SA: Modelling the future ANC

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The African National Congress (ANC) looks towards another five years in power. Whether it knows what to do with this power is another question.

The long slide from hope has replaced the long walk to freedom. Yet, uppermost in the minds of ANC strategists are not new policies but how to ensure the party remains in power for years to come.
In many ways the ANC has welcomed the proliferation of opposition parties and groups. The ANC vote might go down, but the opposition parties can never become the government because they can never unite.

The farce of Mamphela Ramphele becoming –– and then not becoming –– the Democratic Alliance (DA) presidential candidate is a case in point.
This was a deeper tragedy than it seemed in the last three days of January 2014, when the shallow nature of alliances was played out for all to see.
Curiously, the ANC victory in 2014 may well prompt thoughts of a shortened presidency for Jacob Zuma. He has become problem-prone.
And the problem with Zuma’s problems is that they are not new problems. He keeps making the same mistakes.

The March 2014 demand by the ombudsman that he repay public monies wrongly appropriated for his burgeoning homestead echoed directly a 1999 scandal involving Zuma and Schabir Shaik.
Shaik took the rap for that one, but it seems that Zuma has in mind a plutocratic retirement –– and the ANC might well oblige him to take it sooner rather than later.A new leader could then move to bring former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema back into the fold, so it might claim once again to speak for the truly poor.

For the dominant-party state that is now South Africa, the ANC is not a replica of Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party in Zambia.
For all its patronage and corruption, it is not like the family business that is now the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola of José Eduardo dos Santos’s Angola.
No, the models are elsewhere. Shaik, after all, was the ANC’s man –– as far back as 1994 –– who was meant to investigate Malaysia.

This was both as a means of raising money to pay off the ANC’s huge debts from funding the elections of that year and to investigate how the “Malaysian model” allowed the majority Malays finally to supersede the previously wealthier Chinese minority.

But it also took into account how, in both Malaysia and Singapore, dominant-party states kept winning election after election. There, opposition parties existed and were displayed as proofs of democracy, but could never win power. In those countries, the West blessed each and every one of these elections.

Take the technocracy and electoral gerrymandering of the Malays and Singaporeans, throw in an adaptation of Chavez’s populism –– but ensure that everyone knows that only the ANC can both govern and continue to offer patronage –– and you have a new model that is cosmopolitan but at home with current South African realities.

  • Chan is Professor of World Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
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