New brand of politics has ANC reeling

  1. sunday independent

What is most embarrassing for the ANC is that it does not have a strategy to counter the DA and EFF onslaught, writes Kuseni Dlamini.

Johannesburg – South African politics is at a crossroads. This week saw attempts to unleash mass protests by sections of the opposition and civil society in rallying cries to defend the constitution and fight corruption. The hegemony of the governing ANC is being challenged and contested from all fronts for the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

EFF leader Julius Malema addresses supporters in Church Square, Pretoria, following the high court ruling clearing the way for the public protector to release the state capture report. Picture: Phill Magakoe.


The centre within the ANC seems to be either dwindling or increasingly missing in action as conflicting and contradictory pronouncements on the same issue are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

If this does not end, it means the ANC is complicit in digging its own grave as the country gradually edges towards the 2019 general election.

This is an unprecedented test for the ANC. It’s an historic moment in the evolution of South Africa’s democracy that will have far-reaching implications which, I hope, will result in the deepening of the democratic project. The balance of forces is in a state of flux.

A paradigm shift is required to build a united and prosperous society. Leaders must unify rather than divide the nation. There is unprecedented jostling for position within the ANC and in broader civil society. The knives are out.

However, there is no new central organising vision that provides compelling and unifying alternatives to the existing status quo. What we see is an obsession with pushing President Jacob Zuma out with deafening silence on how and who should replace him if he were to say he is stepping down with immediate effect.

The challenges facing South Africa are bigger than one individual. They are systemic, structural and historic in nature.

The commitment to the constit-ution and clean governance is key and must be deepened.

We need a concomitant broader conversation on unlocking long-term solutions to our historic, systemic and structural problems which will be with us beyond Zuma’s tenure.

A new brand of politics is required. So are new leadership styles and approaches that connect deeply, meaningfully and better with the general will of the people. We need a new brand of smart politics because the masses have become smarter and more informed and discerning in the fast-paced age of social media than hitherto.

The current content, tempo and tone of politics and politicians is becoming obsolete. The same can be said about leaders in other sectors of society such as business, the media and the church who are also facing a huge trust deficit due to scandal after scandal that has betrayed public trust in those institutions.

The current state of pandemonium in our university sector reflects the widening gulf and growing trust deficit between leaders and followers. It can and must be dealt with.

It’s an indictment on South Africa’s well-renowned conflict and dispute resolution capabilities which helped broker a political settlement that has been globally acclaimed as a model for unity and reconciliation where there is none.

South Africa’s political society needs to change as people’s expectations and demands change. The governing ANC has a lot of changing to undergo as its dominance is being eroded by the growing popularity of opposition parties such as the DA and the EFF and smaller parties such as the African Independent Congress (AIC) which came to the ANC’s rescue to retain the Erkurhuleni metro.

It’s notable that the ANC seems to have spent most of the time since its historic, humiliating defeat at the August 3 local government elections in divisive internal factional fights rather than reinventing itself in ways that help it regain the public trust and confidence it has lost.

If current trends continue, there’s a real and serious risk that the ANC may not be the majority party of government at the 2019 general elections. The way the ANC and some of its leaders behave is as if August 3 never happened.

August 3 was supposed to be a wake-up call that would galvanise the ANC to go back to basics and organise street by street and house by house.

Instead there is more time spent by ANC leaders in leaking dirt about each other to the media than doing the real work of rebuilding the party and regaining public trust.

The leadership that will emerge from the December 2017 electoral conference will have its work cut out for it. This will, among other things, include stopping the blood-letting and refocusing the party on its historic mission of uniting South Africans of all races and genders around the historic objective of building a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

The ANC needs to work hard to regain public trust and reassert its historic aspiration of being a leader of society. To be a leader of society requires a very strong, uncontested hegemonic position which the ANC has ceded to the opposition by its failure to sharpen its organisational machinery. Opposition parties such as the DA and the EFF have been quick to exploit the ANC’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities by moving in and setting up camp in historic ANC strongholds. What is most embarrassing for the ANC is that it does not have a strategy to counter the DA and EFF onslaught.

For example, I travelled in some parts of the Western Cape in the build-up to the August 3 elections, where I did not see even a single ANC poster. Does this mean that the ANC has given up on some parts of the Western Cape and succumbed to DA domination?

Marikana is another area where the ANC has not effectively swelled the ranks of the masses and has effectively surrendered to the EFF.

The question is whether political parties and their leaders are willing and capable of unleashing and executing the new brand of politics.

Politics is undergoing major structural shifts. Ordinary citizens are more distrustful of establishment politics. Political parties and their leaders need to be aware of that and craft and implement appropriate strategies.

Political parties and leaders that fail to do that run a very real and serious risk of falling by the wayside and being confined in the dustbin of political history.

Dlamini is a member of the National Council of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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