The ANC is very obviously caught between a rock and a hard place. If it continues to sabotage itself with seemingly intractable factional battles, then the party will not be the exception to the rule of ruinous post-colonial governments across Africa. It will split.
But if it chooses to continue with its habit of remaining united for the sake of a weary and increasingly cynical and impatient voter base, it may end up sabotaging itself anyway. Therefore, it might be useful to think through the consequences of unity.
Unity is assumed to be good. But is it? I don’t think so.
Unity talk sounds cool. It’s in the spirit of getting along, not pushing anyone you don’t like off a cliff, and not having to worry about wounded beasts leaving your camp and fighting you angrily from the outside. Why create another Economic Freedom Fighters?
Unity, in other words, seems to be rational — that is, if you do not give it much thought beyond these apparent advantages that come with projecting a collective commitment to kumbayaism.
It was possible for the past few decades but not any more. The core group of thieves in the ANC, who have been stealing from society for many years now, do not respect the rule of law, responsive government or constitutional supremacy. They care only about theft. They are beyond the pale. They are thoroughly and irredeemably uncaring and undemocratic — obstacles to a more just and egalitarian South Africa. They brazenly commit evil deeds by the day.
Unity between factions would only make sense if there is consensus about the overarching normative vision for the party, the state and society at large. Sadly, the chief architects of state capture, and the complex, deep and wide network of actors at the heart of the state capture project, simply aren’t the kind of humans that anyone interested in a more just society can make a deal with.
The few good men and women left in the ANC’s leadership structures cannot regard unity talk as feasible, because it’s based on the false premise that the likes of Jacob Zuma, Malusi Gigaba, Sfiso Buthulezi, Lynne Brown and too many others are willing and capable of repurposing themselves for more ethical and caring governance.
That is wishful thinking. They are simply too far gone. Uniting with thieves and their culpable assistants is not prudent. It would be bad for the ANC’s overdue and much-promised self-correction. More importantly, it would be horribly bad for the country.
You can only compromise and unite with people who share your principles and values. Men and women who subvert the Constitution, outsource executive authority to an unelected family from another country and who work together with corporates such as KPMG and McKinsey to steal from taxpayers are people you have to walk away from. They cannot be trusted. They are wicked.
What does this mean for the ANC? It means that it cannot survive intact. If those who truly are not part of the state capture network are serious about putting South Africa first, and are above maintaining collegiality with their comrades of old, they must split from the ANC if they lose the December leadership battle. There is no other option.
Staying inside an organisation hijacked by thieves undermines the reputations of those who prop them up. Why be romantic about an organisation with a great past if that organisation is wholly unrecognisable in the present? It makes no sense. That would be like sticking it out in a relationship that is obviously poisonous, remaining because of nostalgia for happier times.
A happy past does not feed hungry mouths in the present. Only an ethical, technically competent and caring public service, and honest, carefully designed partnerships with civil society and the private sector can truly deliver a better life for all.
This means many ANC members and ANC leaders must urgently confront an existential crisis that cannot be resolved with talk of unity. They will have to work hard to get rid of the thieves from the party quickly and will have to win the elective conference in December. If they fail, they should leave.
Last week, somewhat in jest, I asked Makhosi Khoza, the former ANC MP, whether it was cold outside the ANC. This was about 24 hours after she had left the party. Giving a characteristically hearty chuckle, she said, in fact, it was warmer outside the ANC than she had expected.
Any ANC leader who cares more about South Africa than they do about the ANC must deal with the psychological hold that the ANC has over them. They should know: the ANC does not own you. You simply have a deep connection with the historic ANC. But there is life after the ANC.
It is crucial for honourable men and women in the ANC to come to grips with the illusion that the ANC of last century is incapable of going extinct. If the looters win and no one walks away, then we must conclude that everyone inside the ANC has been tainted all along.