There is a complexity in being the ANC that few other political parties in South Africa face.
Born on January 8, 2012, Africa’s longest-surviving liberation movement was nurtured by a hue of forces and entrusted with collective leadership by internal political movements.
It was also recognised by diverse political, social and labour groupings from across the international community.
Its formation was organised by the elite of black intellectual and political leadership of the time.
Led by John Dube and Dr Walter Rubusana, people from all four of the colonised British self-governing territories got together to articulate the anxieties and aspirations of the black population in South Africa and to protest the social tragedy playing itself out as the Act of the Union of South Africa, which entrenched white supremacy and black exclusion, became a reality.
After the passing of the Unlawful Organisations Act in 1960, the ANC, along with other political movements considered a threat to the apartheid public order, were banned in South Africa.
This drove the movement underground and into the enclaves of friendly host nations across Africa and voice of the oppressed and de facto government-in-waiting of South Africa for over three decades.
Based on the international support received for over 30 years from foreign governments – both African and European – the ANC has always had a complex stance on human rights violations when it came to erstwhile foreign funders and friends of the movement.
This ambiguity on political principle has made the ANC at odds with many of its founding principles on human rights and justice.
For example, the ANC as government denied a visa three times in five years to the Dalai Lama on pressure from China.
It also refused to arrest President Omar al-Bashir from Sudan when he visited South Africa, despite an international warrant out for his arrest on war crimes.
When the SA High Court ordered his arrest under the warrant, he was allowed to flee South Africa through a military airport – meaning with State assistance. The same applied to the muddled diplomacy on the Zimbabwe land grab matters.
In recent weeks the ANC has been in a similar quandary with its mild statements on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Calling both sides to dialogue is sensible but its failure to be principled about an invasion of a sovereign state has disappointed many.
Its failure to be unambiguous about this Russian transgression is rooted in a myriad trade, diplomatic and historical reasons too numerous to unpack here.
But its complex responses are best seen, not in its international human rights failures but in the way it responds to its own internal political failures.
When its own members protest against it and its constituent communities destroy infrastructure due to unsatisfactory service delivery or corruption allegations, the ANC is most paralysed as government.
It has found the role of being the government responsible for fixing the problems of the poor, especially the black poor, as well as being the government that is being protested against for failing the poor, as too complex for its leadership.
In many ways it prefers to be on the side of the protesters and not having the responsibility to fix these issues.
Thirty years in exile under brilliant leadership sharpened the movement into a respectful global leadership that led the negotiations for a peaceful transition in South Africa.
In 2024 it will be 30 years since it has been in political leadership of the country for which it was in exile for 30 years. Has its moral and social justice clarity become dimmed by the vagaries of political power?
Has rewarding life-long foreign friends taken its toll on the clarity of vision to build a just, peaceful and prosperous South Africa.
Does it secretly long for the opposition bench?
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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