Another Annus Horribilis for the ANC?


For a long time the ANC was able to sacralise its authority by invoking the key events, ideas and personalities of the struggle like Catholics recite the Stations of the Cross. However we have now reached the point where the power of that political liturgy to inspire and to discipline is in precipitous decline.
Patronage and repression have contained some of the fallout. But despite the mobilisation of money and guns to shore up the party’s authority, new heresies, some with their own organisational form, are popping up all over the place.
The party’s chief heresy hunters, people like Blade Nzimande and S’dumo Dlamini, are often reduced to ridiculous bluster in the face of the widening distance between the idea of the ANC and the reality of the ANC. But they can’t be laughed out of serious consideration. They do, after all, speak from within the state and from behind its many redoubts, including its various kinds of men with guns. This is as much a moment of danger as it is of opportunity.
Towards the end of last year some insiders suggested that the ANC had a plan to moderate the electoral damage that Jacob Zuma’s Presidency was doing to the party’s support. The ANC was, we were told, planning to ride the wave of public grief at the passing of Nelson Mandela to an election that was likely to be held on the twentieth anniversary of our first democratic election. The combination of the mourning for Mandela and the celebration of twenty years of democracy would, it was thought, give the ANC a real chance to either win back some of the support it had lost in recent years or, at least, slow its decline at the polls.
But Mandela’s death brought us back to a shared awareness of our highest collective aspirations. In the light of that awareness the corruption, political thuggery and utter lack of any credible national vision on the part of the ANC left it, and in particular its leader, looking more like a betrayal than a continuation of Mandela’s legacy.
If the ANC had assumed that Mandela’s radiance would cast them in a new light, the way in which Zuma was booed in Johannesburg and humiliated on a global stage must have come as a rude shock. But this was not the first time that the ANC’s history and symbols have been used against it. Fidelity to Mandela was invoked when Abahlali baseMjondolo began to organise outside of the ANC in 2005. For some years now Julius Malema has asserted his fidelity to the Freedom Charter to legitimate his dissent. And it was the campaign in support of Zuma within the ANC that introduced the public booing of leaders as a tactic to pursue struggles within the party.
The booing in Johannesburg seems not to have been, as the spin-doctors would have it, an entirely regional anomaly. The day before the memorial for Mandela Abahlali baseMjondolo marched on the ANC, from the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Manor in Durban in the name of Mandela. On the day of Mandela’s funeral the audience at the Rainbow Restaurant in Pinetown, a jazz club that had been the cultural heart of the struggle against apartheid in Durban in the late 80s and early 90s, expressed vocal support for the observation, made from the stage, that Zuma was ‘a small man in a big house’. At the big New Year’s Eve bash in the city images of Zuma on a big screen were booed. On New Year’s Day an enthusiastic boo went up on at least one Durban beach as a helicopter trailing a giant flag with Zuma’s face made its way up the coast.
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By Richard PithouseSACSIS