the party’s “subjective weaknesses”. The document becomes contradictory. Even as it admits that the “motive forces” (“classes and strata”) “still desire such change and are prepared to work for it”, it casts suspicion: “the mass of the people can, by commission or omission, precipitate an electoral outcome that places into positions of authority, forces that can stealthily and deceitfully chip away at the progressive realisation of a National Democratic Society”.

That the people are in fact the problem, rather than a party that has lost its way, becomes more ominously clear in Document 8 on “Peace and Stability”. Leninist vanguardism makes the party still feel it knows best, and that “the people” are useful fools. It is worth quoting the whole section to see the extent of the paranoia of the ANC and the array of enemies it creates to avoid confronting the enemy within.

According to the document, the main strategy used by foreign intelligence services (FISs) “is to mobilise the unsuspecting masses of this country to reject legally constituted structures and institutions in order to advance unconstitutional regime change. The alignment of the agendas of FISs and negative domestic forces threatens to undermine the authority and security of the state.

Their general strategy makes use of a range of role players to promote their agenda and these include, but are not limited to: mass media; non- governmental organisations and community-based organisations; foreign and multinational companies; funding of opposition activities; Judiciary, religious and student organisations; infiltration and recruitment in key government departments; placement of non-South Africans in key positions in departments; prominent influential persons…”

The proposed organisational renewal in Document 2 is to bolster the secretary-general’s powers. Even this belated and lacklustre attempt to reduce the ANC president’s control over the party is compromised, as the clarion call of the discussion documents is “Let us deepen unity!” That is why the actual enemies cannot be confronted, those that have insidiously corrupted the very “life and soul” of the party.

Instead, a worrying paranoid and authoritarian tendency emerges that targets journalists, judges, church and business leaders, activists, opposition parties, foreigners and intellectuals.

Nowhere is it confronted that the president of the ANC and the country has ceded our sovereignty to a foreign family and their networks, or that state-owned entities are being “re-purposed” to enrich a tiny clique at the expense of the great mass of South Africa’s people.

Prof. Christi van der Westhuizen (Ph.D.) is an author and Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Pretoria. Her books include Sitting Pretty: White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa (forthcoming, 2017), Working Democracy: Perspectives on South Africa’s Parliament at 20 Years (2014) and White Power & the Rise and Fall of the National Party (2007). She started her working life as a journalist at the anti-apartheid weekly Vrye Weekblad and later worked as Associate Editor at the global news agency Inter Press Service. Previously she held associateships with the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, Free State University and the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA), University of Cape Town. As a regular commentator in local and international media, she received the Mondi Paper Newspaper Award for her political columns.

Other relevant publications include: 2017. ‘Rejuvenating Reconciliation with Transformation.’ In Lefko-Everett, K., Govender, R., and Foster, D. (eds.) Rethinking Reconciliation. Evidence from South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press.2016. ‘Race, intersectionality and affect in postapartheid productions of ‘the Afrikaans white woman’. Critical Philosophy of Race 4 (2), 221-238. 2016. ‘Democratising South Africa: Towards a “Conflictual Consensus”’ in H. Botha, N. Schaks and D. Steiger (eds.) Das Ende des repräsentativen Staates? Demokratie am Scheideweg/ The End of the Representative State? Democracy at the Crossroads. Baden Baden: Nomos. Her Ph.D. is in Sociology (Critical Diversity Studies) and her Masters (cum laude) in South African Politics & Political Economy.

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