A Footnote in History
The collapse of the African National Congress and the alliance is inevitable. The only question is ‘when?’ Jacob Zuma’s boast that they would rule ‘until Jesus returns’ is preposterous hyperbole. The ineffectual ‘broad church’, divided by internal squabbles, lack of leadership, conflict and corruption is suffering a crisis of relevance far beyond its own control. Its failures are merely symptoms of far larger tides; the tides of social, political and economic evolution.
The hunter-gatherer age was formative of the essence of our humanity and lasted for many millions of years. The agricultural age lasted for about 10,000 years. The industrial age only 300 years, at best. We are only 60 odd years into the information age.
These historic tides each demanded very different social, economic and political structures to serve not only the survival, but more importantly, the welfare of the populations that existed at each of those times. The human species has survived the different social tides by being adaptable because essential learning from the past was retained and adapted. And often, technological breakthroughs fuelled the ebb and flow of each. These tides, linked like a chain over time, formed us, made us what we are now.
As humanity progressed and prospered through these tides irrelevant beliefs and political systems were discarded along the way. Adaptation; flexibility combined with the ability to recognise what is useful or not useful, was part of this progress. Systems and structures, guided by relevant values, adapted or died. Values are the glue of society, the ‘rules’ that temper behaviour. Broadly, the earlier tides (hunter gatherer, pastoral herder and agricultural) were typified by ‘community centricity’ whereas the later tides (later agricultural, industrial and informational) required (and gave birth to) ‘individual-centric’ socio-political and economic systems.
The ‘community-centric’ systems were typified by an oral tradition (or a monopoly of written script by the elite via the church). Knowledge was vested in the minds of the older, more experienced members of society, discussion and consensus seeking amongst elders took up much time. Time itself was event-driven (seasons, rainfall, sunrise, sunset etc). Belief systems favoured shared responsibility. Dominant societal values would include sharing, caring, a focus on ‘we’ and collective success. Power was vested top-down. African uBuntu is an example of such a bundle of values.
The conceptual turning point between the two is often referred to as the Renaissance, the birth of a ‘new humanism’.
The later systems are typically based on a written record; there is no monopoly on knowledge, leadership is not age-bound, time is a discrete, certain and valuable measure. Belief systems are based on individual responsibility. Societal values emphasise power, striving and individual success. Bottom-up is the source of power.
At the tipping points of each of these tides, there were battles between the conservatives (those who fought hard to retain the existing systems) and the innovators who recognised that the new realities required new ways of organising society. Often these battles were bloody and drawn out.
The Catholic Church tried to hold on to power and killed many non-believers in the process. The Reformation replaced their monopoly on ideas with more liberal and individualistic values. In another time and space, the socialists and communists attempted to bring ‘caring communal’ mores to bear as a counter to the new world order of individual success and capitalism. They too failed.
In South Africa, we have significant sectors of our population that span all of these social tides living in parallel. A large majority are trapped in a feudal, tribal, pastoral, early agricultural subsistence existence; our rural citizens. We have a growing minority who are IT/knowledge workers who Google, Skype, Facebook and Twitter away. Together with these two extremes, there are manual labourers, skilled artisans, commercial workers, entrepreneurs and professionals. And we also have millions who are unemployed. Each of these constituencies has different needs of government. A one size fits all approach will not work, and is not working.
In attempting to appeal to all, the ANC has formed the tripartite alliance with the ‘collective’ SA Communist Party and COSATU. But in this alliance, what exactly is the ANC? Does the ANC represent individualism or communalism? On the one hand, they crow about the success of their revolution; the defeat of apartheid. On the other hand, they say the revolution is not over. One hand says nationalise the other says never. The debates include; “individual careerism” versus the “collective good”, service provision to the poor versus crony power, tenderpreneurship and honest enterprise. Their behaviour is, at best, schizophrenic.
These contradictions are symptomatic of a much deeper schism. They are the visible sign of an inner conflict of values. And they also reflect the lack of appropriate values to guide the delivery of appropriate services to our parallel populations. Any organisation that is not internally committed to a set of fundamental values is destined to fail; it lacks value-driven glue. In addition, if this lack of values is experienced by the populace in a lack of services appropriate to them, it will lose support. The disconnected and conflicting messages that emanate from the triad (ANC, SACP and COSATU) or from within the ANC (ANCYL and ANC) have nothing to do with leadership and succession struggles. They are all about trying to survive as a political force. The glue of a common enemy – apartheid – is no longer working. The older members are dying off. The only thing that holds them together now is the desire for power and from that, to be rich. Even if these conflicts were not so apparent, the truth is that one party cannot serve the diverse of needs of our population.
The ANC and the alliance are powerless in the face of these forces. They will not, nor can they adapt.
I believe their mixed and incoherent messages are the death gasps of a political movement that has lost (and will never regain) its relevance. That relevance was to rid South Africa of apartheid. That battle is over and the republic now needs a political alignment that serves each of the disparate communities of our country without compromise. When this happens, the ‘broad church’ will be located in Parliament, where it belongs. The parties present in Parliament will reflect the very disparate needs and wants of the citizens. These new parties will each be guided by appropriate and coherent values, aligned to their constituencies. The debates there will be transparent and open, not as now, in secret, behind the closed doors of Luthuli House or Gallagher Estate, using coded messages that only the triad’s insiders understand.
In the context of our long walk to humanity, spanning hundreds of thousands of years, the ANC is but a droplet in an ocean. Its passing will have no bearing at all; just a nod of goodbye, a bowed head, an obituary. And, in the long run, it will be just another small footnote to history.
Humanity in South Africa will survive.
It has survived worse…
Author: Tim studied economics, political science and public administration at Wits where he also served two terms on the SRC. Tim is now retired after a successful career in advertising and marketing research.