It is now beyond doubt that the ANC is spiralling out of control, twisting in the ever widening gyre, displaced from its once undisputed heights as the oldest liberation party in Africa. The freefall has been felt across all sectors in society and is the central subject of discussion in homes across South Africa. Although many commentators are hesitant to label this political moment as a critical turning point for the ANC, it is – in my view – indisputable that this is a critical tipping point.
The scales have, after eight years, finally tipped against President Jacob Zuma and his leadership. They stand alone, and the winds of change threaten to consign them to the dustbin of history. They will resist, they will fight and they will sabotage, but some will turn against their former allies in the Zuma leadership and pledge allegiance to the winds of change. This is just simple opportunistic politics at work. Those who still have a future in government and the ANC will do what they can to redeem themselves from the ‘rot’ that has infected the ANC at all levels.
Already, the signs are clear that both Fikile Mbalula and Malusi Gigaba – the new Ministers of Police and Finance, respectively – have chosen to backtrack from the Zuma leadership’s front line. Fikile Mbalula is engaged in a court battle with the former – illegally appointed – head of the Hawks Special Investigation Unit (i.e. Berning Ntlemeza), and Malusi Gigaba has considerably diluted the rhetoric around ‘radical economic transformation’, equating it with “inclusive growth” instead. These turnarounds are significant. Both Mbalula and Gigaba are young politicians – ex-heads of the ANC youth league – and have a promising future in government. President Zuma is a lame duck president who is on his way out, whether through recall or the end of his term in 2019; they have to think about their futures beyond his leadership.
Even older, more seasoned leaders such as the Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown have opted to evade taking a stand for the Zuma power elite that she once supported wholeheartedly. Instead of taking direct action against the Eskom board for its ridiculously inept and blatantly deceptive ‘re-employment’ of Brian Molefe as Chief Executive – i.e. claiming that he had taken early retirement at 50 after he had very publicly resigned last year to clear his name and act in the interests of “good corporate governance”, only to be later sworn in as a member of Parliament (which clearly forbids him from remaining in the employ of the state) – Minister Brown instead chose to leave the decision in the hands of the courts and has called for an independent inquiry into Eskom and its practises. It is a significant climb-down, that has led many to intimate that Brown had been put under pressure to support the return of Brian Molefe as Chief Executive. Indeed, former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan questioned her directly at yesterday’s parliamentary committee whether she had been instructed to support Brian Molefe’s reappointment by the board.
The tripartite alliance, on which the ANC rests its broad-based legitimacy (i.e. with the South African Communist Party and the Council for South African Trade Unions) is in tatters. Both alliance partners of the ANC have called for President Zuma to step down, and COSATU has gone as far as to pronounce that President Zuma will not be welcome to address COSATU gatherings. Last month he was booed off stage at a COSATU event, which had to be cancelled because of the anger that the crowd directed at him.
Last week the South African Council of Churches – perhaps the most reputable non-partisan body, which played a key role in mobilising mass action against the Apartheid state – announced that it was ready to question the moral legitimacy of the state. In an event that ran almost three hours, where they detailed SACC had learnt from its Unburdening Panel, which sought to provide a safe, confessional space for those who had been compromised by corrupt activities in government and the state. It was clear to the SACC that the South African state was under its most extreme threat that it has ever been under democratic rule. Possessing the the most formidable, politically neutral force for public action in South Africa, the SACC’s entry into the fray over the collapse of the ruling party speaks volumes for the desperate crisis that the ANC has plunged the country into.
Government and the legislature have become all but dysfunctional, sabotaging itself and pulling in different directions, seemingly over every decision it needs to take. The only unity currently exists between opposition parties, who have joined hands in an all out effort to counter what has broadly become known as “state capture”. Government is in paralysis, and this is a direct consequence of the paralysis within the ANC itself, which finds it difficult to break ranks with its elected ruler, his leadership and the “power elite” that they act in concert with to execute their programme of state capture.
Opposition from within the ANC to the Zuma leadership (and by extension his network) has mounted, but it remains to be seen how effective it will prove to be in bringing about his removal. It is a sad sight to behold; a once vaunted liberation party – one that brokered the most significant political transition and humanitarian constitution – now lies defeated by its own hand. It is foreseeable that in the absence of any significant ability to self-correct, the ANC will not remain in power after the 2019 elections.
With regular crises in service delivery (from water to electricity, healthcare, education, social grants, housing), debilitating crises that have arrested heavily indebted (i.e. effectively bankrupt) state owned entities and companies (SOEs/SOCs) such as Eskom, SAA, Transnet, SABC, etc. and the mounting unemployment, inequality, poverty, rising prices of services and goods, and an slow-growing economy that has been declared junk status deterring foreign investment; it is clear that the ordinary citizenry are running out of options to meet their day-to-day needs. Their leaders seem incapable of taking the actions that are necessary to safeguard the public interest and the public good. The broad perception is that it is no longer the ANC itself who is in control of decision-making, but a behind-the-scenes patronage network that has gathered around the leadership of President Jacob Zuma.
It remains to be seen whether the tipping point will prove to be a turning point for South Africa in real terms, that is; whether the President and his leadership will be recalled by the ANC or forced out of office by broad-based public protest. But what is clear is that there is now tacit agreement from all sectors of society, as well as the entirety of political leadership in the country – perhaps even within the Zuma network itself – that the country cannot possibly endure under this kind of leadership and enjoy a prosperous future that is characterised by transparent and ethical governance. More of the same is bound to erode the South African state to such a degree that it no longer functions as a capable bureaucracy, and to split and polarise the political and social realms to such an extent that society itself becomes dysfunctional.
The phrase, “the fish rots from the head” has come to characterise the plight of current day South Africa. There is no skirting around the fact that the loss of legitimacy of the ANC government has plunged South Africa into its largest crisis since the decline of the Apartheid state in the 1980’s. This crisis is multidimensional. It is simultaneously a crisis that is constitutional, governmental, economic, social and political; one that threatens to bring about a perfect storm. South Africa has stood on the edge of the precipice before, and has managed to marshal its considerable socio-political resources to convert tragedy and adversity into emancipatory transition and reformation. There is little doubt that it is time for South Africa, as a country, to gather its strength and take back the reins of power from those who have abused it, and do the hard work of restoring its national sanctity again.