/ 21 June 2021

Why ANC leaders ‘love’ the ANC

Zuma's fate has divided the ANC
The ANC's top six at their last policy conference. Later today, the top six candidates for the upcoming conference will be revealed.

Since 1994, many ANC leaders have expressed in the media how much they love and admire the ANC. But there were no such outpourings of fawning love and admiration by the leaders during the years when the ANC was banned and its leadership imprisoned or driven into exile, with all the many problems, difficulties and hardships they experienced as a result.

No, it occurs after they won state power in 1994.

Overnight many ANC members, and especially its leading figures, became part of the new government formed by the party after it decisively won the 1994 elections. Its members were automatically privileged by being appointed to various leadership positions across the state and public sectors, irrespective of the skills, qualifications and experience such posts would logically require.

Here lie the roots of the deep, chronic and systemic problems of ANC “cadre deployment”, from which an avalanche of problems of incompetence and corruption has flowed, especially since the former president, Jacob Zuma, became president in 2009. Probably, no one who became president of the ANC best epitomises this fundamental problem as Zuma does: with little formal education he became the president of the ANC and the country.

But one must be careful not to draw the conclusion that it is only formal education, skills and qualifications that determine suitable leadership. No, the policies pursued by the government and other factors also play a part in this equation. That those factors are important to consider there can be no doubt, especially when we look at what has happened in the government since 1994.

But if you dig deeper, you will find the problems of a lack of formal education and the debilitating consequences of widespread illiteracy among the rank and file of the ANC adversely informed the quality of the delegates the branches sent to the national conferences where the leadership was elected. In such a situation some of the most inappropriate and unsuitable appointments and deployments to a range of important posts in the government were made under the auspices of ANC membership and involvement in the anti-apartheid struggles.

It is in such a situation that many ANC “cadres” got into government, including occupying the most senior positions in it, as MPs, ministers, premiers, mayors, councillors, top positions in all state-owned enterprises and the most senior position — president of the ANC and therefore of the country. I am confident that a study of the CVs of ANC members who have filled leadership positions in state and public sectors since 1994 will confirm this analysis and its conclusions.

It is from these layers of personnel in government that you will mostly hear the fawning praises of the ANC sung. There is a simple but powerful political logic at play and underlying these sentiments — the high salaries and generous perks the occupation of high office allows the incumbents. 

He who pays the piper calls the tune is probably the most relevant aphorism to understand this political psychology, which also goes towards determining the pervasive culture of rent-seeking and patronage in the ANC government and, to some extent, the malpractices and corruption that have occurred.

The logic of what this situation will lead to is that it is often among the most senior ANC officials in government whose “love” for the ANC will be most expressed or felt. After all, they have been well looked after by virtue of being members and “cadres” of the ANC in a variety of senior posts. Hence, the late Jackson Mthembu a few years ago called the ANC ‘’our glorious movement”.

That situation must be contrasted with the lot of rank and file members of the ANC, who are part of the working class in townships and who have not been fortunate to have government jobs. They are daily immersed in growing poverty, joblessness and its related social miseries. What this situation has done is to draw a yawning chasm between ANC officials in the government and ANC members and supporters in townships. They live in different worlds and right here is causally rooted the unstoppable township protests that have made this country the protest capital of the world. We are also the most unequal country in the world. These are two sides of the same coin.    

From time immemorial people in the same organisation, whether it be a political party, a church or any other organisation, tended to compare what they’ve got and the conditions they live under with other members, especially its leaders. I have read many times of how much certain ANC leaders “love” the ANC and they were always from the elite in the party, whose lives were a far cry from that of ANC members in the townships, who are instead often involved in angry revolts and in raging battles with the police for the satisfaction of their most basic needs, such as housing, electricity, water, sanitation and jobs.

If ever ordinary members were once in “love” with the ANC they increasingly fell out of love with the party, especially with its leadership, after 1994. Nowhere more evident was this antipathy than in the local government election results of 2016, when the ANC lost Gauteng and Tshwane to the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance coalition governments in those regions.

The truth is that ANC leaders don’t “love” the ANC itself but do love what their membership of the party did to their lives after 1994 as a result of the jobs in the government or private sector they occupied and benefited so much from. Yet the bulk of ANC members live in conditions of poverty, unemployment and squalor in townships. For the vast majority, who came from poverty-stricken households, it was stunning from rags-to-riches stories, but such are the vicissitudes of the struggles we wage.