ANC: Danger of Social Distance and Isolation from the Masses
Like a proverbial snake that is bound to shed its skin in order to progress into its next phases of growth and maturation, the ANC has to undertake its renewal programme in a manner that does not change its earned rich character. A character that subsumes into itself all strands and shades of thought and persuasions known to have united South Africans around its noble call for a country that must as a rule belong to all who live in it. The dialectical concomitant of this call is that the ANC itself belongs to all who voluntarily join it, and its members have an inalienable right to influence its direction as it matures together with aspirations of the society it seeks to transform.
The intellectual compass of the ANC should thus remain pointed towards where its members want to be in relation to the historical mandate it has defined for itself. Like its African counterparts, albeit being first, the ANC has been formed as a reaction to the wrath of colonialism on black people. The polity within which it has operated for 83 years has in the main been based on an anti-government paradigm that mutated from deputations to mass protests to armed struggle and through to ambitions of mass insurrection. The sub-structural organisational mechanisms required to execute assignments of this nature procured for a ‘movement’ type of an organisation, types that end up becoming a conglomeration of ideologically diverse interests advancing a ‘breakthrough’ interest with which ‘other’ interests can be achieved.
Because of its foundational objective of decolonisation, and getting rid of its aggressive adjunct apartheid, the ANC had to attract as its members individuals who professed a ‘nationalist’ ideal that would, it was then assumed, unite the various anti-colonial constituencies into ‘one nation.’ The artefacts of ‘nationhood’ such as a ‘national anthem,’ ‘national flag’ and ‘national…national’ positioned the state and government as the ultimate price of ‘national liberation,’ despite the reality of some issues being in the main economical. The network of interests around the ‘liberation movement’ assignment, created watermarked identities within the ANC that could only be bolded once the price of national liberation is within grasp and/or achieved. The extent to which such bolding creates a ‘practise of freedom’ for its beneficiaries, ‘the people,’ remains the standard with which any liberation movement’s success is measured by its ‘people.’
The above context creates therefore ‘space’ for the danger of social distance and isolation from the masses to be explained. The 1994 ‘democratic breakthrough’ had as its first test the task of dealing with the harsh realities of reconciling the ‘struggle era’ political ideals and the unforgiving harsh realities of government. Attendant to this task was the almost generic outcome of post-liberation party politicking that corner ruling national liberation movements to procrastinate on the immediate implementation of their will to break with their colonial past; since they tend to ultimately come to terms with it. Fundamental to this problem is the inherent character of the party political system within which these movements must operate after a protracted ‘bush war’, ideologically or otherwise.
As a result of this system not being interior to the political mobilisation tradition of the liberation movements constituency, the standards with which such movements measure their progress in their ruling party status tend to create new goal posts that are detached from ‘struggle era’ ideals. The template of reporting locates such movements in a conundrum where the ‘known,’ which by the way remains ‘colonial,’ in government terms is all about convincing the ‘erstwhile’ colonisers and their adjunct functionaries, the international markets, of their continued importance and necessity. The vulnerability of the policy making machinery to create governance systems that are obfuscating to struggle ideals, many of which were not made available to ‘the people,’ grows commensurate to the extent to which the new rulers become acceptable by ‘international markets.’
The affinity of the post-liberation political elite, which is described as having ‘emerged from mission schools strongly attached to the ideals of Judeo-Christian orientations, wore Victorian attire, adhered to colonial cultural values and put faith in what they refer to as a white sense of fair play…Detached from the traditional society, they were employed as teachers, church ministers, clerks, interpreters and (interestingly) journalists and aspire to show how easily Africans could adapt to the colonizer’s civilisation. They in the main share a vision of a ‘non-racial’ ‘civilised’ society in which ‘merit’ counted more than ‘colour,’ concretises the correctness of the identified danger more as a sociological axiom than what the discussion document paints. In this ‘civilised’ ‘caste,’ intellectuals reign supreme as both the consumers and dispensers of ideological regurgitations purely on the basis of positions they occupy in society.
Given that political life is based upon those diversities in society that encourage the growth of interests, the effect of individuals in strategic positions cannot be undermined in how society ends up defining the content of its politics. The mere fact that interests in society do not operate in a mechanical or predetermined manner, their marshalling by people would require from amongst them intellectuals that theorise on the actual nature of societal politics. The character of the political elite responsible for most liberation movements indicate an existence of a ‘caste’ of individuals that would be passionate about the definition of ‘struggle ends’ in a manner that makes ‘the people’ comfortable in fighting for the defined cause.
In respect of the ANC’s founding intellectuals, and their later age protégés, they could not concretely insulate themselves from being vulnerable to the propaganda machinery unleashed on the educated elite in most colonial environments. The integration of these elite into the mainstream political thoughts and doctrines, all of which originated in contexts that remain alien to Africa, neutralised the potency of foundational political aspirations at the altar of belonging to one ‘labelled’ group or the other. The foreign tendency absorption capacity of Africa’s political elite made them willing participants in the colonisation projects of ‘colonisers’ to levels where their political legitimacy is fast being equated with their appetite to suspect the legitimacy of their own ‘indigenous governance systems’ and historicalness of their movements.
The threat of detaching from the masses as identified in the discussion document is thus a self-determination and self-standing challenge of the ANC as a governing party. In this challenge the dialectic of the people’s self-emancipation can only unfold when the reality of galvanising the freedom experience start shifting to their favour. The dormancy of ‘freedom experience’ which is a practical-pragmatic political necessity induced interest in the historicity of the struggle will spawn, in an almost natural way, a civil society movement that conglomerates the ‘people’ who find themselves outside national political life. Unless properly managed, an unprepared liberation movement will perpetually find those who question, most of whom are incidentally young, radical and dynamic, and part of the in-movement establishment, to be irritants and destabilisers of the movement.
In this ideologically charged conundrum, the renewal process needs to recognise that as society matures in its acceptance of post-colonial government it does so at the expense of the once treasured monolithic view of the liberation movement as the liberator. The opening up of opportunities, especially when race deteriorates as a primary differentiator, removes notions of seeing ANC members as having existed in a kinship structure of a larger community. The sentiment of genuine nationhood by the historically marginalised also represents a point of departure from a life where liberation movement political opinion is the only context of political life; the constituency becomes a contested arena for status quo sustaining political thought in the absence of the abhorred and defeated colonial system.
The national reawakening that accompanies the in-government status of the ANC and particularly its members brings to bear the actual structure of South African society. The changing notion of working class privilege has already started to not only interrogate class differences with a race-biased lens but in clear economic access terms. The next generation of ANC leaders, codified in the freedom in our lifetime slogan, is fast realising that the emerging concept being South African is not joined ideologically, politically and culturally by virtue of sharing a geographical space; but that the question of ideology and economic access would determine the degree to which we could be joined together. This therefore demands from any organisational renewal process thinking that addresses the specific nature of (South) African political realities.
National leadership dictates therefore in this era of renewal a need for leaders that can synthesise and juxtapose in a complex way ideas and experiences that on the surface might not appear to have an ideological point of convergence. Such leadership should not be seen as the exclusive reserve of the elected amongst members of the ANC but should be expanded to include ‘all breeds’ of leadership, irrespective of strangeness and/or familiarity. As a declared teenager in issues of formal government, we should take advantage of our capacity and will, which is oftentimes overrated, to transgress the boundaries of accepted ideas, to explore and discover new ways of thinking and being. Such leadership has always been the resource of being ANC and thus defined the ANCness that defined South Africa as ‘belonging to all who live in it.’
By Dr FM Lucky Mathebula