The ANC is celebrating its birthday this week. At Hoërskool Hantam in Calvinia in the Namakwa region, ministers Gwede Mantashe, Barbara Creecy and Naledi Pandor were pictured slicing a large cake decorated in the colours of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
It’s quite a feat for a movement to have survived as the ANC has. On social media platforms, commentators joked about the size of the slice Mantashe had carved.
But the ritual of the party celebrating another year of existence feels especially vacuous this year. We’ve seen this film before.
Every year begins with a good-sized cake decorated in some pattern of black, green and gold, the beatific smiles of ANC leaders taking a break from stabbing another comrade in the back, and some promise of improvement.
On Sunday, Deputy President David Mabuza speaking at a rally in Upington, likened the party to a sick patient. But he wasn’t overly worried about the sickness he said. It will be cured. The point to remember, Mabuza said, was the fact that the ANC flag continues to be flown.
And, yes, the ANC’s long history and continued survival is something to marvel at. But celebrating the mere fact of survival is really not enough in 2020. Not when the ANC has been in government for over 25 years now. And not when the party’s high-water mark — gathering the nation under a programme of reconciliation and development — has long evaporated into a morass of misgovernance and corruption.
The ANC is still to seriously reckon with its failings.
Every gathering of the party is more of an exercise to hold together a semblance of unity amid deep divisions.
And so the entire spectacle of the January 8 celebrations is an act of absurdist theatre.
Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa was photographed visiting a family in an area where the party’s communications team said he had been handing out T-shirts and listening to people.
Meanwhile, Secretary General Ace Magashule says the party’s annual statement — to be delivered on Saturday — will allow the party “to go out into communities and to do work on the ground, to give people hope and to wish them all the best for 2020”.
Politicians should be going out into communities more often. They should be listening and conveying their plans. But when the important activity of a leader, especially a president, humbling himself to sit in the simple home of a citizen, is just a stop on the way to delivering party regalia, it is bereft of substance.
As fate would have it, on Thursday morning Helen Zille was travelling through Kimberley, where of course all of the ANC (including the minister of employment and labour who just coincidentally is doing state work while the ANC is in the vicinity), have gathered.
Zille remarked on Twitter about the flurry of activity on the streets of the town. Potholes were being repaired, and verges cleaned up — all in the name of the bigwigs in town, she appeared to say.
In typical Zille fashion, she couldn’t resist a little dig at the number of black German sedans in town either. Yip, we’ve seen this film before.