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ANC’s far-fetched dream as ‘true leader of NDR’ in Africa

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Picture: Peter Andrews/ Reuters

By Professor Sethulego Matebesi

CONCERNS about the state and its role in the development of society have preoccupied sociologists for a long time. To this end, Kwame Nkrumah already saw the African state as an artefact of colonialism

that can be overturned through pan-Africanism. For many years, the ANC played a key role in developing new forms and philosophies of social struggles against the injustices faced by Africans.

Consequently, the party created a mood of tremendous optimism among many Africans beyond the borders of South Africa when it assumed political power in 1994.

Despite its great potential, high hopes, and big promises of policies such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme – with its social security elements – the ANC has since gone on a downward trajectory in respect of implementing its policies. Since then, South Africa has been exposed to Gear (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) – a macroeconomic strategy with neo-liberal conservative tenets – during the Thabo Mbeki era, followed by a series of state welfare and security policies under the presidency of Jacob Zuma.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa took the oath of office, he pledged to build the South Africa we all want and deserve. That said, there is overwhelming evidence of how the precarious neo-liberal economy and the consequent shrinking middle class, economic decline, poverty, rampant crime, and unemployment have further ruptured relations between the ANC and the most vulnerable groups of society. Arguably, a fundamental tension of this ruptured relationship is whether South African voters will provide the ANC with another opportunity to lead the country.

The 6th national policy conference should have provided the impetus for the ANC to address a panacea. However, the rhetoric reverberating from some sections of the ANC demonstrates the difficult balancing act of the party associated with the benefits and pitfalls of partisan interests versus those of the SA populace. The current ANC policy documents differ widely in tone, scope, and assumptions, ranging from digital communication and the battle of ideas to organisational renewal. Several priorities, such as rural development, land reform policies, and youth development, vindicate the ANC’s claim that it is making progress in addressing the challenges of South Africans.

However, the current energy crises, rampant corruption, and enormous service delivery failures show the dilemma between policy and practice. Similarly, recent calls by the ANC in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal for the party’s step-aside rule to be reviewed or scrapped indicate what to expect regarding issues that will dominate discussions at the policy conference. The step-aside rule of the ANC is in line with its renewal campaign and profoundly impacts the aspirations of those wishing to occupy leadership positions.

Unfortunately, information on an alternative policy proposal to the step aside rule is scant. Given the way this policy has been advanced has been complex and controversial, it will be interesting to learn the basis for the call to scrap it other than factional battles.

The true challenge for opponents of the step-aside rule lies in better insights into how this once glorious organisation can enhance its disciplinary procedures. Such an approach may put to bed the belief

that the unspoken objective of opponents of the step-aside rule is to protect those who have been charged with serious crimes.

The ANC national leadership, supported by several provinces, will most likely oppose calls for scrapping the step-aside rule. This is partly because of the blistering high court judgment in July 2021 that the party’s policy was in line with the Constitution when it dismissed ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s challenge to his suspension from his position in the party with costs. Needless to say, the step aside rule will exert strong and deep influences later this year at the ANC’s elective conference.

Many South Africans appear happy or optimistic about the economic outlook and youth development. What constitutes a positive outcome in this regard for the ANC is that it claims that it has publicly acknowledged these and many other challenges the country faces. But the party will agree that there is a need for meaningful economic transformation beyond slogans. Therefore, I wish the ANC would spend more time to better theorise proposals – for example, the when, why, and how conditions – under which adopted policies will be implemented. This may lead to a better fit between the goals of the organisation and the context in which the government will apply them.

I am unsure how the ANC can continue justifying its stance of being the true leader of the national democratic revolution.

Mathebesi is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State.