THE African National Congress (ANC) celebrated its centenary yesterday, boasting that it is growing. It has reached its target of 1-million members, a target it set back in the 1940s. The party hopes that these are its foot soldiers, its defenders and its lifeblood. The figure is no small feat.
As it turns 100, the ANC is fighting hard to retain its hegemony in society, a hegemony which was entrenched during the days of the anti-apartheid struggle. When apartheid came to an end in 1994, the ANC’s sights were set on governing. The party took its eyes away from its base in society, while focusing on power in government and running the party machinery.
There are signs that the ANC, despite commanding huge support, is not as rooted in society as it was during the 1980s. Public protests, often about poor service delivery, have seen party leaders driven away by angry residents. A councillor’s car and house were torched in Soweto last year by angry youths who wanted free electricity. Similar events have occurred in many townships, with communities turning on the party that liberated it.
While the ANC does not face an immediate threat of losing an election, the past two elections suggest it is losing support. It lost support in the 2009 general election and last year’s municipal elections.
It nearly lost control of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality in the local elections, managing to get just over 50% of the vote, dropping from the almost 70% it had achieved a decade before. Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana said that the party nearly losing the biggest municipality in its “heartland” of the Eastern Cape was a strong warning.
It needed to sort out its problems, stemming from a competition among comrades.
President Jacob Zuma spent a big part of his centenary speech celebrating the party’s glorious history. He gave what were in effect bullet points: nice-sounding themes, but the detail was missing. Some of his plans for the ANC this year are:
– Urgent and practical steps to revitalise the grassroots structures of the movement;
– Steps to fast-track the development of party cadres — new and old;
– Urgent and practical steps to restore the core values of the party, stamp out factionalism and promote political discipline;
– Practical steps to place education and skills development at the centre of its transformation and development agenda; and
n Urgent and practical steps to professionalise and modernise the operations of the ANC.
These look like great themes, but the detail will be in the implementation. He may well argue that a party is not led from the podium. If that is his thinking, he missed an opportunity to share his vision with the party faithful and others who were hoping for clues from the speech.
Mr Zuma also announced that 2012 had been declared the “year of unity in diversity”. His sights are probably on the divisions that are plaguing his party. The ANC did its best to conceal its divisions in the build-up to yesterday’s rally. It succeeded in displaying peace, but there is no doubt the warring groups are itching to get back at it. This will be a busy year for the party and its alliance partners.
The ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party will all hold leadership elections that have the potential to cause more divisions.
The ANC and its youth league are at war. While youth league president Julius Malema looks set for the political wilderness, his cause may be taken over by another leader. Mr Zuma himself seems comfortable at the top, and at this stage looks likely to be re-elected when the ANC comes back to Bloemfontein to hold its leadership elections in December.
Maybe Mr Zuma will spend the rest of the year fleshing out the visionary details that yesterday’s address so lacked.
But his critics in the ANC will not miss an opportunity to criticise his lack of vision, whether publicly or in private.
Article source: http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=162154