Brad Cibane
Brad Cibane

The cult of the African National Congress

I recently came across George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell is known for his insight into the behaviour of revolutionary governments. What I found in the book had me gasping for air.

1984 is set in a post-revolution world divided into three regions: Oceania, Eastacia and Eurasia. Winston, the protagonist, is based in Oceania. Oceania is ruled by “The Party” and a leader known only as “Big Brother”. The Party subscribes to the principles of “Ingsoc”. The only resistance movement is an almost-mythical underground organisation known as “The Brotherhood”. The Brotherhood is led by Emmanuel Goldstein. Once a member of The Party, Goldstein disappeared many years ago but remains public enemy number one. It is rumoured that Goldstein wrote the elusive and prohibited Red Book. Winston obtains a copy of the book.

The Red Book is titled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. It explains the system of thoughts of an orthodox Party member, known in Newspeak — the lingua Franca of Oceania — as a Goodthinker. These systems of thought — embedded into members through elaborate mental training — are Crimestop, Blackwhite and Doublethink.

Crimestop means the power of not grasping ideologies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to the Party. It means the ability to be bored or repelled by any argument which challenges the Party.

Crimestop entails more than mere stupidity, but the ability to completely control one’s thought processes. The society rest ultimately on the assumption that the Party is omnipotent and infallible.

Blackwhite has two meanings. When applied to an opponent, it means the habit of prudently claiming that black is white and contradict plain facts. To a Party member, it means the loyal willingness to say black is white when Party discipline demands so. It means the ability to believe that black is white, to know that black is white. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, facts and reality.

Doublethink (or reality control) means the power to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them. The Party intellectual knows which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality. By exercising Doublethink, he satisfies himself that reality is not violated. For a party member, no change in doctrine of political alignment can ever be admitted.

The Red Book might as well have been set in post-apartheid South Africa where The Party is the ANC, a Goodthinker is a loyal member and Ingsoc is the ubiquitous National Democratic Revolution.

Crimestop means the power to overlook the glaring failure and incapacities of the ANC. It entails the habit of being repelled by any challenge to the ANC government or its elected representatives. It entails the notion that any opposition is “counter-revolutionary”.

As recently as the Mangaung elective conference, President Jacob Zuma of the ANC said it was unacceptable to take the party to court to challenge internal processes. That is to say, even when the ANC’s internal processes are irregular, a Goodthinker must exercise Crimestop to accept the unjust outcome of such processes. Those who dare to challenge the ANC are ”dealt with”.

Blackwhite calls for deliberate ignorance. It embraces a doctrinal hypocrisy; the ability to embrace lies and incompetence for greater good. The ANC Goodthinker must believe that the ANC cares about the poor and must know that ANC cares about the poor, irrespective of the prior knowledge that policy is dictated by business tycoons with speed-dial-access to the top leadership.

Doublethink requires the members to know and believe that members of the party are not squandering public funds to build private mansions. They must accept the spending of R206 million from the public purse to build a private mansion when children are still learning in mud huts.

Exercising Doublethink, the top ANC leaders consider themselves champions of the struggle of the poor yet they continue to hold wide-ranging business interests including interests in the same ”capitalist-tendencies” they criticise. Those who do not openly hold stakes in banks and mining companies rely on their spouses.

Julius Malema identified himself as a poor black championing the struggle of the poor. But the taxman exposed a young man with a very handsome bank account, a man of very exquisite tastes. Heck, he was a millionaire. Through the exercise of Doublethink, Malema believed he was poor and was championing the struggle of the poor.

How did we get here, you ask.

Edward Rees in The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorships traces the development of cult leadership. Rees argues that a cult leadership is an established system of a political organisation to which all members of society are expected to subscribe. The system is expected to persist indefinitely. Rees soon hits home. He says “states beset by economic failure and social conflict invariable respond by seeking symbolic legitimation where there is low consensus on ideological and programmic goals, regimes seek to reinforce symbolic attachment; appeal is made to the loyalty of their citizens, loyalty to the state, to the party and to the leader”.

But these are only my thoughts. What do you think?

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  • The weakness of the ANC
  • Part 6 of 6: Speeches
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    • Tofolux

      @Brad, dont you think that different govt systems actually produce ”cult” figures? Look at America as eg. who was Obama until we got hit with the brand Obama? Also it seems that these cult figures are not just a co-incidence. Look as Pistorius eg, do we now really know who he is? I’m trying to make the point that it could be argued that cultism exists in some society’s only because of branding, packaging and marketing. Look at China as a case in point. Their reality today shows one of the most successful turnaround of any political party to date. We know of the Mao Tse Tung policies vs the modern day communist policies. The devil will definitely be in the dtail when you do objective analysis. Wht abt Brazil who can major success without cult politics. It is clear that in both instances, the ruling parties went through turbulent and very stressful periods and this is not because of radical shifts in ideology. They however remained popular and relevant to the electorate they were leading and this is shown at the polls. Would it thr4 be correct to argue that they represent cultism, populism or is it a simple case trust and the dynamiscm that evolves from that relationship. Also, what about historical factors of tried and tested representatives who are honest, transparent and trustworthy? Do we glibly argue them away as if they are non-existent. I think the analysis should be further interrogated given the nature of all complexities and complications.

    • nzwakazi

      I think you are spot on!

    • The Creator

      What Orwell described in Nineteen Eighty-Four was political tyranny, but it derived from what he had witnessed in British politics over the past decade or so.

      It’s accurate to identify these traits in the ANC because the ANC has become such a corrupt organisation, but very similar traits are visible in various other political bodies (and not only in South Africa). And also various other organisations such as BUSA, etc.

      Fighting for freedom of expression and assembly is not simply fighting against one party.

    • Miranda Semane

      More than anything else i just wish that the majority of ANC supprters would not thin that they vote for the ANC because we still need liberation from the so called “white capitalists”The majority fail to think for themselves and are blinded to the hopes of thinking that the ANC is their Messiah who will soon eradicate all of their problems and troubles in life. They have been taught to depend on their saviour and when they rebel against their saviour then loand behold the whites will take over again.We are slowly driving ourselves into a corner which soon we will not be able to get ourselves out of.Liberate the mind,take off the blindfold and you liberate the man! And yet again, having no better alternative being offered the majority feel stuck into voting for the ANC or not vote at all. Until we get a party that speaks not above the people but to the people we are stuck in a runt! The struggle of the mind for me continues, but i will say the Author :Orwell has got it right to the last point!! Sometimes African solutions can be a bitter pill to swallow as they roped within a lot dictatorship tendencies

    • Puleng M.

      I agree completely, Animal Farm is also an apt analogy for the socio-political state of post Apartheid South Africa. It seems, for some of the various versions of pre-Apartheid history that I have heard, that the social mentality described in 1984 (which is one of my favorite books) has long been part of the South African psyche.

      The question is, how do move out of this mental quagmire and out from under the the grip of an irreprable ANC towards something better?

    • Enough Said

      What you say Brad is what is happening right now and its very depressing, however what gives me hope is Margaret Mead said and I quote her : “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

      The Party and Big Brother cannot control us forever.

    • Dudley Futcher

      Wow very good article

    • Stalin

      In all fairness the ANC did not invent these ideologies – they all came from the dreadful bankrupt ideologies or European and Soviet Communism, which is probably the most tyrannical system ever imposed on mankind. The problem is that the rest of the world knows these ideologies are rubbish – total, unadulterated rubbish – and not just misguided economics, but an attempt as you say to pervert truth and reason and to utterly crush both the mind and spirit of the individual. The problem is the ANC probably knows this deep down but remains terrified to face the horror, and to throw it on the ash heap of history.

    • Stalin

      In all fairness the ANC did not invent these ideologies – they all came from the dreadful bankrupt ideologies of European and Soviet Communism, which is probably the most tyrannical system ever imposed on mankind. The problem is that the rest of the world knows these ideologies are rubbish – total, unadulterated rubbish – and not just misguided economics, but an attempt as you say to pervert truth and reason and to utterly crush both the mind and spirit of the individual. The problem is the ANC probably knows this deep down but remains terrified to face the horror, and to throw it on the ash heap of history.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Tofolux, the examples you gave have nothing to do with this article. The ANC had Malema going around the country acting as a champion of the poor and he had millions in the bank. Zuma has been going around SA talking about how he is fighting corruption and he is involved in widespread corruption. You are a good example of cult leadership because you subscribed to the ANC cult leadership.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Brad, I love your article and thought it was great however, Achilles Mbembe’s “PostColony” he claims that the ruling parties have made zombies out of the masses in Africa.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Our government certainly presents all the symptoms of being Orwellian.
      Having read most of Orwell’s books, I can honestly say that he was a bit of a prophet or maybe just a keen observer of the nastiness of politics in general.

    • http://[email protected] Azael

      It is so sad that our people still believe political organisations are going to provide solutions for their problems. It doesn’t matter who is in power, but they will always find something to blame for their mistake. This national planning is a new tool used to keep them in power while they waste our resources.

    • Comrade Koos


      “In all fairness the ANC did not invent these ideologies – they all came from the dreadful bankrupt ideologies or European and Soviet Communism, …”

      The ANC could be classified neo-liberal capitalists or crony capitalists or free market racketeers and tendrepreneurs however, they are anything but socialists in the spirit of Comrade Karl Marx

      @Stalin – you may find this interesting:

      “Fascism is the unchecked rule of a class of the privileged, or relatively rich, in power–a full-scale assault on poor and working people. Parliamentary institutions are usually set aside, or so demeaned as to be meaningless. (The Holocaust was legal). Elites issue direct orders, frequently through a populist leader. Wages, any social safety net, working hour laws, labor laws; all come under legal (and extra-legal) attack. The stick replaces the carrot. ………………..

      ………Fascism requires and is built on the support of capitalist elites…………

      …Fascism does emerge in capitalist crises, the moments when the struggle for production reaches a point when the workers can no longer purchase the products they produce, a crisis of over-production and declining profits and/or an intense battle for cheaper labor, raw materials, and new markets; that is, war. ………


    • frans

      Hope someone write such article in other South African languages and where it reach all South Africans. Like the ANC do at the branches where they use local people and local language to convinced the masses.

    • Enough Said


      I like your above post.

      Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist and said the following:

      “Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. ”

    • Eazyboy Matjila

      spot on!!!! Brad.

      Think of the political spectrum chief and understanding terms will be much simpler. From a reactionary and/or revolutionary to conservative party politics, there should be somewhat change in the way people does their policy formulation.

      They ANC is at present conservative in its nature of running the country and yet preaching change in the system of governance. We watch breathlessly as the wheels of change are slowly coming to a halt- Doublethink as you have been assigned to power- Grinds all process to a stand still as pockets are supposed to be lined-up before one looks at the needs of the demanding masses.

      Why end up with nothing, while you have all the resources at the tip of your fingers? At the end, we do not want to vacate the seats that makes democracy alive in our country. Through strategies that will see people getting angry when appointed to positions of power. Check how many brilliant leaders in ANC have not being elected to the NEC because they still want to see change, and/or before they become members of the NEC and not so long retire or be rendered redundant in the ANC.

    • impedimenta

      Bravo! Would that this insight spreads in SA.

    • Rory Short

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, many similarities but of course not quite the same and therein lies our hopes for the future

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Easyboy, the ANC isn’t a democratic organization and let the people have a voice in the party. The ANC is run on the order of the old Stalin and Mao’s other structures. For those people who aren’t happy with the ANC are encouraged to leave the party, and this is where Dr Ramphele will be recruiting from in the new party.

    • Neuren Pietersen

      Is Animal Farm still studied in school?

    • Eazyboy Matjila

      @Sterling, that’s my point of reference. The ANC as it started in it’s role as a political party, promised democracy. This according to my post, is fading due to continued awareness of possible riches on the side of those in the position of power. There is a saying that, “if you point one finger at a person, there are three pointing back at you.”

      We expect all people to become holier than thou but, we are the instigators of the same bad actions they are involved in. We offer them deals they cannot say no to. Remember, you cannot send a street kid a pack of chips. It is obvious that the kid will buy something else or eat them on his way.

      We however, are not supposed to close doors to those who made this democracy possible. They should be elected to rule as they have loyalty of the masses. We fought tirelessly for this and we will not easily let go the status quo. Who better the so-called thieves who can always be caught than those who cannot be caught? All- believe you me- will come to rest. This is South Africa and not any other country on mother earth.

    • Lloyd Mkhize

      @Enough Said.

      You said a mouthful, and thanks for Margaret Mead quote…

    • Lennon

      @ Neuren Pietersen: It wasn’t when I was still in school during the 90’s nor did it come up while my brother was in high school into the mid 2000’s.

      I very much doubt the ANC would want it in the curriculum as they can’t afford to have students read it and exclaim: “But this is how the government in SA works!”.

      “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.” – H. L. Mencken

    • rick baker

      History shows that we don’t learn from history! This excellent article highlights how what is happening in SA has happened may times before and how we collectively choose to be blind to it. If only we could have the intelligence and honesty to build on the successes of the past elsewhere in the world instead of blatantly repeating the mistakes. Unfortunately it requires a certain level of education and knowledge of history and it is doubtful if our current populist leaders understand what this article is about. A good degree in economics and politics from a top institution coupled with impeccable integrity should be the absolute minimum requirement for a leader tasked with repairing this country. Otherwise we have no chance!!

    • Foreign Observer

      I am not South African, but I have been living here and following this site for a while now. It seems like a lot of the same people comment on articles, but the conversation is sometimes quite inflammatory and negative. I am not saying that critiques should not be made, but I do wish that people could offer more concrete suggestions for change. I work with an NGO here and am continually trying to discuss issues like this, but even ‘socially-conscious’ people seem content to complain about the problems in the country and blame other groups of people.

      South Africa is famous around the world for successfully mobilizing against apartheid! This is the country that brought the world black consciousness! It seems a betrayal of that legacy to sit and complain when the poor are suffering, children are not being educated, and women are being raped. Rather than shifting blame from one group to another, isn’t it time to band together once again and mobilize for change?

      Give the rest of the world the opportunity to celebrate South Africa once again.

    • Damian Garside

      A very stimulating, and at the same time disturbing piece. Your reading if the Orwell classic is most impressive, and your application to the ANC fat too close for comfort.

      One difference between Ingsoc in the novel and the kind of Stalinist/nationalist/ greedy capitalist/liberationism of the ANC is that in the former O’Brien and the other commissars no longer believe in the State’s doctrines, it is in the nature of a cynical exploitative con or set-up designed to perpetuate the system indefinitely. The rulers are shabby gods in a nihilistic universe where there is no God.

      With the ANC the ideology is becoming religious: the rulers are not gods but saints or angels doing God’s work. The ANC doctrines and practices are seen as validated at the highest spiritual level (hence no conflict between Zuma’s Christian faith and ANC policy: they are perfectly aligned, and he believes ( as we see from previous comments he has made) that he sees the ANC, and himself in particular as divinely appointed.

    • DeeGee

      @Neuren Pietersen. No. Only in Luthuli House.