The immutable law of natural selection requires that species must adapt to their dynamic and changing environment in order to survive or face extinction and the increasing knowledge of natural ecosystems has come to confirm that this law holds equally true for organisations and businesses. The complex and adaptive social systems in which organisations currently exist are more dynamic, diverse and interconnected than ever. They are also intrinsically very unpredictable. 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.

A typical behaviour of complex systems is that an interaction at some point in the lower levels in the system may have emergent outcomes that may have a significant impact on the overall system. The emergence of the EFF was triggered by the unfortunate and painful Marikana event. Its impact on our body politic has been typically disruptive and it opened doors for student protest movements against high fees. All these events were entirely predictable but decision makers did not pay attention.

The outcomes of the 2016 local government elections have clearly attested to the unpredictable nature of the complex and adaptive environments in which political parties exist. A political party is a complex adaptive sub-system existing within a larger complex adaptive social system. It exists, not for itself, but solely to win power by winning the support of the voters. Winning this support must not arrogantly be taken for granted. Like all complex adaptive systems, any interaction by agents within the party has the potential to have negative outcomes within the larger social system. The reaction of the social system will typically manifest itself decisively at the time of voting.

The local election results have decisively indicated the perceptions and impressions that the voters have formed about the brand images that are projected by the various political parties that participated in the electoral review. For organisations, the success of the brand image is driven primarily by the emotional connection that the organisation and its products or messages make with the customers. But an equally very critical driver has to do with the quality of leadership at the helm of the organisation and whether the values they project as leaders are shared by the communities whose support they seek to win.

For the ANC, the evaluation delivered by the voting public raises the fundamental question of whether the post-1994 mandate of the people was clearly understood and whether the policies, strategies and programmes adopted since then can deliver the type of society imagined in the Constitution. The evaluation has also delivered an emphatic opinion on the type and character of the collective leadership entrusted with the responsibility of ultimately delivering on this vision. The decision is that the party has been found to have serious shortcomings on both issues. I have written about this prospect in 2015, see here;

But as I reflected on the state of the nation and the message delivered by the election results, I recalled Frantz Fanon’s post-liberation philosophy that the struggle for liberation would have been a waste of time if the painful sacrifices that were endured achieved the replacement of one domination by another and the exclusion of the “wretched of the earth” for whom the struggle was waged in the first place. This warning was as relevant then as it is now as we ask ourselves serious questions about the development trajectory the country has pursued over the past 20 years.

As we reflect on this critical question, we must be mindful of the prescient observation by Fanon that the postcolonial reality provides ample evidence that national liberation movements ultimately became transformed into their opposites and often replicate the style and practice of their oppressors. The neocolonial socioeconomic trajectory that they adopted for their liberated countries degenerated into a patronage-based and corrupt system that progressively eschewed freedom of expression and human rights and also marginalised the poor. How prescient!

After 1994, the ANC was virtually forced to adopt a neocolonial socioeconomic paradigm that was propagated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We also adopted its values of selfish individualism and wealth creation. The outcome was never in doubt and we have now achieved the unenviable status of being the most unequal society in the world.

The reality of post-apartheid South Africa has revealed the incapacity of the state to deliver services to the poor and marginalised because service delivery protests are a frequent occurrence throughout the country. Various research initiatives have concluded that service delivery protests tend to increase during local elections, indicating that they could be driven by competition for inclusion in the party’s candidate lists. But a deeper examination indicates that the principal cause for frustration among the communities involved is a lack of democratic local participation. Communities claim elected representatives are never available to consult with them and hear their complaints and understand their needs. They cry for their voices to be heard. They also complain that their representatives pay more attention to the commands and wishes of the party leadership than those of the communities.

The election outcomes are a clear reminder for the ANC that the emotional connection to the brand is lost and the core values projected by the party as represented by the party leadership are not consistent with the expectations of the communities. They have also exposed the intellectual limitation or arrogance to comprehend and pay attention to the critical role and demands of a rapidly changing demographic within the complex and adaptive social system in which it exists.

The moment indeed calls for serious introspection. However such an exercise can only be useful if the right questions are asked. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that they will go back to the communities to understand the basis for their rejection.  But this has already been done during the house-to-house pre-election campaign where the issues were ventilated but clearly ignored! What is lacking is the political will to face them and make tough calls.

The usual default to excuses will certainly not serve the purpose. What is required is a bold effort to restructure, reinvent and reposition the party to ensure that it understands the will and needs of the people and reflects this understanding in how it manages the ANC brand. Otherwise if the current situation is allowed to continue, the 2019 elections may deliver a certain existential threat to the party.


  • Thabang is a very experienced and leading strategy consultant with more than 20 years of executive management experience. His forte and focus as an organizational strategist concerns helping organisations develop vision aligned strategies and deal with repositioning challenges in changing market environments while maintaining a sustainable and competitive advantage. He is a graduate of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. He has also completed the Harvard Senior Executive Programme.


Thabang Motsohi

Thabang is a very experienced and leading strategy consultant with more than 20 years of executive management experience. His forte and focus as an organizational strategist concerns helping organisations...

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