Gauteng Premier David Makhura is reported to have said that party loyalists should not be deterred by the president’s shenanigans from voting for the liberation movement. The question which lingers in the minds of political analysts – and probably also in those of the top six in Luthuli house – is what damage has the Zuma presidency done to the fabric of the ANC? To what extent has the party spent its social capital on a leader so compromised by his inability to grasp complex political systems that he has destroyed the liberationist connective tissue between the party and its historical constituencies.
During the first national election in 1994, with the blood-drenched right to vote being exercised with unbridled enthusiasm, approximately 53% of South Africans eligible to vote used their moment in the voting booth to register their loyalty to the ANC. In the last election only about 36% of eligible South African voters could muster the political energy to do the same. If the Ipsos polls prove to be in close proximity to reality the ANC will garner no more than 55% of the registered vote come August 2016. It has thus become a real question whether President Jacob Zuma has actually became an electoral liability to the governing party.
Is Mbeki also to blame?
But, is the ANC under Zuma really that much worse than the ANC of Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela? Both Cope and the EFF have splintered from the ANC since the rise of Zuma from the ruins of Mbeki’s demise at Polokwane. If the ANC lose significant support to parties conceived in the disunity within the liberation movement or even to the ideologically more liberal DA, the question is, will it be solely as a consequence of Zuma’s political reputation or is Mbeki also to blame?
The answer seems to be an obvious no, but that is until you are reminded of the original justifications for the arms deal, the “capturing” of the Scorpions and the Prosecuting Authorities by the Executive, the shenanigans of Jackie Selebi, the almost complete impotence of the Public Protector under Lawrence Mushwana – and for that matter all Chapter 9 institutions – the genocide of people with the HIV/Aids-virus, the quiet diplomacy which ruined Zimbabwe; the list is endless. One should be hesitant to search for the rot further back so as not to encourage the wrath of the uncritical praise singers of those first rainbow years, but suffice to say, Mbeki didn’t start it and Zuma probably inherited moral and institutional decay.
The question we are left with then is; how has the damage to South African politics and society by weak, opportunistic and corrupt leadership impacted upon the electoral support of the ruling party? What consequences have these two utterly destructive presidencies had for the ANC during this year’s local government election? We know it has ravaged the general belief in “good governance”, corroded the trust of the poor in the constitution and democracy and murdered approximately 300 000 people with HIV. But, still, for more than two decades, the electorate returned the ANC with an overwhelming mandate to govern – and, some would argue, to destroy.
ANC has lost its ‘sense of history’
The inevitable conclusion must be that the party of Dube, Mandela and Tambo got a free ride from the electorate under Mbeki, Motlanthe and Zuma. Under Mbeki and Zuma the ANC claimed victories on the backs of a seemingly trusting majority unaware of the institutional decay and moral regression which will leave so many people, destitute, unemployed or dead. It, however, now seems that the tide is turning, but it might not be primarily as a consequence of a morally bankrupt president. Bad presidents most often get re-elected in the ANC and liberation movements. The ruling party itself is plagued by centrifugal forces threatening to alienate the once loyal constituencies.
If the loyal constituencies of the governing party abandon the psychological home of their forefathers come August 2016 it will be because the moral fibre of liberationism has lost its innocence. Or, as put differently by Kgalema Motlanthe this past week; the ANC leadership has lost its “sense of history” and a significant percentage of the 64% unemployed South Africans, which largely make up the ANC’s electoral support, will protest by being absent from the process on August 3.
It is often argued that the logic of liberationism, being embedded in a collective consciousness, is contrary to the liberal urge for individual accountability. In other words, those who have traditionally voted for the ANC will not abandon the party because the president of the party proved to be an inadequate leader. The party itself provides for a means of social, political and economic survival; if not materially, certainly symbolically as well as normatively.
The fact that as many as 20 local politicians lost their lives in intra-party conflict during 2016, explains this in morbid terms. Poor, individual leadership might not swing the vote significantly; we saw that throughout our electoral history and that might not change with 2016 local elections. Having said that, if it does swing, it will emphasize the interests of fragments conceived in the centrifugal aftermath of intra-party conflict and may not significantly benefit parties without a liberationist history.
While a fragmented, weak, disorganised and conflict ridden ANC may well alienate sufficient voters to vote in protest for parties such as the EFF, Cope, the United Front of the Eastern Cape and independent candidates, it will not bolster enough support for the DA amongst black voters to win with an absolute majority in any of the metropolitan councils in Gauteng. For the smaller parties 10% of the popular vote is already an exponential reach. But, this reasoning and logic also explains why the DA, or parties without a liberationist history, will always battle to gain traction as real contenders. It also provides us with an understanding as to why fragments which break away from the liberation movement when the connective tissue of systemic patronage becomes unstable will determine the composition of coalitions in the metros. But, it also explains why Mmusi Maimane seeks to capture the symbolism and history of liberation in his own imagination; it reminds people of a promise not kept by the ANC, regardless of who leads the party.
* This column was first published by News24 on 2 August 2016.