Does the current ANC administration pose a danger to South Africa? The media and the pundits and their handlers say so, but this claim can be discounted, as the very same people were evangelising for Jacob Zuma and his friends only a few years ago.
The Zuma clique at the heart of the ANC has made few changes to government policy or structure. Even the transformation of the ANC alliance has entailed little shift in structure or professed policy; the tools the Zuma clique used to destroy political debate and impose a personality cult within the alliance existed well before the ANC’s unbanning.
Likewise, the current ANC administration’s professed policies are consistent with those of former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, although the execution of those policies is less effective and more questionable than ever before.
The problem is that these policies are not working. It does not matter whether this is because the policies are wrong, or are badly implemented (or not implemented at all).
The current problems are serious enough: growing inequality, deteriorating delivery of government services with associated social unrest, slowing economic growth rooted in an unsustainable focus on exporting primary mineral commodities and, arising out of these as well as out of the gulf between rhetoric and practice, a loss of public faith in the commitment of the government to serving the interests of the electorate.
The government is unwilling to respond to the politico-economic crisis (except by verbiage) and the state seems to be losing the resilience that it showed during the 2007-2008 financial collapse. Economic weakness suggests the next economic crisis will have more serious effects, which could disastrously disrupt our weakened society.
None of these problems are unique to South Africa. Australia and Canada followed very similar politico-economic paths to that pursued by the current ANC administration; Britain, France and the United States followed comparable trajectories. In these countries, economic crisis coincides with a disconnect between the government and the public, and between official rhetoric and practice.
Much of the democratic deficit evident in the ANC appears in the political parties of those countries. This suggests that the Zuma clique’s behaviour derives not from the ANC, but from forces external to it.
Most of the harmful practices pursued by the current ANC administration appear to serve the interests of the richest portion of society rather than the ANC’s electorate. One can conclude from this that the ANC’s leadership is dominated by a small cabal of rich people.
This influence has probably played a major role in the sharp decline in the ANC’s electoral performance since Zuma took office (and in the destruction of democratic practices within the tripartite alliance, which was largely a campaign against the left – the people who pose the most threat to the South African capitalist elite).
Simply attacking the ANC, or even merely offering an alternative to its policies, is not enough by itself. Any organisation that restricts itself to these activities is liable to be co-opted by the few thousand richest people in the country, the .01% who actually run things.
Therefore it is essential that anyone wishing to improve the situation, and remove the danger to South Africa, must challenge the plutocracy’s self-appointed right to run the show from behind the scenes.
It is also essential not to be fooled by people who attack the ANC and even employ (apparently) left-wing rhetoric but refuse to condemn the plutocracy.
It is disturbing that people with a record of collusion with plutocracy, such as Dale McKinley and Zackie Achmat, have been installed as leading lights in the United Front. It is even more troubling when Achmat declares that there are no white plutocrats and that the real problem is Africans; he seems to be channelling Dan Roodt, even though Roodt is still alive.
The Trotskyite left claim to have moved beyond old-fashioned concepts such as Marxism-Leninism. (They are embedded in a left Bolshevik practice dating back to the 1930s that has not produced a single political success.)
Such a renunciation of the “wrong” kind of leftism because it is “outdated” is precisely the rhetorical tool that Tony Blair and his allies used to purge the British Labour Party of social democracy. People in South Africa who employ such terminology are engaged in the same kind of project (whether they know it or not).
There is an urgent need for a struggle for South Africa to liberate itself from a minority rule that is potentially more authoritarian and destructive than apartheid was.
However, this is not going to be an easy task; it requires a mass-based revolution. Is this a practical proposition? And, if so, is there anybody who can take it forward?
Mathew Blatchford lectures at the University of Fort Hare