Scripture reads that there once was a prisoner who went to a president and told him: let my people go. The hypocrite that was the president, a man lacking in compassion, a leader of his people, rebuffed: don’t push us too far. Over the course of time, after a series of small fires in the proverbial smoke-filled cigar lounge, an election manifesto was born. It was a manifesto born of the wisdom of the fires. It was a wisdom that meandered like the Vaal River through the chamber of a pen and recorded its prescriptions for eternity. The prisoner presented the recording to his people, and told them of the wisdom of the fires and the promise of a “better life for all”. All that he asked in return from his people was that they enter into a covenant of the cross with the ANC. This covenant was that they had to make a cross for the ANC in exchange for the fruits foretold in the manifesto. Today the prisoner is no more and we ask ourselves under what circumstances should we continue to bear the cross for the ANC?
The ANC is a jealous being. It is not a god but merely a governing political and social movement — albeit a jealous movement. It is a movement made up of mere flesh and blood men. It is merely a crew of men who, like all other men, are subject to the vices: sloth, greed, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. Many of us on observing the seemingly nascent but wayward behaviour of the ANC, wonder if it still has a vested interest in our common wealth. We wonder whether we should still bear the cross.
As we wonder we are overwhelmed by our conflicted selves. We feel conflicted because the ANC has brought so much light where there previously was no Eskom. We feel conflicted because it has brought food where previously there were no government grants. We feel conflicted because it has given us dignity where previously klein-baas mentalities terrorised adults. We feel conflicted because it has brought us education where previously gardening and biblical studies served as the pinnacles of intellectual sophistication. We feel conflicted because it has brought us RDP housing where previously families had to sleep like sardines in the townships. The ANC is a movement on the right side of history. Its job is far from over.
Yet much as the ANC is on the right side of history, we wonder is it on the right side of the future? With each newspaper headline we ask ourselves should we still bear the cross even though the behaviour of the ANC fails to live up to its own grand aspirations? The chief grievances against the ANC are that: (1) Its neo-liberal policies are anti-poor, (2) its leaders display crass tendencies and exhibit contempt for the public and (3) it fails to expertly execute on its own pronouncements.
The neo-liberal bent is attributed to the Class of 1996 project. One of its prescriptions, for example, was the lifting of tariffs that allowed the country to be flooded with cheaper, foreign manufactured goods. This precipitated a collapse of industry and occasioned an interregnum characterised by mass structural unemployment.
The crass behaviour of its leadership is evinced in the multiple tender irregularities and in that the auditor-general for the most part issues qualified audits to municipalities. The ANC leadership’s contempt for the public is exemplified by the security cluster telling the public that a walled-off enclosure containing filtered and chlorinated water is a reservoir to extinguish fires. The failure of the ANC to execute on its pronouncements is seen in the municipal billing crises and general failure of the police to control crowds without silencing them with live bullets.
Regarding the neo-liberal grievances, Adam Habib in his book The Suspended Revolution puts forth an interesting analysis. He says it was neither malice (for the poor) nor ignorance (of policy alternatives) that resulted in the ANC choosing the policies it did. He says in an agency and structure analysis we should not discount the influence of structure in its ability to bend the will of agents to certain decisions. The structure in this case is international capital. He argues that the ANC realised that the blacks where committed to the covenant and therefore that the ANC could counter pressure from the structure by capitulating to international capital — with little cost from the masses. That is to say because the newly emancipated had emotionally sworn allegiance to the ANC, the ANC could balance off the tensions of governing by adopting an agenda set by among others the IMF. Habib argues that, because each election cycle we feel bound to this covenant (as though it would be heretical to break it) on a policy level we are facilitating a power structure wherein our demands get shafted. Cue Irvin Jim and Numsa.
On the behaviour of ANC leaders and its execution failures, Habib goes on to say that these persist because we have not given the ANC substantive uncertainty. By this he means that their tenure in office is not substantively threatened if they don’t perform. In short, because we feel bound to this covenant, we have given them licence to ignore us. Our loyalty is facilitating conditions where our demands are ignored.
So I ask again under which circumstances should we break the covenant. Scripture reads that if you spare the rod you will spoil the ANC. If we spare the rod it betrays our love for the ANC and its potential. Do not spare the road. Do not worship the ANC. It is merely men of flesh and blood, agents within a structure.