As the African National Congress (ANC) starts to contemplate having been the majority party in South Africa for nearly 20 years, it faces several challenges.
Criticism of the party has begun to grow and become more strident. Some of this stems from the simple fact that governance involves making choices, and every time you make a choice, someone is left disappointed.
But other parts of this stem from simple mistakes made by some leaders, while still others relate to the simple internal dynamics of a party that attempts to house a large number of differing ideologies under one broad church.
However, the criticism has largely become more stinging over time, mainly because of the identities of those giving it. Several high-profile individuals, such as former ANC minister and unionist Jay Naidoo, Mamphela Ramphele, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former ANC minister and now Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota, and Barney Pityana and his brother Sipho, have recently added their voices to complaints against the ANC. What appears to give these individuals’ criticism more power is their own histories. They were also involved in the struggle in different ways. In some cases, this was through their own relationships with the ANC. Lekota and Naidoo were both cabinet ministers at one point and Sipho Pityana was foreign affairs director-general.
What these individuals appear to have in common is that none of them were closely associated with President Jacob Zuma in the immediate aftermath of the ANC’s Polokwane conference. Instead, several of them appeared to be close to Thabo Mbeki when he was president.
However, they are careful to keep their criticism less than direct of Zuma personally, and to be broader in the subjects they choose to address. Their histories appear to give them, in the eyes of the public, legitimacy.
They cannot be written off as aggrieved because they benefited under the former apartheid regime: they were all opponents of it. This means their criticism appears to stem from a genuine concern for the country, and the people in it, rather than for any personal gain. The other strength they have, with the obvious exception of Lekota, is that they do not occupy a political position, and appear to eschew suggestions they covet one. This means they cannot be accused of having a political agenda.
From the political position of the ANC, this makes them difficult to attack. It means their identities cannot be used against them, only the very nature of their argument can be contradicted.
As the ANC is in government, where the nature of governance leads to problems cropping up daily, these critics are given much ammunition with which to ensure their arguments are perceived as sound.
While this criticism may be stinging for the ANC, is has another very powerful effect.
It can also legitimise criticism levelled at the party by those who are its natural enemies.
It allows the Democratic Alliance (DA), which has a very definite political agenda that is inimical to the ANC, to make its own public criticisms of the party, and then claim that two former ANC cabinet ministers agree with it.
This means that those who disregard the DA’s criticism of the ANC because of the party’s identity may reconsider, as the opposition party will claim that the criticism is not just political.
As the ANC remains the governing party, the number of those in its inner circle who become disaffected with it, can only grow.
This is likely to lead to more such individuals emerging, with sharper and more stinging criticism.
This column appeared in The Business Day.