Tuesday, April 10, 2012

African National Congress

In January the central South African city of Mangaung, known as Bloemfontein in Afrikaans, came to life as 46 former and current heads of states, distinguished guests and thousands of ordinary people converged in its conference halls and streets to celebrate the hundredth birthday bash of the oldest political party in the continent, the African National Congress (ANC).

The city, whose name means “a place of cheetahs” in Sesotho, was drowned in dance, feasting and speeches as presidents and other dignitaries recited praises and love for the party of Nelson Mandela. Apart from the numerous historical milestones and martyrs that marks the ANC’s journey of a hundred years, the gathering also provided an opportunity to review achievements in the delivery of services to the people.
“The ANC, a disciplined force of the left with bias toward the poor, is also a broad church that is home to all,” President Jacob Zuma said of the 1.2 million-member party in a speech broadcast to the nation on Sunday. “It’s members and support base comprises nationalists, Marxists, Africanists, workers, capitalists, women, men, youth, rural, urban, rich and poor”.

But under these festivities and merry making that is expected to continue throughout the year, critics claims acrimony, backstabbing and corruption festers through the systems of the giant party with the intensity of a contagious disease. The intensity of this internal discontent will be tested during the 53rd National Delegates Conference at the same venue in December where the party will pick its presidential flag bearer for the 2014 elections.

However, despite the purported internal fissures the ANC remains one of the most organized party in Africa, boasting of a support base that its peers in Kenya and other country’s can only envy. Unlike many liberation movements like KANU and ZANU-PF which lost their national appeal after independence, the ANC has managed to change with the times and win three post apartheid elections with a huge majority.
The party’s grassroots presence across the nine South African provinces has remained strong cutting across all ethnic, racial and religious groups. With fanatical members like Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga claiming that “the ANC has a responsibility to rule until Jesus pays us another visit”, being a successful politician in South Africa more often than not means being a member of this monolithic party.

The ruling party has 264 seats in the national assembly which is more than double the number held by the opposition. But figures in the last general elections offered a glimmer of hope to the opposition in a democracy where the essence of single party rule dominates but in name. Many were quick to claim the tiny percentage ANC lost to the opposition was an indication of a population whose faith in the ruling party wearing.

“South Africans have become less and less happy with the ANC,” Radio Netherlands reported after the 2008 polls. “While the majority of the people still live in poverty, the ANC officials are seen as squanderers driving luxury cars, living in mansions and eating sushi. Many local politicians are corrupt and, according to South Africans, just want to fill their own pockets”.

This observation was vindicated by an annual survey published by South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) which indicated that the ANC has lost a sizeable number of ward seats to Democratic Alliance, whose support is strongest among white South Africans.

“Between the last local government elections in 2006, and up until August 2010, the ANC managed to hold 306 ward seats, gain 17, and lose 55, giving it an overall loss of 38 seats,” the survey said. “By contrast, the DA retained 61 seats, gained 29, and lost only five, resulting in an overall gain of 24 seats”.

Although the ANC controls major cities across the country DA, whose leader Helen Zille is the Premier of the Western Cape, controls Cape Town. But party stalwarts and sympathizers have dismissed these reports as exaggeration citing the “landslide” victory during the local government elections in May last year where the ANC garnered 62 percent of the national vote.

“Attempts by some writers and analysts to pour cold water on the overall performance of the ANC are strange indeed,” opined Sandile Zungu, spokesman of the Black Business Council, in the Times Live. “Clutching at the decline of three percentage points and trying stir the pot with false headlines such as “ANC is left shaken”…was mischievous attempts aimed at inciting the membership of the ANC to bay for the blood of their senior leadership”.

However, Zungu admits that the party lost its influence in its traditional strongholds like Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape Province. This apparent loss of support from a section of the majority black electorate who once looked up to the ANC as their only vehicle to a political salvation is being blamed on infighting, corruption and greed that critics claim is deeply entrenched in the party’s machinery.

Before his ascending to the presidency Jacob Zuma was charged with several cases of corruption which led to his dismissal as both the national vice-president and the party’s deputy leader, with his long time business associate Schabir Shaikh being handed a 15 years jail term. Schabir served a mere 28 months of the term before being released on “medical grounds” while Zuma was reinstated after charges against him were dropped.

Currently several provincial leaders are contending graft charges in court which have triggered the party to launch a series of facing corruption awareness seminars across the country. But some members have claimed that a clique of powerful party leaders, dubbed the “Alex Mafia”, is using the anti-corruption war to settle political scores.

“Although the organization’s struggle for liberty was supposed to have ended with the 1994 election that defeated apartheid, rampant unemployment, income distribution as skewed as anywhere on earth, catastrophic corruption, plummeting education and healthcare, and lingering racial tensions have cast shadows that lengthen with each passing year,” noted Heidi Holland, author of 100 Years of Struggle: Mandela’s ANC which was published to coincide with the centenary celebrations. “Clearly, the ANC’s struggle to deliver “a better life for all” is going to take longer than 100 years.

The battle for supremacy between former and current presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma respectively saw the party experience one of the most devastating internal conflicts in its history, culminating with the forced resignation of Mbeki and the formation of a breakaway splinter group Congress of the People (COPE). This was followed by another equally stormy conflict between President Zuma and youth leader Julius Malema which ended with the latter being hounded out of the party by the Disciplinary Committee.

But even opponents agree that despite all these apparent shortcomings, the ANC has managed to achieve one of the best development records in sub-Saharan that includes overseeing the continent’s biggest economy.

“The ANC’s success in office outweigh their failures in the eyes of the majority of citizens, most of whom still vote for the party in regular, well-organized elections,” Holland notes. “Apart from the ascendancy of black rule having purged South Africans of the pain and indignity of apartheid, the government has provided welfare benefits for 15 million people, cut its murder rate dramatically over recent years, almost eradicated severe malnutrition among the under-fives, increased primary school enrolment to nearly 100 percent and established the world’s biggest antiretroviral treatment program for HIV/Aids patients”.

But the journey has been long and treacherous since a grouping of chiefs, people’s representatives, church organizations and other groups congregated in Bloemfontein in 1912 to form a vehicle through which Africans could fight for their rights and freedoms. Among the ANC founding fathers were John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka and Sol Plaatje.

The ANC adopted the philosophy of national inclusion where people from all races and political views were accommodated as long as they shared the common goal of eradicating apartheid. This did not go down well with radical black supremacists leading to the formation of the breakaway Pan African Congress (PAC).

Although the liberation movement at that time advocated for non-violence resistance against white modeled along what Gandhi has done in India the Sharpville Massacre of 1960, where 69 Africans were shot dead by police during a protest against the restrictive pass laws, pushed the ANC to adopt violence as part of its resistance methods.

Umhonto we Sizwe (MK) or “Spear of the Nation” was formed with Nelson Mandela, who missed the celebrations due to old age, as its first leader. At the beginning of the violent resistance Mandela and seven other high profile ANC figures were condemned to a life of imprisonment in the infamous Rivonia Trials, thrusting the anti-apartheid struggle in the hands of radical individuals like Steve Biko, Chris Hani and Hendrick Musi.

Through a consisted campaign of bombings, sabotage and targeted assassinations the MK and its allies embarked on a campaign of making the townships ungovernable where apartheid collaborators were arraigned in kangaroo courts or summarily executed by “necklacing”, which entailed setting them on fire using car tires. With ANC banned, intrigues of the cold joined the conflict with MK getting the backing of USSR and Cuba to wage a guerilla war against apartheid which, combined with the school children uprisings of the 70s and 80s which claimed more than 600 lives, ushered in what had been termed as a decade of violence.

The ANC and its leaders were branded terrorists by the apartheid regime and hosts of other nations like USA and the United Kingdom, a tag that Washington maintained against them until 2008. The escalation of violence and the bite of sanctions slapped by the international community led to the capitulation of the apartheid regime and eventual freedom in 1994.

Kwazulu-Natal, one of the most volatile regions during the struggle, has always been the hardest nut for the ANC to crack because of the presence of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Being an apartheid sympathizer, IFP was always a thorn in the flesh of ANC during the struggle which was manifested in the numerous bloody conflicts between the supporters of the two parties.

But perhaps as a sign of the rising fortunes of the ANC in recent years, the party has been ruling the province since the 2004 general elections. This partly credited to ANC Imvuselelo (Revival) campaigns and the influence of Jacob Zuma who hails from the region.

However, if the current trends of infighting and balkanization of the party into competing cliques continues, experts warns, the ANC will find it hard to avoid going the way of its peers like KANU and Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP. Even the opposition seems to have sensed such a possibility for they have started talking of a future ruled by coalitions.

“What many people and analysts forget is that when we say we believe we will be a party of government in 2019, which we believe we can, we are not saying that we will achieve the 50 plus one majority,” explained DA Parliamentary Leader Lindiwe Mazibuko. “We are saying we can push the ANC below the 50 plus one percent majority and that will give us the opportunity to form a coalition government with other opposition parties”.

But ANC spokesman Keith Khoza dismisses Mazibuko’s claims as daydreaming, saying she represents “a minority of black people who are comfortable with white rule or domination”.

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