Soapbox: Only ANC can drive socioeconomic transformation
The ANC is pushing to change the material conditions in which the majority of South Africans live
The 2014 election campaign is drawing to a close. For the past several months, political parties, leaders and volunteers have been campaigning for your vote. Political discourse dominates the media and conversation, but some people, disillusioned or apathetic, tune out.
Many argue that the time has come to vote for a party other than the ANC, because of perceived governance problems or dissatisfaction with the pace of change. Some encourage you to vote “tactically” for other parties, or even spoil your ballot.
In this space, I would like to make my final argument on why you should vote for the ANC. The best way I can think of to do that is to explain to you why I continue to support the ANC myself.
I am involved in politics because I am driven by the ANC’s historic mission of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. This necessarily entails the liberation of Africans in particular and black people in general from political and economic bondage.
What does this mean? It means that although all South Africans now enjoy political freedom under our democracy, black people in the main remain excluded economically. By any objective measure — ownership of land, business and other assets, or employment equity — black people trail far behind their white counterparts.
This is not an accident, and the continuing existence of this phenomenon is not the result of a lack of initiative on the part of black people individually. This phenomenon is the ongoing legacy of an economy that remains structured to exclude, marginalise and exploit the majority of South Africans.
In practical terms, it means that despite the media’s focus on the few black multimillionaires, only a handful of blacks reach the heights of the economy. It means that blacks in the middle class are still the exception rather than the norm, and their position is far more precarious than that of their white counterparts. It means a working class that struggles for dignity and economic security amid low wages and benefits, and a capitalist class that zealously retains a dominant role and an ever-increasing share of profits and growth. It means a large impoverished population of the excluded and marginalised, who are disproportionately black and female.
Socioeconomic transformation is the defining issue of our time. It is not an issue that can be understood through the prism of an election cycle. It is a generational challenge, one of unique complexity, with no ready blueprint to be imported from abroad.
Here is the crux of the matter. Resolving this structural injustice and inequality requires radical transformation of the economy, radical land reform, broad-based black economic empowerment, employment equity and affirmative action. We have fought hard to win these policy battles, against fierce resistance from the opposition (though they now include such policies in their manifestos). It is a fantasy to believe they are committed to continuing, defending and even expanding these.
Radical socioeconomic transformation requires that these be pursued vigorously and persevered with in the face of determined resistance by the wealthy and powerful individuals and formations for whom the status quo is enormously lucrative and comfortable, and thus to be protected at all costs.
Make no mistake, democratising our economy will be a struggle to rival the struggle that democratised our politics. Its success requires a political champion with the power to overcome entrenched interests, pass the necessary legislation and use the resources and power of the state to drive transformation. It requires a political champion with an overwhelming mandate, with popular authority to deploy against defenders of the status quo who count warnings of economic doom, capital flight, investment strikes and shunning by international financiers among their main weapons to thwart change.
I believe only the ANC can be this political champion. Some seek to undermine support for the ANC by dismissing it as uncritical and emotional. When I examine 102 years of the ANC’s efforts to reshape our society for the better, I believe it irrefutable that like the moral universe — to paraphrase Theodore Parker, as cited by Martin Luther King and Barack Obama — the arc of the ANC’s leadership may be long, but it bends towards justice.
In practical terms, there are at least four reasons I am convinced the ANC is the only vehicle which can continue to take forward the people’s agenda:
We have a plan. The ANC has never entered an election without a plan. I remain convinced that we have the best plan to realise our national aspirations, and that our plans are by far the most coherent, realistic and achievable. Over the next five years, the ANC will make meaningful progress towards our Vision 2030 goals of eliminating poverty, and reducing unemployment and inequality.
We have a track record. Under the leadership of the ANC, life in South Africa has changed dramatically. I am deeply inspired and humbled by the transformation our country has undergone in the last 20 years. Freed from oppression, countless South Africans have shown us their immense human potential through achievements in all spheres of society, and every day in our communities. Every day we write our own story as we work, socialise, travel, play, connect and otherwise live freely as citizens of a vibrant democracy. It is a triumph that this has come to feel natural, but we must not take for granted the many precious features of our democracy, which simply did not exist before 1994.
The ANC has experience in government. In 1994 the ANC took over a government that was financially and morally bankrupt, corrupt, and designed to serve a small fraction of the population. With no experience in government, we democratised the state, harmonised disparate administrative systems for the white population and former homelands, and built a new, people-centered public service anchored in the most ambitious constitution in the world in terms of committing government to deliver on basic services and socio-economic rights. We’ve had to learn while doing it; we are getting better, and if the ANC is given another mandate citizens can only benefit from the knowhow we’ve accumulated.
We have a strong leadership collective. The ANC is not dependent on one individual or a few individuals. We have depth of quality leadership, not a handful of capable people but a broad and diverse collective of people from all over the country at all levels, who you know and have seen in action over time. None of our leaders have appeared from nowhere, or are unknown quantities.
We can and we must do more, faster for our people. We must be impatient, but we must maintain our perspective on the big picture. We can only move forward together. We need your input, your constructive criticism, your praise when deserved, and your voice in the inevitable future battles in the struggle for socioeconomic justice.
The ANC will never abandon the trenches of the struggle for the economic emancipation of the majority.
Malusi Gigaba is an ANC NEC member and the chairperson of the paraty’s elections sub-committee