In business when sales and profits over time progressively decline it means, among other key things, that the erosion of the brand has set in and usually the task of rebuilding it can be very challenging and disruptive. But it also means that the problems that caused the decline must first be fixed before the brand rebuilding can resume. This is essentially what is meant by creative destruction. History has many examples of major global brands, such as Jaguar, that underwent creative destruction and then underwent reconstruction with a new and creative management team and progressed to ride a new wave of successful growth. Others have literally disappeared from history through bad strategic judgement that led to self- destruction. In business the demise and disappearance of brands occurs all the time irrespective of how strong they were. For corporations, creative destruction is a means to restructure and transform in order to stay congruent with the dynamic market shifts. In the case of political parties, it is all about the need for leadership overhaul.
Self-destruction however is more common with political parties because of the nature of internal competition in such organizations. Leaders fight each other aggressively to be on top of the pile in order to have decisive control on state power and all the other opportunities and benefits that come with it. In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that ruled nearly uninterrupted for half a century imploded over policy failures and internal factional rivalry. I have warned repeatedly in this column that the ANC needed to deal with the destructive internal factional conflicts that had the potential to fatally erode the brand and support for the party. The reality we now face indicates clearly that the warning was ignored.
Brand management theory and strategy teaches that there are two fundamental violations that can destroy a brand. These are;
- Violating the brand promise and
- Violating values that are important to the brand and its followers and customers
For the ANC, the brand promise that managed to secure the massive support it gained in the 1994 elections was framed around the main theme of building a non-racial democracy underpinned by fundamental human rights that are entrenched in the constitution. Mandela as a leader came to represent and project the organizational values that should be associated with the brand and that were embraced by the people. In the case of corporations, the reaction of customers can be immediate and brutal if the brand promise and values are violated. For political parties the perceptions and decisions of the voters can only be known at the time of the elections. We now have a very clear picture of what the voters think about the ANC in the light of the outcomes of the August local government elections.
The various surveys that were made to understand what drives the service delivery protests that have been erupting all over the country identified the distance between the voters and the elected representatives as the principal cause. They also demonstrated that is this lack of accountability and the arrogance behind it as well as egregious corruption that are eroding support for the ANC. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates that the arrogance and the detestable ego displayed by the ruling elite in their disrespect for the office of the Public Protector and their abuse of the justice system ranked highest as the behaviours rejected by the public and the supporters of the ruling party. It is such levels of arrogance and ego displayed by the ruling political elite that also lead to a state of mind and belief that takes the support of the supporters and voting public for granted. The results of the local elections are a solid indicator that the ANC displays ideal conditions and the need for creative destruction and reinvention to survive and rebuild the brand.
The task of reinventing the organization and repositioning its brand will be very disruptive and challenging. But it cannot succeed without a comprehensive leadership overhaul. This is at the heart of creative destruction and reinvention. The ANC cannot use shortcuts to reflect on these challenges and reinvent itself in order to reconnect with its supporters.