ANC must adapt or die

Now that the election day dust has settled, the ANC has to decide not only what to do with its errant secretary general, but also with the 107-year-old monolith in its entirety. The party has been allowed to corrode and rot for the past two decades, and its very survival depends on it being able to fix itself, fast.

Electoral trends show that the ANC’s support is no longer guaranteed among millions of South Africans who, a decade ago, would not even consider casting a vote for any party other than the liberation movement.

Times are changing.

Given electoral trends since 2009, in particular, the ANC is ensured one more electoral victory — and at a push two — before it loses power completely.

READ MORE: CSIR predicts biggest ANC loss since ‘94

Young people, who feel little affinity for the party, or any party for that matter, will be at the heart of the country’s electorate in one or two elections’ time.

READ MORE: Non-voting youth are not simply apathetic

The political landscape is shifting under the feet of the governing party, with the opposition led by younger, dynamic leaders — not just at the top, but on its parliamentary benches, too.

Coalitions are set to increase further in the 2021 local election, when more cities and municipalities will be up for grabs.

The time for massive reform is now.

But there are two things happening in the ANC: the reform agenda led by President Cyril Ramaphosa; and the actions of those seeking to “reclaim” the party and return it to the corrupt, parasitic faction that dominated under former president Jacob Zuma.

After the ANC’s massive decline in support in 2016 — to 54% — it embarked on a process of “introspection”. It held a lengthy national executive committee (NEC) meeting that emerged with a strange statement that said that the NEC would take “collective responsibility” for the party’s dismal performance.

Perceptions that the party was soft on corruption and internal fractures were blamed for the ANC’s drop in support.

The 2016 election took place after revelations by then deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas that he was offered the finance minister post by the Guptas and the Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla, which ordered Zuma to “pay back the money”.

The NEC statement highlighted 15 tasks for the party leadership to implement to ensure that the ANC recovered from the poor position it found itself in after the 2016 local elections.

None of these were implemented or spoken of again, as the party quickly slipped into its next power struggle, which was fought at its national conference at Nasrec a year later.

At that conference the true character of today’s ANC emerged — some 4 000 delegates voted for Ramaphosa, whom they saw as a vehicle to ensure that the party remained in power, but they also elected Ace Magashule, who embodies the worst factional and corrupt impulses of the liberation movement, as secretary general.

The message from ordinary ANC delegates was that Ramaphosa would help the party win power at the ballot, whereas Magashule would ensure that it remained business as usual at the feeding trough for comrades.

What is clear is that those 4 000 delegates — who spewed rhetoric about the need for renewal and at the same time elected a man who was found by the Constitutional Court to have stolen internal party elections — are also massively out of step with the electorate.

What is also clear, and painfully ironic, is that by the time many of those delegates emerge to become national leaders themselves, the ANC may well be out of power completely.

Now that the election campaign is fought, the ANC has the room to once again truly introspect about the state of the organisation itself and perhaps put in place reforms to cleanse the rot that is eating away at it from its very core.

It has the room to re-examine its identity as a liberation movement as opposed to a political party contesting power, and to grapple with modernisation versus stagnation.

Ramaphosa’s agenda needs buy-in from members at all levels of the organisation or it simply will not work. The nuts and bolts of that agenda, too, cannot be limited to the vague navel-gazing that emerged from its Nasrec conference as resolutions on organisational renewal.

But the ANC is once again more likely to miss the opportunity as its power-mongering factions regroup to fight the next high stakes battle, at the national general council next year.

And so it goes on.

At this rate, Africa’s oldest liberation movement may just turn to dust in our lifetime.

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Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.
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