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ANC takes further steps towards self-destruction. What is our role as citizens?

Professor Raymond Suttner
Photo by Ivor Markman
Professor Raymond Suttner

15th November 2016

By: Raymond Suttner


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It is reported in the City Press that President Jacob Zuma attended a caucus of the parliamentary ANC and instructed MPs to vote against the DA’s motion of no confidence in his leadership. ( In the past one, would have thought it quite unnecessary to make such an intervention, seeing that the jobs of MPs are tied to supporting the party they were elected to represent. But despite the President’s unworried outward demeanour, he is obviously concerned about rumblings within the organisation.

There are some who have always been sceptical about the ANC and all liberation movements, which are said to be irredeemably self-serving or to aspire to be bourgeois and therefore inevitably betray their core, predominantly poor constituency.


I am one of those who believed in the ANC and did not entertain that scepticism. Like many others, I attributed a moral character to the ANC and its struggle. Certainly, few will deny the ethical attributes of its major leaders like Chief Albert Luthuli, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Bram Fischer, Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First, Yusuf Dadoo and Chris Hani.

These leaders did not simply espouse values. They lived by them and inspired others to emulate what they did, including to be ready and willing to make sacrifices should that be required. That was a time when some of us may have been naïve and insufficiently careful about scrutinising the actual character of “revolutionary cadres” with whom we worked.  Perhaps we assumed too readily that all had qualities and aspirations that coincided with advancing the good of all.


When I had the opportunity to play a part in the liberation of South Africa, or what I saw as liberating the country, I considered it an honour. My main fear was that I would fall short in carrying out that role. Possibly with some naiveté, I was determined to do nothing that undermined the duties that I undertook. I imagine that there were many others with this state of mind.

The level of decline of the ANC is hard to believe. Electorally it has been fairly recent, but substantial. I used to argue that the ANC could not take the route of the dissolute, decadent and very violent ZANU PF because it was a mature organisation with decades of history. Its military component, unlike how I understood ZANU PF, was supplemented by a substantial process of politicisation amongst its cadres.

I never envisaged a day when I would hear DA speakers attacking the ANC and an ANC president and find them convincing. I do not thereby endorse everything that the DA says or does; nor do I see it as an adequate alternative to what I long hoped and thought the ANC would be. But it is undeniable that the DA has been able to displace the ANC as the bearer of a rational, relatively coherent argument on how we safeguard our institutions and resources and build on them to develop our future wellbeing as peoples and as a country.

That is not an emancipatory vision in itself, but we can’t build such a project - or much else - in a situation where anything goes and everything is fair game for the looters. Consequently, at this moment, the DA’s emphasis on regularity in government and the rule of law is suited to safeguarding our institutions and the wealth that is needed for transformation and liberation.

The DA consciously appropriates symbols and even key manifestoes of the ANC, like the Freedom Charter, and it can do so with a measure of credibility because the ANC has become so divorced from what it was seen to be in the past. Its attempts at defending the President in last week’s no-confidence debate were totally banal. One wonders whether the ANC leadership itself retains any sense of conviction in the arguments it advances.

Why has the ANC lost not only electoral support, but also forfeited the legitimacy that it so famously enjoyed for so very long?

1. It has shown itself to be indifferent to the poor. From being a party of the poor or the poorest of the poor, amongst other things, it shot Andries Tatane who was protesting peacefully for basic needs. It massacred unarmed miners at Marikana. It diverted funds meant for the poor so that the president could live in luxury in Nkandla. It has engaged in countless evictions - often acting illegally - driving people out under winter skies.

2. It has shown itself to be contemptuous of its obligations under the law and the Constitution. Not only the President, but also the National Assembly as a whole has been found to have undermined its constitutional obligations by the Constitutional Court.

There are indications that it will tear up other obligations as is evident in its repudiation of its commitment to the International Criminal Court. It should be recalled that it was the ANC-led South African government that led the drive to establish this court in the first place. Whatever the arguments against inconsistent practices of the court, the South African reason for reneging on its obligations was to defend Omar al Bashir, who is wanted for international crimes, including genocide. 

3. In consequence of this tendency towards illegality, it has allowed state institutions to be hollowed out, and to lapse into varying degrees of disrespect for legality or outright lawlessness. The SAPS in general, the Hawks, SARS, the NPA and a range of State owned enterprises have become playthings of Zumaites or tools for punishing those who defend constitutionalism or defend the resources of the country. 

This has been seen especially with the attempts to prosecute Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the continuous hunt for evidence to prove the existence of a “rogue unit” in SARS and remove troublesome individuals from public service. In the process, SARS, previously one of the best-functioning state institutions, has been severely weakened.

One key line of division in 2015/2016 has been between attacking and defending the Treasury. Some prefer to divert attention and focus only on Treasury’s macroeconomic policies. Whatever their limitations (which is open to debate for the same treasury has made a major contribution towards lifting many people out of absolute poverty), our initial focus must be on defending the fiscus from attack. There cannot be debate over what type of macroeconomic policies are needed to pursue a transformatory path if the fiscus is looted and empty, as seems to be the intention of the present government and currently dominant groups within the ANC.

The misuse of the policing and prosecution arms of the state is not merely undermining legality, but doing so in service of those who wish to loot and turn state institutions into private weapons to pursue partisan political goals.

4.  All of these developments happen during a period of economic decline where growth, if any, is miniscule and unemployment at 40%, the highest proportion of whom are youth with practically no future to look forward to. 

The prospect of relegation by ratings agencies to junk status heightens the economic crisis and limits the potential to escape from the no-growth syndrome. This does not concern the group whose goal is to cream off what resources there are. They are not concerned about replenishing them - all they want is to consume and safeguard their personal wealth now and when Zuma goes. They do not care a jot about the fate of the country.

5. It is important to foreground the omnipresence of violence in contemporary South Africa, something that we always used to note about apartheid South Africa. Our society, we know, is violent, with many people experiencing it in their homes, on the streets and in work places.

Politically, although the ANC engaged in the armed struggle, its self-image was not one of violence. Indeed, it was committed to peace. But the Zuma era was violent from its onset. It has been marked by attacks on political opponents and protesters. Student protests have emerged in a political environment where resort to force is a normal feature and they have themselves deployed it (and in turn, often evoked disproportionate responses from the police). This is not to condone violent protests, but it needs to be recognised that the protests emerged in a society already marked by many conditions where resort to violence is a normalised way of dealing with disagreement.

The 10th anniversary of the alleged rape of Fezeka Kuzwayo (“Khwezi”), complainant in the rape trial of Jacob Zuma, and her recent death have heightened public consciousness of the scourge of rape and gender and sexually-based violence. While this awareness may have increased, albeit unevenly, the commitment of government is undermined by continued half-hearted policing and prosecution of gender and sexually-based crimes. On the international plane there has been a reneging on commitments to defend LGBTI rights.

6. The ANC recognises that Zuma is not good for the organisation’s electoral chances. But it has not found the capacity to rid itself of a president who is clearly worsening their plight. Because of the vacuousness of ANC politics, devoted almost entirely to spoils, they cannot agree on an alternative to those who are intent on keeping Zuma and preventing him coming to harm by facing the law of the land to answer long-standing and possibly new charges deriving from the “state capture” report.

In the light of the recent local government elections there seem to be grounds to believe that the ANC will not reach 50% in national elections due in 2019.

The DA has won three key metros and they have a strong incentive to do well, to perform efficiently. Indications are that they are pursuing this task with professionalism, hiring individuals who were previously associated with government, like General Shadrack Sibiya or some with ANC backgrounds like Vusi Pikoli, who serves as police ombud in the Western Cape.

What do we, as citizens, do now? 

If it is correct to surmise that the ANC may have entered a period of terminal decline, what do we do in the interim? This decline may persist for a long time without disappearance of the organisation and its hold over state power.  In the meantime, damage can continue to be done to the state and its resources.

On the one hand, the decline of the ANC does not mean that everyone in the ANC becomes an “untouchable” for fear of contamination. Indeed, it is important to recognise who can survive the Zuma era and contribute towards the safeguarding of our resources and their utilisation for transformation and democratisation within strengthened institutions.

On the other hand, we or those who are already trying to prevent looting need to continue what is already under way to halt this and the hollowing out of institutional functioning and capacity.

We also need to prepare for the type of politics we now need. While that politics will be strengthened by renewed integrity of the institutions that enable democratic life, that democratic life must also be understood as going beyond constitutional institutions. Even the protection of democratic institutions, we have learnt, cannot rely on constitutional institutions alone. 

Building a broad, unified alliance behind an agreed programme that brings together a range of sectors to defend legality, clean government and constitutionalism is now an urgent task, as argued in previous contributions. (See Raymond Suttner, Recovering Democracy in South Africa, Jacana Media, 2015, chapters 59, 60, 61, 63, 64, 65 and more recently:  

That united platform and vision should be non-sectarian and not require a specific ideological orientation for entry.  It should draw on all who wish to rebuild the democratic promise of 1994, in order to provide a vehicle for all those who love their country and wish to see it flourish in every respect.

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a former political prisoner for activities in the ANC-led liberation struggle. Currently he is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA. He has published extensively on Chief Luthuli in scholarly journals and essays in his recent book, Recovering Democracy in South Africa (Jacana and Lynne Rienner, 2015). He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner


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