I was reading through status updates on Facebook when I saw one in particular that caught my attention. It was a photo of a DA billboard with lettering that reads: “E-tolls, proudly brought to you by the ANC”. I then decided that I’d provoke a discussion on my wall about what people thought of the democratic dispensation in which the ANC has been the ruling party for nearly two decades. I requested that everyone write a statement that contained anything they believe to be an ANC creation, followed by a hash-tag with the words #BroughtToYouByTheANC. As I write this article, it has been five hours since I made the post and the number of comments stands at 285.
My status update sought to interrogate two things. Firstly, I wanted to understand what the feeling of my more than 1 000 Facebook friends is with regards to the ANC. Secondly, I wanted to ascertain if we are a society that is capable of debunking real questions to construct reasonable debates. In essence, I wanted to understand if people who converge on social networks are reactive to political discourse, or if they are able to employ critical analysis that correctly locates the crisis of our civilisation within the heart of an ideological paradigm. The response to the status gave me a worrying insight.
More than 250 of the comments were negative. Statements such as “The Guptas #BroughtToYouByTheANC”, “Nkandla #BroughtToYouByTheANC”, “Unemployment #BroughtToYouByTheANC” and “Poverty #BroughtToYouByTheANC” dominated the thread. On the surface, these statements sound reasonable, but the truth of the matter is that they fail to give a thorough analysis to the real challenge that faces our country, and focus instead on the product of that challenge. None of the comments dared to challenge the very premise of the argument. None of the comments rectified the basis of my status. Instead, they reacted to what I deliberately posed as a flawed argument. It is a flawed argument that systematic challenges are brought by the ANC. But equally false is that our transition is solely brought by the ANC.
The argument that the Guptas are brought to us by the ANC is false, unless one wants to employ the narrow logic of viewing the Guptas as an individual family rather than part of a broader question. The Guptas reflect something more than just an Indian family living in opulence in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
(a) the accumulation of wealth by a few in a country where the working class majority is disenfranchised
(b) political clientelism, a product of political liberation without economic freedom
(c) impunity, a privilege of the elite and
(d) an inherently corrupt system.
The question of Nkandla is equally a reflection of a corrupt system and of capital accumulation that is indirectly proportional to the standards of living of the working class majority. Poverty and unemployment are not creations of the ANC, they too are creations of a system that dictates the posture and orientation of the party. The ANC is not the cause of the problems that people mention; it is the product of the cause.
My problem with the argument that the crisis in the “new” South Africa is #BroughtToYouByTheANC is not only that it is a simplistic argument which fails to understand the root of the problem, but one which also arrogates the ANC more power than is due. For those who argue that the ANC is the cause of all problems, there is a failure to locate the role of systematic construct that is in fact the root cause of inequalities: capitalism, a system that survives on the exploitation of the many by a few, where the few control all means of production while the many drown in a pool of disenfranchisement, landlessness, poverty and indignity.
On the other hand, the argument that democracy is #BroughtToYouByTheANC equally fails to locate the critical role played by the masses of our people in their own liberation. It irks me how whenever we speak of the road to democracy, we make no mention of the decisive role played by ordinary people, but elevate a few individuals to the role of liberator.
Indeed, the ANC and all other national liberation movements did play a vital role, particularly during the armed struggle. But the people, ordinary masses, played an even greater role, one that in fact enabled the ANC and other national liberation movements to carry out successful operations. Yet we treat these people as if they were statues decorating our country, doing absolutely nothing, involved in no forms of resistance against apartheid and colonialism.
The ANC has been party to societal problems by architecting regressive policies such as BEE and the election/appointment of leaders with questionable characters. But to say that the ANC is the cause of structural problems is a simplistic argument to pose, which automatically arrives at a simplistic conclusion that the solution to these problems is to remove the ANC from power. This is sadly a false argument, because it is devoid of any in-depth appreciation of what differentiates a regime and a system.
Removing a regime is not the same thing as removing a system. For as long as the system is the same, the regime is bound to operate within the confines of that system and therefore only minimal change will transpire. Therefore the visionary solution, one divorced from reactive thinking, is to struggle not for a mere change of face of government, but for an overhaul of capitalism. It is to rally behind a revolutionary movement with socialist policies and the political will to implement them; one that is unambiguous about economic transformation. In the absence of a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class, we must begin to debate what the alternative is. In the process, we must keep left.
PS: It is brutally cold here in Cuauhtémoc (Mexico, Latin America) today. I suspect that this terrible weather is #BroughtToYouByTheANC