Fog lifts as the party of liberation begins to fade

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Many people are depressed about the state of South African politics. We are living through an inevitable shattering of illusions, which is a positive development, although it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

The main feature of the political landscape is the deepening decline of the African National Congress (ANC) and its dwindling ability to trade on its credentials as the "party of liberation" and the "leader of society". This decline began long ago, with factional divisions emerging long before Jacob Zuma became the party’s president.

In the past five years, three splinter parties have emerged from the ANC. The Congress of the People (COPE), led by a faction that lost power at Polokwane; the South African Party, led by a faction in the MK Veterans Association; and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by a faction of the ANC Youth League that fell out of favour with the Zuma faction. The operative word here is "faction". Very little of this has to do with changing the living conditions of people.

The ANC is unlikely to recover from what seems to be a state of permanent crisis, and this reality also looms large for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Cosatu is riven by factional activity aimed at capturing larger hunks of the union-dues base, as well as leadership divisions that reflect the mess in the ruling party.

The most vivid expression of the crisis for Cosatu is the collapse of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in a strategic sector, owing to the role it played before, during and after the Marikana massacre. The once-dominant NUM has been kicked out of much of the platinum belt near Rustenburg by mine workers, which is quite a humiliation for the union that has served as a training ground for many ANC leaders and ANC-linked business figures.

The SACP’s immediate concern is defending Zuma (and his Nkandla homestead) at all costs — and, by implication, preserving or extending the share of Cabinet posts as reward for unstinting loyalty.

On balance, the entire edifice known as the tripartite alliance is beginning to crumble under the weight of its internal contradictions.

This may be painful to watch, but we should celebrate the clearing of the fog. A new democracy cannot be built on a foundation of nostalgia, toadyism and rampant corruption.

Earlier this month, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told the Financial Times that if the ANC "does not pay attention to the importance of being relevant to the people of SA, it will run the risk of losing power".

He noted that people "assess a party not on the basis of its glorious history but on the basis of what they experience". And SA’s experience of the ruling party over the past five years has been nothing short of exhausting.

It’s interesting to note that, for now, the ANC seems little concerned with the most recent splinter groups. The EFF, for example, has been spared the intense hostility that was dished out to COPE in 2008. Perhaps the ANC has simply run out of energy or considers the Julius Malema grouping a spent force. But it is a welcome development that the party seems willing to accept that everyone has a right to join a party of their choice.

Of course, when the ANC is really threatened, as in Marikana, it will not fail to label its opponents "counter-revolutionaries" or "cockroaches".

So, as democratic SA approaches the 20-year mark, we should celebrate the multiplicity of voices, even of those we may sharply disagree with, such as the demagogues of the EFF.

In a speech at the Sunday Times Literary Awards, Judge Edwin Cameron said the constitution remained our best practical hope: "All the constitution does is to create the practical structures that enable the rest of us — that is, you and me, together with principled leadership, a committed government, an active citizenry and vigorous civil-society institutions — to perfect our future."

So it’s up to us.

Article Source: Business Day