POLITICS

The ANC Is Functioning But It's Hit The Skids

A weak leader and internal strife are the major factors affecting the governing party's loss of support.

06/01/2017 10:52 SAST | Updated 06/01/2017 11:16 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L), who is also the president of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), gestures next to his Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Everybody knows that the war is over

Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That's how it goes

Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking

Everybody knows that the captain lied

Everybody got this broken feeling

Like their father or their dog just died......

From Leonard Cohen's album I'm Your Man, February 1988

ANALYSIS

Sunday's January 8th Statement will be the last by President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader.

One would expect a statement of great soul searching and introspection, but internal conflict and challenges to Zuma means he will be on the offensive. He will try to stifle the critical voices in the governing alliance, he will blame racism and apartheid, he will blame people of being unpatriotic and he will blame "white monopoly capital".

He won't however dwell on state capture.

Zuma will try his best to define an external enemy and the national democratic revolution, so as to mobilize support for a fractured organisation.

The African National Congress (ANC) is one of a handful of political parties worldwide that have reached 100 years of age and will this Sunday celebrate its 105th birthday. It shares this distinction with a number of heavyweights around the world, including the American Democratic (1832) and Republican (1854) parties, the British Conservatives (1830) and Liberals (1859) as well as the German Social Democratic Party (1863). It's greatest foe, the National Party, was established in 1914 but dissolved in 2005.

A modern political party like the ANC has seven core-functions it needs to carry out in order to be successful and to retain legitimacy.

  1. A link between the citizenry and government

Its effectiveness is measured by its ability, once elected, to transcend the particular interest and serve the general or national interest. Although the ANC can still claim a very sizeable, but declining, support base the biggest threat and failure of the ANC has been its inability to resolve service delivery crises in all its forms.

Although the ANC can still claim a very sizeable, but declining, support base the biggest threat and failure of the ANC has been its inability to resolve service delivery crises.
  1. Communication

Parties are channels of expression. Party dynamics should keep up with societal novelties, whether it is the media, social media, technologies or changing ethics and morality. A politically mobilised society is a resource, but also a source of complexities if the political system overheats – like we have seen with the many service delivery protests over the last year. The ANC's highly effective societal mobilisation in 1994 enabled it to take control of government. It has now lost the plot.

  1. Policy development

Parties integrate various interests into a general political project and transform it into a political programme or policy, for which they campaign to receive the consent and support of a majority. The ANC has succeeded in developing world class policies for South Africa, but failed to implement most of it. Through this failure, a large majority of citizens has lost confidence in the ruling party, as recent election results show.

The ANC has succeeded in developing world class policies for South Africa, but failed to implement most of it.
  1. The articulation of public opinion

Political parties articulate and aggregate social interests and introduce public expectations and demands of social groupings into the political system. The political monopoly the ANC has enjoyed caused the ANC to increasingly lose touch with its large, grass-roots support base. The growth of the DA and the EFF, especially in urban areas, should greatly worry the ANC ahead of the next election in 2019.

  1. Make parliament work

Political parties make the working of parliament possible. Zuma's actions and behaviour has however been detrimental to the functioning of parliament. Developments in some parliamentary committees, like the ad hoc committee on the SABC and the portfolio committee on public enterprises, points to a legislature reclaiming its role. Despite ideological differences opposition parties are working together and the ANC's parliamentary caucus seems to be getting its voice back.

Despite ideological differences opposition parties are working together and the ANC's parliamentary caucus seems to be getting its voice back.
  1. Political stability

Political parties are leadership incubators. They recruit political personnel, nurture future generations of politicians and offer them up as candidates for elections. This role is currently severely undermined by factions (such as the so-called Premier League) as well as the tension between alliance partners. A lack of steadfast leadership leads to uncertainty and a lack of policy focus.

  1. Legitimacy of the political system

Political parties establishes the connection between the citizenry, social groupings and the political system. The ANC solved government's legitimacy crisis in 1994 and enjoyed strong social and moral legitimacy until the Zuma presidency. The ANC can still claim majority support among South Africans, but through its actions and decisions the legitimacy of the state is declining. Non-payment of eTolls is a very good example.

The South African political system is in transition. This is illustrated by the multitude of crises the ANC and its alliance partners are facing. The ANC will present us with its best face on Sunday, but it is not the public image that concerns people, it's the internal workings.

The ANC is clearly a modern political party executing most of its functions, but has fallen victim to its own transition.

The ANC is clearly a modern political party executing most of its functions, but has fallen victim to its own transition.

It is facing four major challenges in 2017, i.e. a lack of leadership, growing factionalism, institutionalized corruption and declining popular support. A successful modern political party is a party that pulls together, a party where the centrist forces are stronger than the extremist forces.

But with a weak leader and internal strife it seems the underlying extremist forces in the ANC outweigh the cohesiveness of the centrist forces.

Theo Venter is a politics and policy specialist at the North West University (NWU) School of Business and Governance.