Thabang Motsohi
Thabang Motsohi

Where did the ANC get it wrong and can it redeem and re-invent itself?

In my previous contribution in this column “The ANC must undergo creative destruction to re-invent itself and survive’’, the theme of my message was that the task of reinventing the ANC and repositioning its brand cannot succeed without a leadership overhaul. I have since received numerous messages raising the question; where did the ANC get it wrong and does it have capacity to redeem and re-invent itself?

I cannot even pretend to have all the answers as pronouncing on the future prospects of organizations is a very speculative field. However, an understanding of complex organizational systems and how they respond and interact within the context of even more dynamic, unpredictable and interconnected complex and adaptive social systems can provide some rational basis for assessing their future prospects. The inescapable fact is that organisations and brands that wither and die are those that misread the environment in which they operate, select the wrong approach to strategy, or fail to support a viable approach with the right behaviours and contingent capabilities.

This sets the scene for, and basis from which, the key variables in the complex social system that may have impacted the fortunes of the ANC can be explored and analysed.

First, the political landscape in the democratic South Africa has been dominated by the ANC. In a diverse country which is also dealing with the challenges of transition into a democratic phase, how the ANC manages its own transformation is bound to have a big impact on what happens in the economy and the prospects for individual enterprise and development.

The inability for the ANC to pursue a more pragmatic and realistic policy perspective in response to dealing with the challenges of the country stems from the tri-partite structural relationships that bind it to the different ideological perspectives of the trade unions under COSATU and the South African Communist Party. It is not clear that this situation will change before the next elections in 2019. The implications are that policy uncertainty will continue to hobble the ANC as long as the alliance is in place. Implications on investment confidence will continue to worry.

In this critical phase, the country needed to have a highly technocratic state that is also capable and efficient in the delivery of social services. I have previously stated that cadre deployment that ignores competence and skills will haunt the ANC.  Except for the social welfare grants and SARS, causes for deterioration at all levels of government have been amply documented by the Auditor General. The situation deteriorated significantly post 2009 when the focus turned to the extractive interests of the political elite and those that are connected to them in a blatantly arrogant manner while the critical socio-economic challenges were neglected.

Second; demography is the most critical variable to consider. The French sociologist Auguste Comte is reputed to have stated that “Demography is Destiny’’. Notwithstanding the fact that the middle layer and the youth comprise the largest components of the voters, and that the biggest component of the unemployed are the youth, our economy has failed to create the jobs that the majority unemployed and under-educated workforce needs. This is a very restive demographic whose needs should have been given serious attention. The risk of social disruption is abundantly clear. The economy has been pushed onto a skills-intensive and capital-intensive growth trajectory. We need to urgently create the kind of jobs for the type of unemployment we have. The ANC has not fully grasped this reality and how to pragmatically respond to it.

Third; we live in an era of a globally growing wave of democratic values and governance and the need for ethical leadership following the global financial collapse of 2008/09. The highly interconnected world brought about by the social media and easily accessible internet has significantly boosted the growth and expansion of this culture of democratic governance and ethical leadership among all segments of societies globally. Any perceived breach of these values by elected leaders will naturally be rejected by the voters. The decline in support for the ANC in the August local elections is a direct manifestation of this rejection of unethical leadership. In the surveys that have been conducted by different researchers, “arrogance’’ and ‘’corruption’’ top the list of unacceptable conduct in the elected leaders.

Fourth; ultimately the decision of the Constitutional Court on the ‘’spy tapes’’ will emerge by mid-2017 and all legal opinions indicate that it will not favour the president. What then must be done is the big question!

This leads me to the second part of the question.

First; the manner in which the ANC in cabinet and in parliament handled the Nkandla report by the Public Protector left it totally discredited in the eyes of the public. It was the ultimate display of arrogance by a party in power because they knew very well that what they were doing is unconscionable and totally indefensible, but they did anyway!  It took the Constitutional Court to reset the ethical direction.

Second; my reading of the situation is that the networks of patronage are so deep and entrenched that their beneficiaries are set to defend their sources of wealth, even with their lives, to ensure that they are not threatened by any change of leadership. In the circumstances, a confrontation close to the elective conference that is due to take place in December 2017 seems inevitable. The outcome of such a confrontation is difficult to foresee but a creative implosion and a split cannot be ruled out!

What is very important to note is that these developments are occurring at a time when competitive politics has become a norm following the capture of all the key metropolitan cities by the opposition parties. The voters are certainly looking towards the 2019 national elections with a different set of expectations and a higher sense of consciousness.