Private interests bedevil ANC’s 'new dawn'

Jacob Zuma may be gone, but the ANC is still hobbled by its track record of appeasing the private sector at the expense of advancing the poor and vulnerable. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Jacob Zuma may be gone, but the ANC is still hobbled by its track record of appeasing the private sector at the expense of advancing the poor and vulnerable. (Paul Botes/M&G)

COMMENT

Long after Jacob Zuma has gone, we will still have the ANC and its inherent shortcomings to reckon with. Zuma embodied a pervasive and brazen culture of abuse of power that led to a massive political syndicate. This syndicate infiltrated any space it could venture into within state departments and institutions, siphoning off money for the private benefit of those friends and family who were closest to the then president.

It is a legacy the country will wrestle with for decades to come as it untangles itself from the clutches of such vile and traumatic leadership. Zuma and his acolytes (many who form part of the new ANC leadership) thrived on governance misadventures that were premeditated, well executed and intended to evade the rule of law.

In doing this, they were enabled by the ANC. It remains to be tested whether its members allowed the party to be hijacked for these purposes or were hypnotised to believe in this now erstwhile leadership.

The ANC occupies an ominous role in South African politics — that of being seen as the only solution to our problems. Mythical statements that are repeated enough to be the gospel truth about the ANC are part of what holds South Africa back. The ANC Women’s League, in marshalling its forces behind the national executive committee (NEC) decision to recall Zuma as president of the country, said: “The ANC remains the only capable organisation that can dismantle the legacy of colonialism and apartheid characterised by inequalities, unemployment and poverty.”

The biggest issue here is that poverty, inequality and unemployment have remained high and, at times, have worsened under the guardianship of the ANC in government. This falsified belief is further exacerbated by those who claim “the ANC has good policies” and only find fault with their “implementation”.

The biggest indictment on the ANC’s leadership of the country since 1994 has been its inability to achieve observable social engineering. Many believe that the party is constrained in achieving this.

Someone asked at the Mail & Guardian Critical Thinking Forum in Cape Town last Friday: “Are we in government or are we in power?” This question rides on the belief that if you have political freedom without economic freedom, you do not have real power. You are simply managing the state, the narrative goes.

This observation is somewhat true but can easily excuse a party’s inability to use legislative power to chart a new path for developing a country.

For the longest time, the ANC pursued a mind-boggling “willing buyer, willing seller” policy for land expropriation. It was only in 2012 that the party started changing its tune, partly because of pressure from its youth league and also because of a Constitutional Court judgment involving a family trust and the eThekwini municipality. The court held that compensation can happen even after land has been expropriated in the public interest. This judgment and others relating to land restitution and redistribution exposed the irrelevance of the “willing buyer, willing seller” model. More importantly, they underlined just how badly the ANC had misinterpreted the Constitution’s section 25 since 1994.

The party has also not understood its legislative and persuasive power in transforming the private sector. Broad-based black economic empowerment has evolved at a slow pace. Conceptually, the legislation envisaged multiple forms of empowerment but those in the inner circles of political influence distorted the implementation to favour a few.

The new president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, is a product of these policies. Corporates also like comrades to be part of black economic empowerment consortia because it gives them political currency. The problem with this approach is that often the political currency has shielded the companies from thorough accountability, especially in the mining sector.

This toxic interplay between the politics of the governing party and business has been made possible by the ANC’s “broad church” approach as well as its capture by the private sector.

The capture of the ANC by business predates 1994. When the party returned from exile, it had no money to campaign or afford headquarters and decent housing for its leaders. Key business players saw a lucrative gap to provide resources for strategic comrades to buy a foothold in policy formulation processes.

It is no wonder that MultiChoice recently faced public outrage regarding allegations that are yet to be thoroughly dispelled. The company is said to have participated in “regulatory capture” by influencing and lobbying to protect its monopolistic dominance and to frustrate the implementation of analogue to digital migration. For it to even be able to contemplate coding policy on behalf of the government, MultiChoice must have believed it carried enough political currency.

The ANC, then, struggles to make policy that affects the private sector because proxies of commercial interests reside in the party’s ranks. This is because the party opted not to include a mass-based participatory framework in the resetting of ownership matters.

It is only recently that the (disputed) Mining Charter envisaged citizens as possible owners.

I have proposed before that even institutions of higher learning should be part of black economic empowerment consortia to derive meaningful endowments that could lead to increased revenue streams for education.

That is why even as the “new” dawn is on us as a country, it might not be the case for the ANC. The party has a lot of work to do to untangle itself from private interests. That its president is one of the top 15 richest people in the country does not augur well, as he may carry a bias for the 1% elite.

Ramaphosa’s biggest task will be in managing a balancing act of pleasing and upsetting friends who will no doubt lobby relentlessly for business interests. But the commitment he now has is to attain social justice, which is often at odds with the impulses of business.

Lukhona Mnguni is a PhD intern researcher in the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

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