Dr Malinga performs at the Malamulele Stadium in Limpopo during President Jacob Zuma's election campaign. The real challenge for the ANC, says the writer, is not so much what happens in May, but the current positioning of the party, and the conduct of political and public officials. Photo: Matthews Baloyi

The ANC needs to remake and refocus its energies to create a party-political culture that is in keeping with 21st century norms, writes Mzwanele Mayekiso.

The ANC has had a torrid time in the post apartheid political space as the May 7 elections loom large. But the party will survive the year and surprise political pundits who predict a slim majority after the ballots are counted, despite the fracturing and serious haemorrhaging that has defined the movement since the 2007 Polokwane conference.

At the very least, the Markinor survey seems to be sure of this as a possibility, while other surveys predict a highly downgraded showing as a consequence of the splintering that has plagued the organisation.

This, including the DA’s so-called telephone surveys, which conclusively give the ANC poor outcomes, and we wonder as to the impartiality perhaps of such a study given the party’s hopes to replace the ANC at the same polls.

The DA may have no compunction about the hybrid nature of its politics as it genuinely seeks to be an honest NGO actor that has to be trusted by society, while also being a political player that hopes to slay the ANC dragon.

So, the DA hopes to have its cake and eat it at the same time?

Could the perceived shortcomings in the delivery of services, mismanagement of resources and corruption through the political chain of command coerce voters to seek new homes away from their party of liberation?

Notwithstanding the contentious Nkandla political debacle – and the plane with rich foreign holidaymakers landing on our restricted national security key points, and the never-ending arms deal yarn – which shows serious signals of blatant disregard for democratic norms, values and ethics of accountability by those involved, and perhaps marking a deeper crisis of political leadership in the party of liberation, the ANC so far.

For us, the real challenge for the ANC is not so much what happens in May because it is a given, but the current political positioning of the party and its future trajectory.

The unbecoming behaviour and conduct of political and public officials will be felt in the next five to 10 years as the electorate assesses its own future by looking to the past; and as the opposition parties mature in eloquence and acceptability of their legitimacy in the political environment.

It is the future that offers a clear and present threat to the ANC, hence our articulation and relation to the present reflects on that potential, unless a drastic turnaround in the current political discourse is engineered as a rescue mechanism.

It has been argued that opposition parties such as the DA get rich pickings from the ANC because of disaffection with the party and heavy factional fighting. It is not clear what percentage of the crossing is genuine, and what part is based on political opportunity and the need to access resources.

The signature of such an encroachment is visible though in the township as the blue T-shirts of the party alongside the red berets of the EFF create an interesting political kaleidoscope

Could it be true that the ANC suffers from the curse of liberation movements throughout the world? That when they come to power, they become unpopular as they are no longer fighting and the language and culture of liberation doesn’t fit with the democratic environment? Or, rather that the liberators soon forget where they came from, and perhaps what it took for them to be where they are today?

The political memoir Memory Against Forgetting, by the late South African patriot and Communist Party leader Lionel Rusty Bernstein, is relevant and instructive to the current wayward political environment.

It reminds us to remain committed to our history in order to move forward with clarity of mind, purpose and duty in the mission to transform society.

What if the liberation movement, because of its gallant history of struggle, takes for granted the will and mandate of the people and assumes that society is beholden to them?

Could the Nicaragua effect finally be upon us, where the liberator Sandinista movement was in power for only six years after liberation and lost to their sworn enemies – the Contras – because the party political mandarins ignored the wishes of its support base and lorded over the population instead of working with society to transform it?

It is instructive that after the Sandinista loss, the party went back to the drawing board to correct the mistakes and is now in power again.

Should we learn any lessons from the experience of our historical partners in the Sandinista to avoid a repetition of such a situation in our turf, which would indeed be a tragic waste?

Or could it be a party beset with infighting, informed by factionalism, that might have been dormant at the time of the liberation struggle because of a common denominator in the form of the apartheid regime of oppression?

The current political setup could have resonance with past political contestation in terms of trends and approaches that were resuscitated post apartheid.

The Mbeki/Zuma political dichotomy represents a particularly interesting study as it may appear to the naked eye as a current cultural discourse.

But, as always, the political present takes its cue from the past – layered like an enigma and hidden from view.

The political strands that transcend exile and internal missions of our movement due to the symbiotic connection from the treacherous political discourse in exile that is relived today, affects perhaps our mandate to deliver and transform society for the better.

Or, are they just a simple consequence of the new political environment in which factions form and coalesce around individuals instead of the organisation to ensure that resources and access to them benefit a particular group and vice versa?

This trend may involve foreign political, intelligence and commercial interests that embed themselves within factions for strategic precedence.

The geopolitical and strategic angle is also very interesting if we are to look at the geographical location of our environment, the pristine and complicated infrastructure that we possess. Various international political players such as the US, China, Russia and India could fund and enhance particular factional strands inside and outside the ANC in pursuit of a strategic preference.

The sidelining of senior members of the ANC, who are of healthy body, mind and disposition, from the political life of the organisation, while it works well for the dominant faction, may not auger well for the organisation in the longer term.

It is worthy to note that one faction running the organisation doesn’t and couldn’t equal the entire organisation, so that the movement at this point is potentially running at less than half of its full potential – and this is the bane of the ANC post apartheid!

Social movement literature reflects on the cyclical nature of organisations. Liberation movements historically go through a pyramid-like growth pattern, once they reach the top, they slide back down through a decline – otherwise known as the boom-and-bust political phenomenon.

Might the ANC be going through this sequence, which limits the over-arching liberation appeal of the organisation?

And are the political actors realising that the movement is being emasculated through their actions?

Could political extinction for the ANC be possible because of a failure to adopt and transform to the current political trends of the 21st century, which is signified by vigour, creativity and savvy?

The formation of various parties such as the UDM, COPE, EFF and now the much talked about potential formation of a Socialist Workers’ Party by Numsa creates space for the development of organised factional parties committed to the politics and culture of congress. Leaders like Luthuli, Tambo, Mandela, Hani and so on are seen as heroes, as the cultural and normative essence of the broader movement is retained.

This political development is more akin to the structuring of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, in which factions are actual organisations with their own leaders, such as Fatah, the main faction, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, PFLP, DFLP, and others.

These organisations are at times hostile and violent towards one another, but share a common historical narrative under the umbrella of the PLO. This keeps them close, even though they compete at political level for the attention of the Palestinian population.

This could dynamise the political space, though the electorate’s fear might in the main be reserved for the DA, whose tumultuous political messages, behaviour and conduct might make the electorate nervous and suspicious of their long-term political intentions.

An example of this is the DA flip-flopping on the question of black economic empowerment in Parliament, in which black MPs mandated to discuss and conclude the issue were publicly flogged and shifted from their posts for endorsing this piece of legislation that apparently was at odds with the DA’s ideological orientation.

Other questionable events included Helen Zille’s serious public spat with Mbali Ntuli, the DA Youth Leader, for uttering her reservation about the wisdom of her party’s decision to march to the ANC headquarters to challenge the ANC’s election manifesto, when the DA had their own manifesto to develop and launch.

The high-octane messages of the DA about kids from the Eastern Cape being “education refugees” in the Western Cape when the province is part of South Africa might not have gone down well with citizens as it could have created the impression that the Western Cape is not part of South Africa.

Then there was the rushed appointment of Mamphele Ramphele as the party’s presidential candidate and the subsequent fallout between Ramphele and Zille within a week of the announcement.

In this case, it might have proved that the DA – in its sprint to muscle the ANC out of power – is prepared to buy conservative black faces to create a political façade of a transformed party to subvert the gains of democracy as part of an international conspiracy to scuttle the ANC’s agenda of transformation and liberation.

This is beginning to become a political discourse, in fact, murmured in hushed tones in the informal settlements, townships, villages and hamlets of South Africa.

The new political parties, though they make promises in their political discourse, may find it difficult to crack the liberation veneer of the ANC in the near to mid-term as the perception of political opportunism against the leaders of the splits is still dominant.

In the meantime, the ANC needs to remake and refocus its energies to structure a political-party culture that’s in keeping with the norms of the 21st century. It will so avoid ending up like the rest of the liberation movements that died out because the political science discourse and future scenario political-planning is no longer taken seriously as an essential aspect of the party’s existence.

And, could we perhaps ensure through our political behaviour that our geo- strategic location serves the national interest of South Africa, instead of turning our landscape into a new colonial entity and playground for foreign interests?

Could the memory of our movement’s shared values guide the political trajectory to ensure that the norms and ethos of the Struggle are not forgotten in the battle for survival? And that Luthuli, Bard, Mandela, Joseph, Tambo, Slovo, Sisulu, First, Mompati, Shope and numerous others’ fight for freedom is entrenched in our meaning?

* Mayekiso is CEO of the iKwezi Institute.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent