YONELA DIKO: ANC's sins of incumbency: Is the party redeemable?
Analysing the 2014 election results, African National Congress (ANC) 2015 National General Council (NGC) said: "Except for a marginal gain in Buffalo City, the support for the ANC declined in the metros by an aggregate of 10.3%, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) gaining 6.5% and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 11.4%."
The ANC attributed this decline to a few factors. Impatience with change among the poor and African professionals, rising primacy of current issues such as corruption, fickle nature of black middle-class, and of course certain groups of society who no longer considered the ANC as the representative of their aspirations.
In response to this decline, the ANC identified a few critical and immediate tasks which the organisation needed to adopt and implement if it were to halt the decline and avoid possible loss of critical metros at the 2016 elections.
The first fundamental task was to work with greater vigour and determination to enhance the party's integrity so that it can restore its image and be able to lead society with legitimacy. Enhancing the party integrity would help strengthen the ethical fibre of the state, not only for its effectiveness but also to enhance the legitimacy of the state.
Secondly, it was critically important for ANC to institutionalise accountability, transparency, and responsiveness of the state machinery. The ANC had turned inward, consumed by its own internal contests for power and positions and forgot about where it derived that power, from the people and when it became unresponsive and unaccountable to the very people, there was a risk of a breakdown in trust and uncertainty about their future with the ANC.
Thirdly and most critically, although ANC claimed to be a people's organisation, which would mean being embedded in society, the party, however, needs to also remain autonomous. This would ensure that there will never be state capture of whatever kind as the party will be part of society but will be independent of various interests.
Beyond transparency, accountability and ensuring ethical fibre of the organisation and government institutions the ANC also realised that South Africa needed to move into high economic growth trajectory and to redistribute wealth in favour of the working class and the previously disadvantaged, including women.
It was clear that the issues of stubborn high rates of unemployment was making youth susceptible to either far left or far right populism. The sudden growth of the EFF in 2014, on a youth ticket off the ANC's image as an organisation that lacked agility and relevance to the youth, was a big concern to the ANC and spoke of the challenges faced by its youth arm, the ANC Youth League.
The fact that the election results of 2016 became the mirror image of 2014 in the metros meant all the identified solutions at the NGC of 2015 were never implemented and people had no choice but to punish the organisation with its worst election outcomes at the time.
All these critical interventions were then codified in the ANC's 2017 document and given the electoral outcomes of the 2021 local government elections, where the ANC has suffered its most humiliating electoral outcomes, the identified interventions 6 years ago have never been implemented.
The ANC seems stuck in its inglorious ways, with corruption, poor service delivery, incompetence, and arrogance having become it's defining feature.
HOW DID THE ANC GET HERE?
There is a section of society to whom the ANC has always been on notice. This is the group of citizens who had been reluctant to give the ANC their vote even in 1994, holding on to the colonial mentality that black people were unfit to govern, lacked governing habits, were lazy, prone to corruption, and would be unable to run a modern economy.
Reflecting on the 1994 elections in his seminal document "unmandated reflections" published in August 1994, Mbeki pointed out that most of the minorities, including a section of the Bantustan black middle-class, had opted not to vote for the ANC, owing to various fears that had been peddled against the black government and loss of privilege for others.
In the Western Cape in particular, where the National Party became the governing party, violence and crime, which the National Party had managed to associate with black communities and sell a looming black government that would encourage violence, managed to win the white and coloured vote selling that fear.
Five years later, in 1999, that fear had failed to materialise and the Mandela-led government had built a credible state, respected and honoured among international peers, the economy was growing, programmes of government were implemented in earnest, the space to sell fear about a black government was squeezed, and minorities began to move towards the ANC.
In the next five years, the ANC would reach a two-thirds majority in the 2004 elections, claim the Western Cape that had been elusive and later claiming the KwaZulu-Natal, which also had a significant amount of minorities but also ethnic antagonism that had been subsiding as trust in the ANC's ability to govern rose.
Then 2007 happened. The fears of the minorities and the black middle-class came back with a vengeance. An Afrobarometer survey conducted in late 2008 revealed that respondents had very little trust in the newly elected ANC President. Minorities in particular, especially in the Western Cape, showed that only 13% of them trusted the newly elected ANC president.
As already stated this was not new. The ANC once again had a critical task to prove its credibility and its capacity to govern under the doubted new president. Was the uneducated and already corrupt branded new leader even able to lead a modern economy like South Africa, they wondered.
The ANC for the first time registered a decline in elections, as it received 62% of the vote in 2009, down from 67% five years earlier in 2004. Unfortunately the ANC was back on notice from the minorities and the black middle-class.
This time however, the ANC became exactly what these groupings had feared and without wasting time these groupings began to use their tools of propaganda, which by definition are within the hands of the privileged, to sell fears to the rest of the population, daily, over and over, and the entire country could not ignore them as the ANC was itself turning into a criminal enterprise.
CAN ANC EXORCISE THE SINS OF INCUMBENCY
People join the ANC for various reasons. It is so now as it has always been. Yes, many People join out of conviction about the righteousness of the people's cause for a more just and more equal society and will make the necessary sacrifices to make that possible. As was the case then, others joined the ANC because of the tide of popular uprising. Yet others did it because of infatuation, friends, and peer pressure.
Yes others, as Former Intelligence DG Vusi Mavimbelan said, joined the ANC to hide their individual infirmities. Fraudsters, jailbirds and criminals, and fugitives. In the fight against apartheid, courage and willingness to confront the apartheid criminal machinery were the primary conditions for being part of the struggle.
Governing a state however requires a much higher calibre of individuals and yet, it would be difficult to tell people they were good enough for the struggle but not good enough for the government they fought and bled for. This means not everyone who is part of the ANC is genuine and while the ANC is principled on corruption and good governance, elements that existed then remain in heat.
This explains why despite the ANC having the best policies and plans, some individuals continue to behave like criminals over and against the best wishes of the party and the people
The ANC had a formidable election campaign, anchored by the president who gave an effort of his life for an ANC victory. The election outcomes, however, proved that a great election campaign can never be a replacement of years of poor governance.
The ANC must renew itself and exorcise itself of the sins of incumbent, fulfill its commitments and implement its programmes with great vigor and determination if it is to continue to enjoy the outright majority vote of most South Africans.
Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on Twitter: @yonela_diko