South Africa’s ANC: things fall apart

BY Dale T. McKinley, Johannesburg

November 15, 2008 -- At some point in the not-too-distant future, we might just look back at 2008 as the year in which things really started to fall apart for the African National Congress (ANC).

Africa’s oldest liberation movement, which has enjoyed overwhelming political hegemony and electoral success since South Africa’s democratic breakthrough in 1994, is in deep trouble.

Crucially, this is not mainly as a result of the more recent domestic manifestations of the ever-widening crisis of capitalism nor of any kind of immediate threat to its 18-year hold on political power.

It is rather more simple — the “big happy family” whose members range from crypto-communists to die-hard capitalists, from ethno-nationalist chauvinists to cosmopolitan liberals — is beginning to break apart because there remains little to hold the heterogeneous clan together anymore.

There have always been factional battles raging within the ANC: the fights between the “radical” Youth League and the “conservative” older generation in the 1940s; the open warfare between the “black nationalists” and the multi-racial “Congress” in the 1950s; the regular stand-offs between the “workerists” and the “nationalists” in the 1970s and early to mid ’80s; and the skirmishes between the “exiles” and “internals” in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

However, none of these family fisticuffs ever resulted in a serious, sustained threat to the political, ideological or organisational integrity of the ANC, precisely because the anti-apartheid glue held, and healed, fast.


No surprise then, that after the political defeat of apartheid in 1994 and the ANC’s ascension to state power, that glue became increasingly obsolete.

With the rapid disappearance of the overarching historical “ties that bind”, internal battles began to exhibit much more explicit ideological, personal, racial, state power and occasionally ethnic characteristics.

Despite their often intense and public nature, these post-1994 battles did not result in the disintegration of the ANC family, mainly due to the fact that a new glue had been manufactured — obsequious loyalty to, and centralisation of power around, a “big man”.

At first it was Nelson Mandela, whose manipulated iconisation demanded general quiescence in the face of the neoliberal policies that were a spit in the face to the ANC’s mass constituency.

Then came Thabo Mbeki, whose Machiavellianism and personal insecurities required unquestioned obedience and self-censorship.

What then appeared to many to be a long-awaited internal revolt by ANC members at the 2007 Polokwane Conference (in the name of a mythical “reclamation of the ANC”) has turned out to be the latest instalment of the same “big man” politics, in the form of Jacob Zuma.


The problem for Zuma, however, is that, unlike that of his predecessors, his rise to the ANC throne has taken place in a context in which the accumulation of post-1994 battles has produced ever-more vitriolic and alienating family spats.

Since Polokwane, South Africans have witnessed what can most aptly be described as continuous instalments of the ANC Fight Club. The ANC house has become too small for the large collection of bruised egos, fiefdoms of patronage, competing chauvinisms, wanna-be political kingmakers and ideological chameleons.

Building on the previous “counter-revolutionary” and “charlatan” name-calling that was the hallmark of Mbeki’s reign, the Zuma crowd has now added “dog”, “snake” and “cockroach”.

The second-layer transitional glue has finally peeled away and the edifice looks pretty ugly.

Indeed, the deterioration of the two metaphorical glues parallels the ANC’s own metamorphosis from a liberation movement designed to overthrow a racially based system of power overlaid with narrow class interests, to a “modern” bourgeois political party designed to consolidate a class-based system of power overlaid with narrow racial interests.

As has been the case with all national liberation movements that have become post-independence political parties, the ANC has finally been caught in a web of its own contradictions. The consistent, if individually marked, political, organisational and economic bases for the consolidation and exercise of the ANC’s post-1994 power (and accompanying privilege for those at the helm) have planted the seeds of its present troubles.

Whether it be the often bitter retreat into the political shadows of a sizeable portion of the “old” leadership, the apparent ascendance of dumbed-down storm-troopers, the disintegration of its own activist grassroots structures, the socio-political resistance of its “natural” constituencies, the spectacle of professed communists and “radical” unionists embracing socially reactionary positions or the imminent arrival of an ANC breakaway party led by a clutch of former senior ANC leaders — the bottom line is: the ANC is in terminal decline.


The immediate consequences of the ANC’s descent into the morass of its own making will be negative for the majority of South Africans.

On the one hand, Zuma’s ANC will remain largely true to the organisation’s commitment to macro-economic policies that will further consolidate the class interests of the old and new members of the capitalist class, minimal redistribution to the poor notwithstanding.

On the other hand, the Zuma crowd’s thinly veiled misogyny, his pronouncements that the way to deal with rampant crime is to deny bail to criminals and the answer to teenage pregnancies in poor communities is to take babies away from their mothers, foreshadow a potentially reactionary turn towards a pseudo-“traditionalist” social fascism.

However, on the political/organisational front the outlook is a bit more heartening. The space that has been opening up for the past several years as a result of the struggles of workers and poor communities will continue to provide new opportunities for meaningful opposition.

While the ANC will no doubt emerge triumphant from the 2009 national elections, the mere presence of a competitor emerging out of its own senior ranks, despite its centre-right character, has destroyed the ANC’s propaganda mantra of perpetual “organisational unity at all costs” and presages healthier electoral competition.

Like the often heroically infused yet tragic series of events that give Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart its timeless title, the ANC’s falling apart has been in the making for a long time. It will continue for sometime to come.

Unlike Achebe’s story, however, this is no fiction.

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #775 November 19, 2008.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 11/27/2008 - 10:54


22 November 2008

Privatised ‘nationalism’ and xenophobia continues in South Africa today

The Anti Privatisation Forum joined with the Coalition Against Xenophobia at the ‘Lindela Repatriation Centre’ in Krugerdorp yesterday/today for a 24 hour picket calling for Lindela to be shut down. Our struggle knows no borders and we extend our solidarity to our African brothers and sisters who are being grabbed on the street, chased out of their homes and abducted to the deportation camp. The existence of the camp is a long-standing shame of democratic South Africa. Whether the 'Congress of the People' rightfully belongs to anyone in South Africa is a question void of any meaning when there is a complete unwillingness to confront  the glaring racism, Afrophobia and violence that is Lindela. If South Africa 'belongs to all those who live in it', the principals on the throne of the Freedom Charter would be joining the Coalition to demand its closure.

Lindela is a deportation centre (euphemistically renamed a ‘repatriation centre’) at the bottom end of a system primed to filter out poor Zimbabweans and Mozambiquans as well as all other ‘illegal’ immigrants (mostly all from the African continent). The police arrest anyone who they suspect of being an immigrant, using the stereotyped markers of a darker-than-South African complexion, language proficiency or simply self-referential ‘identification’ - Verstaan jy! Many ID-card carrying South African citizens are of course also detained. Like the dompas before it, the ID book must be done away with, or apartheid continues to be real.

Besides the complete lack of political will to adopt a open and solidaristic immigration policy, another main reason that (immigrant) influx control persists from apartheid to today is that it is profitable for corrupt police, Home Affairs officials and the owners of Lindela. Corruption is so routine amongst the police that they refer to immigrants as 'ATMs'. Gaining access to basic amenities, phones and visitors in Lindela depends on the payment of bribes. The biggest takings go to Dyambu Trust, which owns the private company that runs Lindela - Bosasa. The Home Affairs Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, is a founding member of Dyambu together with other senior ANC Women's League members. Though she called an internal report on conditions in Lindela as "a real indictment on our work as a department," this did not stop her from rehiring Dyambu Trust to run Lindela. She was indeed passing the buck: Dyambu receives over R40-million a year in terms of their contract with the Department of Home Affairs, and R59 per detainee per day (in 2005).

What we have here is a disgusting example of a politically-connected private company earning big profits from the oppression, mistreatment and misery of fellow Africans. It is supremely ironic that this kind of ‘policy’ and behaviour is reminiscent of the privatised ‘nationalism’ of the colonial days. Meanwhile of course, wealthy ‘non-South Africans’ are welcomed and provided with all the services and dignity/respect that can be mustered by our government – simply because they have money. Large scale foreign corporations are given the red carpet treatment but those who flee their own countries precisely because of the inhumane and profit-hungry activities of these same corporations – in conjunction with corrupt and undemocratic governments - are seen as ‘undesirables’ and ‘illegals’ and shown the back door – simply because they are poor. Lindela – hidden away on the edges of Johannesburg behind high walls and guard towers, where no-one can see what is going on, is South Africa’s symbol of shame.

It is not for a more humane deportation of our African brothers and sisters that the Anti Privatisation Forum is demonstrating its support. The extortion, sexual harassment, degrading treatment and sometimes beatings/torture of detainees are the signs of an underlying injustice that stems from a deep-seated xenophobia and sense of national, social and economic superiority amongst many ‘South Africans, not least of which is our own government and the political leadership therein. The continued operation of Lindela is an affront to human dignity, solidarity and equality and to the professed ideals/principles of South Africans own struggle for liberation as well the South African Constitution. As long as it continues to operate, Lindela will stand out as the main symbol of South Africa’s denial of its own struggle heritage and an arrogant and misplaced nationalism that divides African people and feeds an underlying xenophobia amongst ‘superior’ South Africans’.

Lindela must be shut down immediately. The South African government must begin a process of adopting an open immigration policy in which all African peoples are treated with dignity, respect and welcomed as a positive addition to the social, economic and cultural building of our country. South African authorities must stop the business of policing who is, and is not, ‘South African’. At its core, and especially given the divisive and oppressive history of colonialism on our continent, nationalism is a constructed political and social disease that continues to hold back the united development of peoples of our region and continent.  

Lindela is racist!
Lindela is inhumane!
Lindela must be shutdown!

[The 24-hour picket of Lindela started yesterday at 12 noon and ended at 12 noon today. The APF mobilised communities from the East Rand, Soweto, the Vaal, Pretoria and the Free State to support the action and were joined by immigrant communities from Joburg south (Forest Hill, Rosttenville) and the inner city (Hillbrow, Yeoville, the Central Methodist Church)]


For further comment contact: Meshack Tladi on 079 812 4724 or
Sthembiso Nhlapo 078 148 0153

Anti Privatisation Forum
123 Pritchard Street (cnr Mooi)
6th floor Vogas House, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 333-8334 Fax: (011) 333-8335