The time has come for South Africans to put our country first and liberate ourselves from Zuma’s ANC. Experience across Africa shows that first we must be liberated, and then we must be liberated from the liberation movement. Eight years after becoming ANC President, Jacob Zuma now presides over an ANC showing all the classic signs of a party in the last phase of its life as a liberation movement. A party promoting anything but freedom for the people of South Africa. While the ANC is the party of the past, the DA is now the party of the future, the new champion of an inclusive, non-racial democratic South Africa.
In the ANC’s liberation trajectory, we can discern three distinct phases. The first began in 1912, with its inception as a movement fighting for political freedom for all South Africans, and ended on 27 April 1994, when it won South Africa’s first democratic election.
Thus began the middle phase, led by successive Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Motlanthe, in which the party sought to consolidate its electoral support. In this phase the ANC had the social licence to take the risks and bitter pills necessary to put the country onto a growth trajectory that could have pulled the masses out of poverty. In their own ways, these leaders tried to do their best for South Africa, but they failed to take full advantage of a strong mandate and made some severe errors, the legacy of which live on today.
It is increasingly clear that this second phase came to an abrupt end in May 2009, when Zuma became president. Ironically, he promised to be the “people’s president”, the Everyman, close to the people and their needs. Instead, he has become the Big Man, separating his party from the masses it claims to represent. Zuma’s ANC is a liberation movement that has reached its end stage: a party focused on protecting a small group of insiders at the expense of the broader population who have become outsiders.
In his book, The State of Africa, Martin Meredith records the post-independence experience of liberation movements throughout Africa, detailing how and why hope turned to despair. The sad common pattern is that once in power, liberation movements abandon their ideals and become parties of patronage and Big Man rule. We saw that in Nkrumah’s Ghana, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Banda’s Malawi, Kaunda’s Zambia and in many other African countries. And we’re seeing it right now in South Africa, under the presidency of Jacob Zuma.
A central challenge is that liberation leaders have debts to pay. People want compensation for their years of struggle and sacrifice. It seems fair to offer reward by way of appointment to political position. Competency, experience and knowledge are forced to take a back seat, leading to a decline in administrative competence. (This practice of cadre deployment was openly embraced by the ANC from the start and formally adopted at its conference in Mafeking in 1997.) As service delivery suffers, so popular support for the liberating party steadily erodes. Contracts and licences are also allocated on the basis of loyalty rather than merit, contributing to a decline in the functioning of the state.
When Zuma came to power after an open and bitter battle with his rival Mbeki, he had huge debts to pay to his supporters, and moved swiftly to appoint them to key positions. Despite his promise to be the people’s leader, he and his ever-shifting team have been unable to resist the temptations that come with power. They have opted to turn that power into personal profit rather than public good.
As Meredith shows, a liberation movement in decline becomes increasingly isolated from its original social base. Leaders spend more time focusing on personal and party enrichment than on governing the country. They lose touch with the lived experience of common people and become remote from the realities of the crises the country faces.
As their legitimate claim to be liberators erodes, so they shore up support by other means, which contributes to the downward spiral. Power tends to be increasingly concentrated in one person and that Big Man tends to reshuffle his cabinet frequently in order to prevent any minister from becoming a threat. Corruption becomes endemic and leaders pay no more than lip service to its threats. The needs of the many are subordinated to those of a small, privileged elite. Political debate degenerates into platitudes and praise. Blame is deflected to neocolonialists, capitalists, imperialists. The media increasingly becomes the voice of government propaganda.
Having lost its freedom narrative, the party attempts to mobilize support on the basis of race and history. Having lost its popular support as a liberator, it shores up support by eroding the independence of institutions that check and balance power, overriding the constitution and human rights in support of its narrow goals. As mass support wanes, the party rules through a growing patronage network that radiates out from the Big Man like a web from a spider, permeating even the furthest municipalities. Government becomes the largest employer, dispensing jobs and benefits in return for loyalty. Foreign embassies and state-owned enterprises such as airlines extend opportunities for prestige and patronage, the glue that holds it all together.
Meanwhile liberation leaders and their families accumulate ever greater personal riches while the poor focus on daily survival. The police are used to suppress any protests precipitated by these predatory politics while leaders laugh them off, knowing they are now above the law and beyond accountability. They hold all the levers that keep them in office and tend to neglect higher education, the birthplace of possible dissent, resistance, rebellion. Opposition voices are stifled or muted. They become disillusioned because they compete on an uneven playing field for financial support and a voice in the media.
Economic growth is sacrificed on the altar of narrow political agendas. The gap between economic potential and performance widens and the state becomes increasingly incapable of serving the public good. Rising unemployment and gross inequality ensue. A leadership vacuum develops in a climate of crisis and desperation. Ultra-populism rises to fill it.
Do you feel like you’ve watched this movie before?
Nkandla; the Marikana massacre; the blocking of cellphone signals during the last State of the Nation Address; Guptagate – the use of the Waterkloof airforce base to land Gupta wedding guests; Omar al-Bashir’s illegal spiriting out of the country via the same Waterkloof base; Zuma’s uncaring stupor during the recent #FeesMustFall protests; the emergence of the ultra-populist EFF; Zuma’s many cabinet reshuffles to date; South Africa’s vast network of foreign missions second in size only to that of the US; the ANC’s over-played race-card; load-shedding and the threat of water-shedding; a planned R4 billion presidential jet; Zuma’s confirmation this week that the ANC comes before South Africa. These are all key points on our current roadmap.
The next objective of President Zuma may be the capturing of the Electoral Commission and the Demarcation Board, after which it could be a lot more difficult for us all to exercise our democratic right to choose our leaders.
What the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, wrote of Nigeria in 1983 could equally be said of South Africa today: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
Thus the disillusioned voices of Kgalema Motlanthe, Ben Turok, Trevor Manuel, Ronnie Kasrils, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Terror Lekota. The ANC no longer articulates their values or vision. Nor mine. I was a part of the ANC when it cherished the ideals of a non-racial democracy. But now the Democratic Alliance is the only party which mobilizes on the basis of respect for the constitution, non-racialism and market-led growth. The ANC and the EFF are populist parties, mobilizing and dividing on the basis of race. The DA stands for one nation with one future. This is why I roll up my sleeves every morning and work every day to grow support for the DA.
I call on these and all like-minded South Africans to rally behind the Democratic Alliance and work together towards a future of freedom, fairness and opportunity. It is only when we have been liberated from Zuma’s ANC that South Africa will become a mature democracy. Democracy thrives on change. It is now time for that change.