Opinion: ANC needs to be broken to be made strong

There's an old story about an event, which supposedly happened as the great city of Constantinople was falling. An emergency meeting was held that day by bishops from all corners of the Byzantine empire to determine a question of great importance: when a fly falls into the holy water, is the water contaminated or the fly sanctified? Constantine fell and no one cared further for the question nor the answer.

Last year we were discussing The Spear and a few weeks ago an ad. Not that there was no legitimate concern but the manner in which it was addressed consumed the nation in ways it really shouldn't have. Unlike the anecdote I told above, neither the ANC nor South Africa is about to fall but there are small cracks that are not beyond fixing. I do not claim to be a prophet but from where I sit, it's not about to happen.

The ANC probably has the potential to achieve the greatest good for the country at this given point in time. Take a chill pill, dear Democratic Alliance-supporting reader, you know that's the truth. On the other hand, the ANC also has the potential to cause the greatest harm to the country, and this is where the problem lies. The power of the ANC is such that the lines between the party and state have become incredibly murky. In some instances it could be argued that the party has become the state. We are in potential danger of turning from a democracy to a party-ocracy if you will. Make no mistake, we are still very democratic and free. We can say what we want, when we want and how we want – although there can be consequences from the powerful, they can still be challenged in court.  

I refuse to believe that the ANC has secret ill intentions to destroy the country as some are bound to believe. However I do think its carelessness and perhaps some of its arrogance can derail it. They genuinely believe they are doing good for the country and many in the country refuse to see the good they have done, are doing and intend to do. There is too little trust, particularly from the media, thus the hostility between the media, party and state and it would seem that some within government and the party have an attitude that screams: "Why won't you trust us, you idiots? We are doing this for you!" Well …

One of my favourite TV series is The West Wing. There is a man running for president and his name is Senator Arnold Vinick who is played by Alan Alda. At one point while he polishes his shoes, he is listening to a much younger man who works at the White House. The young man is irritated that the senator seems to think the White House has some secret agenda and is peeved by his apparent lack of trust. The old senator says to the young man: "The founding fathers didn't base a government on trust. They could have designed a government based on trust and our ability to govern fairly but they knew that power corrupts. So they invented checks and balances. It was genius. The founding fathers did not want me to trust you, they did not want you to trust me."

The logic of the old senator applies to us too. There is a reason the ANC itself created these checks and balances at the outset of our democracy in 1994. They knew we would be grappling with the issues we are facing today – that the powerful do not grant themselves even more power. To make it difficult for them to govern at will despite how powerful they might be. That is the reason we have the courts, which continue to frustrate the government and is also the reason we have the media, which has also been extremely unfair on the government at times.

Since the ANC has become so powerful, it is clear that the media have come to play the role of the opposition. That is not how things should be but for now, it seems like this is how it is.

But there is a looming opposition the ruling party will soon face. It is the young. They are thinking of abandoning the ANC, not because they hate it, but because they think the party needs to be saved from itself. Perhaps if they jump overboard, the ship will not sink. It is a small number. Yet as the years goes by, the numbers will compound and the ship will become lighter. Those who jump overboard will swim to the nearest ship, which could be the DA.

Not too long ago, few young black people would admit that they were thinking of voting for the DA. Now they are coming out, openly declaring their allegiance to it.  

Having said that, the DA faces the problem of efficiency but no loyalty from the young crowd. The young crowd sees the opposition party as a the only viable option out of protest against the ANC. It's the "maybe if I dump him, he'll change" option. The problem is that the longer the ANC disappoints them, the longer these young ones will see the DA as their political home and the ANC's history will mean less to them as time goes on. Let us not forget that in the United States it was the Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. Yet today 90% of black people vote for the Democrats. Before you say it's because US President Barack Obama is black, let me point out that when John Kerry ran, the Democratic party carried 88% of the black vote in 2004.

In his book, Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway wrote: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Maybe the young ones who want to leave the ANC will do it because they want to break it, so that it can be strong again in the broken places. They do not want to kill it. The ANC needs to be strong in its weak places without having to be broken first.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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