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The modern party po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, for all its claims of be­ing the pin­na­cle of demo­cratic ex­pres­sion in lib­eral so­ci­ety, has nev­er­the­less pro­duced the con­tra­dic­tion of a state that stands “above and out­side of so­ci­ety” as Han­nah Arendt, the es­teemed 20th-cen­tury philoso­pher, so aptly pointed out.

In South Africa, that point is poignantly il­lus­trated by the at­tempts at deep soul-search­ing that has played it­self out at the ANC na­tional pol­icy con­fer­ence over the past week.

The ANC has come face to face with the re­al­ity that, no mat­ter how noble an or­gan­i­sa­tion or party’s in­ten­tions are, the ex­er­cise of power and wealth, with­out the sober­ing lim­i­ta­tions of a deeply demo­cratic struc­ture, in­evitably leads to the de­vel­op­ment and rise of a po­lit­i­cal class that soon alien­ates the state and the party from the peo­ple it once rep­re­sented.

At the cen­tre of the malaise that cur­rently drives the steep de­scent of the ANC, sit two crit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal dead weights. These are the oft-used phrases that the ANC is a “broad church” and the con­tra­dic­tory prin­ci­ple of “demo­cratic cen­tral­ism”.

These dead weights, which once served as a cover-all to the in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tions of the move­ment, now ap­pear as op­pres­sive bur­dens that serve only to deepen con­tra­dic­tions and has­ten the demise of the ANC’s pub­lic stature.

As a broad church, which brought to­gether var­i­ous strands of the so­ci­ety in op­po­si­tion to apartheid, the ANC was spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful as a ral­ly­ing point around which var­i­ous in­ter­est groups could rally, both be­fore and af­ter 1994.

Upon its at­tain­ment of state power, how­ever, the abil­ity to suc­cess­fully ar­tic­u­late and de­liver prac­ti­cal out­comes to the broad in­ter­est groups that flocked to the ANC af­ter 1994 – while still de­liv­er­ing to its key sup­port base – was se­verely con­strained.

It is largely the eco­nomic slow­down and stag­na­tion, along with the crass mode of ac­cu­mu­la­tion via cor­rupt and shady deals, that has ex­posed the ANC and forced it to come face to face with the real pos­si­bil­ity that it could lose power in 2019.

The pol­icy con­fer­ence has tried to grap­ple with the mul­ti­fac­eted chal­lenges of a stag­nant and re­ces­sion­ary econ­omy, in­creas­ingly brazen at­tempts to cap­ture the or­gan­i­sa­tion and by ex­ten­sion the gov­ern­ment ex­ec­u­tive, fail­ure of var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment to de­liver ser­vices spurred on by pa­tron­age net­works of state loot­ing and a grow­ing dis­con­tented so­ci­ety that re­sults in both a rise in po­lit­i­cal protests and the loss of elec­toral sup­port.

In do­ing so, it has main­tained the mantra of be­ing both a broad church and op­er­at­ing on the ba­sis of cen­tral con­trol of


Do you agree that the ANC’s poli­cies are ar­chaic and not rel­e­vant any more? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word PAST and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 the or­gan­i­sa­tion. At times, as it de­nies the ex­is­tence of fac­tions and in­sists that it re­mains a uni­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion, it ap­pears as if it is try­ing to place a square plug into a round hole.

The up­shot of this blind al­le­giance to outdated mantras and ide­o­log­i­cal cul de sacs, is that the fac­tions re­main ac­tive, grow­ing ever more brazen, and based not on is­sues, but on in­di­vid­u­als and the growth of per­son­al­ity cults.

The rise of per­son­al­ity cults in the ANC has been a di­rect re­sult of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s own fail­ure to al­low struc­tured fac­tions to par­tic­i­pate in the life of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The ANC, by its own ad­mis­sion, views it­self as a move­ment, a broad church, but, un­for­tu­nately, as Leonard Gen­tle once pointed out: “By def­i­ni­tion, a move­ment is het­ero­ge­neous, com­pris­ing such a range of ex­pe­ri­ences and or­gan­i­sa­tional forms that no party or single or­gan­i­sa­tion can en­com­pass that range.”

Added to the broad na­ture of the in­ter­ests rep­re­sented in the ANC is the re­al­ity that the process of pol­icy de­vel­op­ment re­quires or­gan­ised ar­tic­u­la­tion. As US so­cial­ist, ac­tivist and au­thor Hal Draper pointed out: “No mat­ter how class-neu­tral in ori­gin or in­ten­tion, the needs of so­ci­ety can­not be met with­out pass­ing through the po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions set up by a class­con­di­tioned so­ci­ety, and it is in the course of be­ing pro­cessed through these chan­nels that they are shaped, sifted, skewed, moulded, mod­elled and mod­u­lated to fit within the frame­work es­tab­lished by the rul­ing in­ter­ests and ideas. This is how the class na­ture of the state and so­ci­ety as­serts it­self, even with­out malev­o­lent pur­poses and sin­is­ter plots.”

The ANC is such a po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion and the vac­uum that presents it­self by the party’s fail­ure to al­low for or­gan­ised fac­tions to con­test ideas within the party, re­sults not only in pol­icy con­fu­sion, it also en­sures that pol­icy is left up to pa­tron­age net­works or­gan­ised around per­son­al­ity.

The ANC in its dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment of 2012 pre­scribes that: “Our move­ment must al­ways be at the cen­tre of civil so­ci­ety groups and so­cial move­ments that are gen­uinely tak­ing up is­sues af­fect­ing the mo­tive force and give po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal lead­er­ship” and to em­bed the or­gan­i­sa­tion in grass roots “daily strug­gles for a bet­ter life” through “de­vel­op­ment ac­tivism”. Fur­ther­more, it calls for “the cre­ation of or­gans of peo­ple’s power” as the pri­mary or­gan­i­sa­tional form for “or­gan­is­ing com­mu­nity in­volve­ment in trans­for­ma­tion and de­vel­op­ment work”. It is per­haps in this for­mu­la­tion that the ANC has not only failed to muster and main­tain sup­port, but has con­trived to sub­vert the idea of a broad move­ment us­ing outdated Stal­in­ist con­cep­tions of demo­cratic cen­tral­ism.

An ex­am­ple of a broad move­ment that was able to at­tain po­lit­i­cal power through the bal­lot box is Syrizia of Greece. In­stead of in­sist­ing that move­ments must con­form to the cen­tral au­thor­ity of the lead­er­ship, Syrizia in­stead “fol­lowed the so­cial move­ments as it de­vel­oped and [we] tried to par­tic­i­pate in the move­ment and present [our] views and at the same time learn­ing from it and fol­low­ing its ob­jec­tive rhythms”.

Aris­tides Bal­tas, one of the founders, goes on to quote the Span­ish poet An­to­nio Machado: “Don’t ask what the road is; you make the road while you walk it.”

And this is per­haps the crux of the ANC’s fail­ure. It pur­ports to be an or­gan­i­sa­tion that lis­tens, that is rooted in com­mu­ni­ties; yet, it im­poses ideas rooted in per­son­al­ity and in­di­vid­ual as­pi­ra­tion, rather than be­ing led by ac­tive so­cial move­ments and in­ter­est groups that op­er­ate not in the shad­ows of man­u­fac­tured nar­ra­tives, but in the day­light of pub­lic in­ter­est.

If the ANC hopes to re­tain any sem­blance of its noble his­tory of a lib­er­a­tion move­ment, and to over­come the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of a state above and out­side of so­ci­ety, then the need to re­struc­ture its anachro­nis­tic ide­o­log­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture is an imperative. Sadly, it may have missed the boat.

Rut­ledge is the nat­u­ral re­sources man­ager for Ac­tionAid SA

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