Since the start of the 20th century there aren’t too many examples in the world where a political party or a ruling class has held hegemony for decades without beginning to tear at the seams because of factional battles fuelled by the desire for access to resources.
Best embodying this decay is a quote by former ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama, who in defending his involvement in one of South Africa’s early black economic empowerment deals said he “… did not join the struggle to be poor”.
That was in 2004, merely 10 years into the ANC’s nearly three decade run as the governing party, but it was evidence enough of what was unfolding in the hallways of Luthuli House and the Union Buildings. A desperate scramble for resources, which, over time, has fed into a loss of credibility for the ANC.
In 2024, by polling and also by gut instinct, the party looks set to lose its hegemony or, in a best case scenario, have to consider entering into a coalition to maintain its power — if it can overcome it hubris; this is the party that believed it’d govern till Jesus Christ returned.
Where the ANC is today, ahead of the 2024 elections, is an inflection point that perhaps mirrors that of John Vorster’s National Party. In its 30th year of power, it faced a steep precipice, poking holes into the utopian idea of an island of white prosperity at the bottom of the African continent.
The ANC’s 30-year governance of what is now a more just and equitable society had its difficulties at its very start, namely a corrupt, dysfunctional and broken state in much need of critical infrastructural development. Through strict fiscal consolidation and opening up of the economy, which benefitted corporate South Africa handsomely with gains on the JSE that were the envy of the investment world, the country found itself in a surplus position by the 2008 global recession. It was a squandered position.
The ANC now comes into year 30 facing a distinct possibility of either having to share power, or becoming the official opposition. Given its more than 110-year existence and its deep relations with churches and rural parts of the country, one can never dismiss the possibility that it holds on to power by the skin of its teeth.
In this final edition of the year, the Mail & Guardian has sought to tell the tale of the liberation movement’s years in power — the good, the bad and the oh so ugly — through undertaking a 30-year review of the eight most important cabinet departments since 1994.
The ANC, much like the National Party, has to face its problems, which will take some humility if it is not to share the NP’s fate — where it becomes insignificant, maybe not next year but in the years to come.