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Time to ’free party from the shackles of compromise’

ANC leaders Jacob Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC’s 54th National Conference in December 2017. The ruling party ‘is a prisoner of a reality that no longer exists’, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African New Agency (ANA) Archives

ANC leaders Jacob Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC’s 54th National Conference in December 2017. The ruling party ‘is a prisoner of a reality that no longer exists’, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African New Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Apr 3, 2022

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The ANC’s decision to establish a renewal commission to develop a road map for the party towards its 120th anniversary in 2032 is nothing out of the ordinary.

This is what any forward-looking organisation does if it is to remain in the game. For the ANC this decision comes at a critical moment. The party has for some time been embroiled in an internecine war. Comrades tear each other apart on a daily basis.

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Week in and week out the party is dragged to the courts by its own members. It comes as no surprise it is fast losing support among its traditional constituencies.

The party can no longer claim to be the leader of society. It has suffered a crisis of credibility. Its conference resolutions are seemingly replaced by the dictates of financial sponsors of incumbent leaders. The outcome of the local government elections has served as a wake-up call. More than a century in existence, the party has failed to deliver “a better life for all”.

And never before has the prospect of losing a national election become so real. If anything, the party has transmogrified into what psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon described as the pitfalls that befalls liberation movements.

The ANC has become an “empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been”. Fanon could easily have had the ANC in mind when he wrote that the “national middle class which takes over power … has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace … (it) is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labour; it is completely canalised into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the racket. The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of the businessman, not that of a captain of industry”.

The ANC has since ceased to be a party of revolution. In certain areas it has been displaced by parties with no revolutionary credentials. It has, in Fanon’s words, fallen into deplorable stagnation.

Unable to transcend the geopolitical imagination of apartheid masters the party is now at the forefront of condoning, defending and reproducing the apartheid spatial and economic patterns.

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The party’s stagnation in thought has resulted in either a poor or non-existent theorisation of a post-apartheid dispensation. This laziness saw the party adopting structures, processes and systems created by the erstwhile apartheid masters. The apartheid architects could not have been happier.

As writer, feminist, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde famously observed: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. Where the party did not follow the script of apartheid, it imported and embraced quick-fix solutions and un-interrogated models to address national challenges.

The results have been disastrous. The renewal commission must go beyond resolving current organisational challenges the party faces. It should refocus its effort in addressing the unfinished business of transformation.

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Perhaps the place to start is in dismantling the apartheid economic edifice which remains intact. Somehow the ANC failed to heed the advice given by its former president, the late Oliver Reginald Tambo.

Addressing the South African Communist Party anniversary meeting in London in 1981, Tambo argued: “It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the country to the people as a whole. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the roots of racial supremacy and exploitation, and does not represent even the shadow of liberation. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy; and our drive towards national emancipation must include economic emancipation.”

Tambo’s vision of a free South Africa is still to be realised. Arguably, the failure of imagining the challenge of post-independence cannot be de-linked to the nature of contestation during apartheid. At that time, the focus was largely political.

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Little attention was given to cultural and economic subjugation. If the experience in the African continent is anything to go by, then the struggle for economic and cultural emancipation is likely to prove to be difficult.

As it matters, the new mandarins have reduced themselves to the status of being security guards for white capital. The renewal commission will be doomed to failure if it limits its efforts to addressing organisational challenges at the expense of the cultural/ ideological struggle that still needs to be waged.

This cannot be achieved without looking at, and redressing the damage that colonialism and apartheid has done to the psyche of the African in South Africa. The ANC must also free itself from the debilitating compromises it was forced to adopt. It should not remain a prisoner of a reality that no longer exists.

* Seepe is Deputy Vice Chancellor, Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.

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