The ANC is a vehicle for rapacious material accumulation
To say the ANC is at an existential crossroads would be trite. But the tenets and values that defined the gallant organisation of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela are no more.
In their place is a brutal and corrupt ethos, driven by those seeking personal enrichment. The ANC’s new siren song is: it is time to eat.
The ANC itself acknowledges this. In the last six public reports by its last two secretary generals, Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe, going back to the Stellenbosch conference 10 years ago, this malady is laid bare.
But bizarrely, the ANC seems incapable of combatting the epidemic that is laying waste to the moral edifice of a once-proud organisation.
Could this have been otherwise? Moeletsi Mbeki, one of the most provocative intellects in this country, contends the ANC achieved its historic mission in May 1996 with the new Constitution.
Having thus reached its apotheosis, the ANC “normalised”, becoming like other liberation movements with an overriding preoccupation with loot and resources. The steady march to the bottom had begun in earnest.
Tambo’s ANC was conceived and configured for a different time and purpose: the quest for freedom and justice for our people.
The new ANC that emerged after May 1996 under Thabo Mbeki (while Mandela reigned, Mbeki increasingly ruled) had a different mission: the exercise of state power and building a new nation with all the attendant pitfalls state power entails.
The cause of the ANC’s moral implosion, in my view, was its embrace of black economic empowerment (BEE). “Empowerism” is at the core of the organisation’s new identity. Being rich supplanted liberation as the theme and gospel of the new South Africa.
You only have to look at the early BEE barons: Cyril Ramaphosa, Saki Macozoma, Tokyo Sexwale and Mzi Khumalo. One attribute they all shared was their connection to the ANC.
I am not suggesting these men lacked entrepreneurial flair, but what became increasingly obvious in the “get-rich-quick” scheme of BEE is that entrepreneurial flair alone was not enough, you also had to be politically connected.
A prime example of this is Patrice Motsepe, the most successful businessperson to emerge in the new South Africa. He does not share the struggle pedigree of the men above, but has become a fixture of the political circuit.
Spurred on by state tenders, politics has become even more grotesquely corrupt.
The ANC has become a theatre for tender wars. Consumed and buffeted by ritualistic tender cannibalism and caught in “empowerism”, the movement lost its way.
Thabo Mbeki, a visionary without equal, had lofty aspirations for his BEE policy. He wanted to deracialise the South African economy and create a new black business class.
He was our answer to Deng Xiaoping, who transformed China into an economic powerhouse; and Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of
Mbeki’s ambition was to build a prosperous South Africa, with a burgeoning black business class as its mainstay, tethered to a renascent Africa.
The result, though, has been something totally unsalutary, the transformation of his beloved ANC into a vehicle for rapacious material accumulation.
What Mbeki did not have, and Deng and Yew had in spades, was an authoritarian and autocratic state respectively, yoked to a
powerful Confucian ethic that commands patience, thrift and deference to authority.
BEE has not remotely succeeded in deracialising the South African economy, nor in creating a self-sustaining black entrepreneurial class not dependent on the state.
Most lamentably, it has deformed the ANC. What has been most insidious about the ANC’s involvement in the doling out of BEE spoils, has been its effect on the black professional class.
Because the ANC has arrogated to itself the role of choosing winners and losers in the BEE game, most black professionals, who are dependent on this policy for their advancement, have been effectively muzzled for fear of offending the ANC and hurting their prospects.
This has lobotomised the nation, creating a soulless society of sycophants who fear being critical of the ANC fairy godmother.
Untrammelled intellectual discourse is a hallmark of every free and successful nation. A political culture that emasculates debate can only lead to atrophy and degeneration in the long run.
Criticism and intellectual dissent can only make the ANC better and our country stronger. But if the party can censure and punish those who dissent by blocking them from business deals, board appointments and executive roles in state enterprises, then the party is killing the possibility of a dynamic society.
The recent example of the ousting of Vusi Pikoli from Gobodo Inc is a case in point. This can only have a chilling effect on the ability of the black professional class to differ and disagree.
When dissent could result in the exclusion from economic participation in the private sector of a citizen and an ANC stalwart, we should all be afraid.
Firing Pikoli from his old gig in the public sector, while questionable, is one thing; but pursuing him in the private sector and interfering with his ability to earn a living is shockingly vindictive.
This ought to have triggered a massive outpouring of outrage from all of us. This is what happens in a normal society when a citizen’s rights are trampled on. But this is a BEE nation – numbed by the inducements of Mammon. We should remember that while it is Pikoli today, tomorrow it could be one of us.
Finally, like many, I read in financial daily Business Day Pallo Jordan’s Wanted: A President Who Can Restore the ANC’s Credibility and thought that, sadly, the ANC will not rise to this challenge. The new ANC is not capable of the loftiness Jordan implores.
It has been progressively debased by power, corruption, tribal atavism and intellectual vacuity. Organisations, in the end, deserve the presidents they get.
But, after 100 years as a repository of our people’s aspirations, the ANC finds itself tantalisingly on the cusp of losing the future if it continues on this path of wanton drift and degeneration.
» Mabandla is a member of the JP Morgan Advisory Board and a former chairman of the Vodacom Group