S.Africa: Things beginning to fall apart for the African National Congress

By IndepthAfrica
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Oct 1st, 2012
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Despite being in charge of Africas biggest economy, it seems things are beginning to fall apart for the African National Congress (ANC).
The party seems to be facing more than what they can handle at the moment. With Mangaung looming, they are busy fighting for their political survival in the dark corridors of power. To date, no one has openly stepped up to challenge President Jacob Zuma, but so many ghost names are being thrown around.

The Marikana incident and other subsequent nationwide strikes have thrown the ANC in a deep quandary especially as they are happening simultaneously and at the wrong time. They are torn between saving the economy and being seen to be on the side of the people with national elections just around the corner.

The picture looks bleak as there is a glaring leadership vaccum and there is need for decisive action, as current problems can potentially destabilise the country.

For the first time, following the violent strike by truck drivers, the President appeared on television trying to convince striking truck drivers that rights without responsibilities are destructive. While this was an appropriate gesture, it may have come a bit too late, in a country whose citizens are more familiar with rights and entitlements than responsibilities.

Given such a scenario, it is hard to imagine how the current government will deal with the myriad of such problems.

Naturally, this should be a good opportunity for the opposition to capitalise on, but currently it does not seem any of them are ready to govern.

The Democratic Alliance is so far the only meaningful opposition party whose strength can go as far as denting ANC support, but not to an extent of dislodging the nationalist party.

Therefore, even if ANC messes up, they can still guarantee themselves another term.

Challenges South Africa faces today are not largely due to poor management alone, but have their roots in ANC policies prior to Independence.

Just like most nationalist parties in Africa, the ANC compromised a lot during negotiations leading to Independence to an extent that they accepted a deal that allowed peace and political Independence without addressing reasons for which people went to war.

For that reason, a lot remains unaddressed, if not unaddressable, in the current context. As a result, the gap between the rich and poor is fast widening breeding frustrations.

Some would argue that perhaps that was the only way South Africa could attain Independence.

There are not the only ones that took this route, as Zanu PF too accepted a clause that prohibited them from touching land until after 1990, in a country whose economy was agro-based.

Even after 1990, efforts towards land reform remained very cosmetic until 2000 when war veterans took advantage of glaring gap perhaps a lapse in leadership bemused by the sudden rise of the labour movement to form the MDC.

What is clear in both scenarios is that one can not postpone problems hoping they would just disappear, especially if those problems are to do with bread and butter issues one creates breeding ground for frustrations and possible uprising.

The second ghost among many that are haunting South Africa today, is its education system. Prior to Independence, ANC made it a policy that they would not prioritise education for fear of creating another Zimbabwe where more educated people chase few jobs. This position was informed by a number of flawed assumptions which have crippled black South Africans from being key players in their economy.

The first assumption was that because they were not sure if the key players in the economy would stay put after Independence, such a policy would help minimise pressure from an educated citizenry demanding employment. What the ANC did not realise was that such a policy would not affect the formerly privileged race, but instead disadvantaged black children in a free South Africa.

Even eighteen years after Independence, it does not seem like ANC have woken up to this reality and even if they did, it may be a bit too late to address some of the residual challenges facing black citizens.

The World Economic Forums national assessment report published recently ranked South Africas education system 140th out of 144 making it one of the worst in the world. This follows another report published last year which showed that 65% of Grade Three pupils could not read at the acceptable level, while 82% could not do maths.

The second assumption is commonly used by many nationalist parties in Africa, that the less educated people are, the easier they are to manage. Such a policy would not work in a country like South Africa where people can easily see the wide economic gap and draw comparisons in standards of lives between the rich and poor. Sometimes the frustrations obtaining in South Africa are not only influenced by the size of salaries, but by comparisons with the lifestyle of the rich.

An R8 000 rand ($1 000) salary a month is not very bad when we compare with other countries and demand for R12 000 to R18 000 will just make a mining job more attractive. One does not need to be educated to see these disparities and take to the street to demand more. However, on the part of ANC, it meant the keep them dump policy did not work, as those same uneducated people were giving them sleepless nights.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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