by Chris Waldburger

Twenty-five years of hope and despair

In psychological terms, our nation is traumatised


In psychological terms, our nation is traumatised. Trauma involves the re-enactment of unresolved pain and shock over and over again, in order to find some way towards a regaining of empowerment and a sense of justice. This has been South Africa’s story over the last quarter of a century.

At the time of going to press, this writer had time to reflect on the national and provincial election results of 2019.

Most importantly, the ANC, despite the Zuma-era of below 50% opinion polling, managed to hold on to a 57% majority nationally.

It is difficult to see how this was not some kind of Ramaphosa effect—a return to Mandela’s heir, as opposed to a campaign and organisation spearheaded by another Zuma.

But 57% is the ANC’s worst performance yet and probably a clear indicator that if radical improvements are not made, they will lose in 2024.

“Only three of the world’s 79 democracies—Botswana, Malaysia and Namibia—currently have a governing party that governed on its own for longer than the ANC,” the Princeton Political Analyst, Dr Leon Schreiber, wrote in his book, Coalition Country.

There is the Zanu-PF option-simply staying in power even at the cost of destroying the state.

Could it even be possible that the ANC sees the Zanu-PF as a model, its leaders cynically trying to loot the ship as they believe its sinking to be an inevitability?

Some answers to this question were meant to be given by the naming of the President’s Cabinet.

Strangely, Ramaphosa was unable to name his Cabinet, as planned, straight after his inauguration. Herein lies a parable.

Karl Marx wrote that history always presents itself in pairs: “The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Zuma was the leader of the coalition of the wounded, the successor denied his chance by the neoliberal sell-outs of Mbeki and Manuel, by apparently trumped-up corruption charges.

And now there is the David Mabuza situation. Mabuza was formerly a key member of Zuma’s so-called “Premier League” but, surprisingly, became Ramaphosa’s “king-maker” at the Nasrec Conference.

Whilst he is still currently the Deputy President of the State and the ANC, he has long been under the clouds of corruption, conspiracy to murder and fraud.

Now, along with 20-odd other high profile members of the party, he is facing the ANC’s Integrity Commission, but is insisting his name be cleared before he is sworn into the new National Assembly.

Zuma and Mabuza; Mandela and Ramaphosa?

In other words, the ANC has two apparent strands: a strand of corruption and state capture, as well as a strand of conciliatory nation-building.

Tellingly, Ramaphosa has never denounced either Zuma or Mabuza. Why not?

This quandary is perhaps the perennial question of the ANC and its 25-year rule.

The ANC as it came to power

The Reverend John Langalibalele Dube, in his inaugural speech as the first President of the ANC stated: “Although, as a race we possess the unique distinction of being the first-born sons of this great and beautiful continent; just awaking into political life, born on this 8th day of January, in this year 1912…

“While teaching ourselves to walk boldly and upright before all mankind, we must still be careful ever to seek out the way where wisdom leadeth, treading softly, ploddingly, along the bright path illumined by righteousness and reason—the steep and thorny path, yet the only one that will safely and surely lead us to our goal, the attainment of our rightful inheritance as sons, daughters and citizens of this beautiful country.”

One sentence stands out: “…we must still be careful ever to seek out the way where wisdom leaded, treading softly, ploddingly, along the bright path illumined by righteousness and reason…”

By the time the ANC came to power over a state ravaged by Apartheid, the People’s War, and the bankruptcy caused by the National Party, this desire to tread carefully had been transmuted into an ideology known as the National Democratic Revolution, which placed the ANC, in alliance with Communists, as the vanguard of a new socialist state. This despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of markets in China. Yes, Mandela tempered this, persuaded by the Chinese and Big Business that the socialist model would spell disaster.

This notion of being a revolutionary movement as opposed to a congress, or party, has led to the ANC’s biggest failures since 1994.

This was not the revered Albert Luthuli’s vision for the ANC. In his autobiography, Let My People Go, he constantly refers to the ANC as “Congress”, as though it were a parliament for the struggle rather than a government-in-waiting.

Intriguingly, Luthuli did not believe the ANC would one day govern South Africa. He was of the opinion that the ANC would have to form smaller political parties out of the various ideological factions, which were working together under their auspices.

This proved not to be the case. The revolutionary concept of a vanguard movement won the day.

A party for the poor?

Yes, the ANC has done much for the impoverished in 25 years. Sanitation, electricity and housing have been extended to millions.

Projects like the Gautrain, the Soccer World Cup, the once effective SARS, show that pockets of excellence have been accomplished under the ANC. Social grants have eased an unbearable burden of poverty upon millions, whilst a black middle class and elite have grown significantly.

The country has not been plunged into civil war. And whilst we are still one of the most violent countries in the world, the murder rate has come down.

But there is a reason why the ANC has lost power in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane, and the Western Cape, and are now at their lowest ebb electorally.

A crumbling state?

Billions of rands have been lost to state capture. State-owned enterprises are places of looting and not economic development. The government at all three layers—national, provincial and local—has failed.

In the main, hospitals are not places of healing; schools are not places of learning. Some black academics have described ANC-governed education as worse than the despised Bantu education of the Apartheid era.

Crucially, mother-tongue education has largely disappeared. Skilled graduates are in shockingly short supply, while teachers’ unions thrive.

This lack of competence directly affects foreign investment and, thus, employment. It is simply a fact that unemployment is higher than at the end of Apartheid.

Even under the so-called neoliberal regime of Mbeki, his fondly remembered economic growth did not dent the unemployment rate. The liberalisation of trade did not solve the decline of the mining and textiles industry.

By 2000, Mbeki had recognised the World Trade Organisation (WTO) order he had readily embraced did not provide the foreign investment that the loosening of tariffs was meant to achieve.The state did not achieve the competence or policies necessary to ride a wave of global growth, in which billions were lifted out of poverty as developing nations played the globalisation game with intent and unity of purpose, and ameliorated or prevented deindustrialisation.

According to Bloomberg, our economy is now the third most miserable in the world.

How do we spell redemption?

The deficiencies in ANC governance are legion. But one crucial lesson of the past 25 years can be spelt out.

We are a traumatised nation. And trauma is re-enacted until its energies are transformed away from a sense of anger toward a new and shared purpose and strength.

Ramaphosa needs to derevolutionise his party. He needs to break the traumatic cycle. He needs to bring us together.

He knows we need a new patriotism, instead of constant revolution and its cycle of political adrenaline that threatens to burn out all sense of civic purpose amongst the citizenry.

But time is running out. 

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