Unless the ANC makes a major ideological shift to the left, the current sluggish pace of transformation will remain in place, says the writer. Photo: Phill Magakoe
The ruling party can't achieve radical economic transformation in its present shrinking and weakened state, writes Dumisani Hlophe

Here is the irony: at its weakest moment, the ANC wants to deliver radical economic transformation. It wants to radically redistribute land without compensation.

For the ANC to do this, it must first amend the constitution.The constitution can only be amended with a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. But, in recent successive elections, the ANC’s electoral base has declined at the national and local government levels. In essence, the ANC is increasingly getting weaker in terms of legislative and governing capacities.

Therefore, the ANC is limited in its quest to drive radical economic transformation. There are several factors and forces that prevent the ANC from driving radical transformation. These are internal and external to the ANC.

Internally; the main problem is weak organisational capacity. This stems mainly from the top. The ANC leadership has increasingly become too elitist, and mainly inward looking. Hence, its preoccupation revolves around elite power contestation, self-economic upliftment and self-preservation. Factional contestations over leadership positions have become the major hallmark of the ANC leadership.

In this sense, it fails to inspire a sense of commitment to the greater good of the majority of the economically deprived.

The next internal challenge is the ANC’s commitment to liberal economic policies. Mainly, the economics of trickledown effect. That is, government should create favourable conditions for the business sector to thrive, and in the process the positive spin-offs will trickle down to lower classes and consequently benefit the masses.

South Africa experienced average economic growth of about 4% during president Thabo Mbeki’s era, and yet this was jobless growth.

There has not been a fundamental shift in economic ideology in the last 10 to 15 years. Therefore, unless the ANC makes a major ideological shift to the left, the current sluggish pace of transformation will remain in place.

Right now, the ANC does not seem to have the political will to make such an ideological shift. In fact, amid the rhetoric of radical socio-economic transformation, the ANC hardly talks about a redistribution political economy broadly.

Moreover, the historical characterisation of the ANC as the “broad church” is incongruent with the quest to drive a radical economic transformation programme. The “broad church” characterisation of the ANC has ceased to mean an ideological mix. It now denotes the multiplicity of political elite groupings battling each other for economic positioning within a liberal capitalist ethos.

This means a radical ideological shift to the left will inadvertently negatively affect the same political elite tasked with such transformation. Therefore, it is conceivable that resistance to ideological shift to effect radical economic transformation will partly come from within the political elite groupings and individuals within the ANC.

This internal power contestation within various ANC groupings has already manifested itself through internal criticism of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's Budget speech. The ANC Women’s League alleged that Gordhan’s speech was generally not in line with President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address which, in their view, advanced radical transformation.

The ANCYL went as far as calling for Zuma to release Gordhan from his cabinet post. Interestingly, the Budget speech articulated many initiatives under the banner of transformation. The irony, though, is that the budget is actually the president’s budget, read by the minister of finance.

The above illustrates the rhetoric of radical economic transformation is a useful tool of the political elite factions battling for power and control of resources. It is the political currency that the political elite use to ascend to positions of power, remain in power, or seek to dethrone others from power.

At the grassroots level, it is a useful political currency to generate renewed belief and faith on the ruling ANC that it can still deliver, en masse, a better life for the majority, despite losing control of major cities. It sells the message to the masses that the ANC still has what it takes to transform the lives of the majority for the better. In the process, containing the masses from uprising.

The change in rhetoric without changing the power base and dynamics of South Africa’s socio-political economics will not yield the ANC’s envisaged radical change. The post ’94 South Africa produced at Codesa was not designed to advance radical change. In fact, the opposite is true - to sustain colonial socio-economic patterns couched within a legitimised political system.

In the immediate post ’94 and from the 1999 elections, the ANC was at its strongest since the dawn of liberal democracy. It had the required two-thirds majority, enjoyed massive social and liberal capital.

The matured politicians who led the ANC and government at the time were fully aware of the need for radical socio-economic transformation - but they did not.

This was probably to avoid a backlash from the international monopoly. South Africa’s economy is intrinsically intertwined with global monopoly capital. Domestic economic decisions have to conform to the dictates of global monopoly capital. Domestic political decisions are expected to lubricate the functionality of domestic capital and its international alliances.

In this regard, tampering with the property clause will unleash a major backlash from the domestic capital and its international alliances. The ANC post ’94 has not demonstrated the political will to tackle capital interests to radically effect transformation.

In the last two weeks, the ANC could have accepted the EFF’s offer of voting together to amend section 25 of the constitution and allow for confiscation of land without compensation. But that’s probably where it would have ended, simply because the ANC is internally and externally constrained from effecting radical transformation of any sort.

At face value, it is an appealing rhetoric by the ANC in its quest to win back support. Yet, with limited prospects of its realisation, it is a dangerous rhetoric for the ANC itself. Eventually, it is likely to end up exploding in the ANC's face.

It is like the story of a frog that stood next to an elephant and tried to present itself as big and powerful as the elephant. So it inhaled as much air to look big, and ended up bursting!

* Hlophe is governance specialist at Unisa School of Governance. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent