ANC mirror has cracks

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THERE is hardly a country in Africa whose struggle for independence from colonial rule was not inspired by the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, which turned 100 years last week. Yet the movement must act urgently to get rid of the cracks in its mirror of achievements. One of the biggest must be the scourge of corruption, of leaders believing that, for their role in the struggle on behalf of the people, they must be rewarded lavishly. Another must concern its obsession with the one-party madness that ruined so many promising African democracies in Africa. Like most liberation parties, the ANC seems to prefer no opposition at all. This is an entirely unhealthy attitude. Some of the fault must lie with the leadership of the Pan-Africanist Congress of South Africa (PAC). The party’s virtual collapse almost on the eve of the first democratic elections handed the ANC victory on a silver platter. Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the party’s major driving force, must have turned in his grave. The party which inspired the demonstrations which led to the Sharpeville massacre seemed to have lost its capacity to galvanise the people. In its absence, the ANC had a field day, easily garnering a two-thirds majority in the crucial parliamentary vote. But the ANC managed to make a foul-up of major proportions when the simmering feud between its two most prominent leaders blew up into the open. When Thabo Mbeki was toppled from the leadership by Jacob Zuma, it seemed to signal a serious enough crisis in the party to call for a re-examination of its commitment to democracy. Fortunately, Zuma and the other leaders rallied the generality of the membership to reject, albeit temporarily, a drift into factionalism. But with the emergence of Julius Malema as an unlikely “spoiler”, the party seems to be still struggling to get out of the woods of disunity. For Africa’s — if not for South Africa’s — sake, Zuma must steer the ANC ship carefully through these choppy waters of division. All the leaders must recognise by now that it is not just the stability of the party that they must guard against possible disintegration, but also that of the country with the strongest economy on the continent. There are analysts today who believe that the first democratically elected government in South Africa ought to have been a coalition government of the ANC and the PAC. But after the passing on of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe in 1978, the PAC seemed somehow unable to throw up a leader with his tenacity of purpose, his charisma and his intellect. He and Nelson Mandela, both alumni of Fort Hare University, would probably have just clicked. Mandela’s decision to shorten his term was the act of someone entirely devoid of any personal ambitions of power grounded in aggrandisement. It is doubtful that he anticipated the rift between Mbeki and Zuma would escalate into the events at Polokwane. The ANC faces the danger of taking the people of South Africa for granted to the extent of insulting their intelligence. Kenneth Kaunda and Hastings Kamuzu Banda made those fatal miscalculations. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is about to make that same error of judgment, although he has been given an opportunity to mend his ways before disaster strikes. If he too decides there is dubious political profit in taking the people of Zimbabwe for granted, then he too could suffer the same fate. Zuma and the ANC face elections in 2014. They must know that there is widespread dissatisfaction with their performance so far. The poor may have begun to believe there would be an improvement in their lot in 1994. But today, with the leadership behaving no differently from the leaderships of other African countries who have won independence since 1960, they are chafing at the bit. Moreover, the picture gets even murkier when you consider that notorious information security bill which threatens to jail so-called whistleblowers for 25 years. If the ANC sees itself as the only party capable of winning every election in South Africa, someone who respects them and enjoys their respect as well, ought to warn them against this potentially fatal big-headedness. That man is Desmond Tutu. He has spoken bluntly to them before and ought to do so again — before it is too late.

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