Failure again to think and correct caused the ANC to bleed

Dr Siphamandla Zondi in 2015 speaking in Pretoria at the release of the 2014 Development Indicators by then Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe.

Dr Siphamandla Zondi in 2015 speaking in Pretoria at the release of the 2014 Development Indicators by then Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe.

Published Jun 3, 2024


By Siphamandla Zondi

The ANC is not getting used to its tendency to produce results it does not like. It is getting surprised by the same thing every five years.

The decline in the ANC share of the national vote has been happening since 2009. In each case, among the key reasons for this trend has been something to do with the ANC itself.

Internal ructions within the ANC following its Polokwane conference in 2008, where then president Thabo Mbeki failed to win a third term in the party due to a challenge by his deputy, Jacob Zuma, caused the party to bleed support and loose cohesion ahead of the 2009 elections. The Congress of the People party that splintered from the ANC after Polokwane won an unprecedented one million votes off the ANC. As it bled, the ANC blamed the new party and its politics of bitterness.

The same happened when the EFF was formed ahead of the 2014 elections by the expelled ANC Youth League president did very well in its first elections. Again, the ANC bled and blamed the anarchy of the new party.

We are seeing yet another new splinter from the ANC – produced by its handling of the recall and post-recall of Jacob Zuma – the uMkhonto weSizwe Party. It has by far exceeded records set by COPE and the EFF in the past, and, to everyone’s shock has dislodged the ANC from power in the big KwaZulu-Natal province. The ANC has bled again and is blaming the Zulu tribalism of the new party for the circumstance.

In this case, as in the past, the ANC is in denial about the shifts that are taking place and its responsibility for its dwindling fortunes. It is discounting its failure to improve government, declining service delivery in many areas, nepotism and corruption, and the disconnection of its structures from communities.

The ANC makes the mistake repeatedly of deflecting instead of reflecting.The latter requires humility and the ability to be genuinely self-critical and thoroughly analytical about the overall climate, leading to a change of behaviour and performance of the party. The former leads to lessons being lost in arrogance and the audacity of self-belief, hence repeated errors.

Most governing parties in democracies run via proportional representation have a significant influence on the outcomes of elections. So is the case in South Africa. The ANC contributed significantly to its gradual decline in the past decade and a half.

It could have changed its fortunes in the May 2024 elections by performing well in government between 2019 and 2024. It chose to campaign like parties outside government that campaign once an election date is declared – too late for a governing party.

Failure to introspect and correct leads to repeat mistakes every five years, errors that cannot be undone by busing people to big rallies a few weeks before elections. As we observed elections in five provinces with the Devoted Citizen NGO, we got a sense of citizens waking up from slumber. The citizens are learning to take free t-shirts, food and even gifts from every party, but still reserve their right to choose whomever they prefer on election day. Rallies as a tactic have their limits.

Siphamandla Zondi is a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Johannesburg and a volunteer with the non-governmental organisation Devoted Citizen

The Star