The reality of post-apartheid South Africa is one that shows the incapacity of the state to deliver services to the poor and marginalised. Service delivery protests are a frequent occurrence throughout the country. At the centre of the protests is a demand that the ANC must demonstrate leadership and decisiveness in fighting patronage and corruption and improving accountability. Some analysts believe we are facing the beginnings of the rebellion of the poor.
The acclaimed Algerian liberation theorist, Frantz Fanon, held a strong view that if the post-liberation lived experiences of the poor and marginalised are not materially improved and their voice continues to be excluded and suppressed from effective political participation, then the struggle and sacrifices that were made in their name would have become a monumental waste of time.
Eighteen years into post-apartheid South Africa and in the year in which the ANC is celebrating its 100th anniversary, it is a fitting moment for all of us to reflect seriously on whether our liberation strategy, if it ever existed, has delivered the material socio-economic improvement and reality that the majority of the poor and marginalised hoped for and desired.
The starting point is to consider whether our liberation struggle was driven by a defined strategic vision or, as the Codesa negotiations were nearing conclusion, it became transformed into a project to capture state power for the benefit of the political elite.
As we reflect on this critical question, we must be mindful of the prescient observation by Fanon that the post-colonial reality provides ample evidence that national liberation movements ultimately became transformed into their opposites and often replicated the style and practice of their oppressors. The neo-colonial socio-economic trajectory that they adopted for their liberated countries degenerated into a patronage-based and corrupt system that progressively eschewed freedom of expression and human rights and also marginalised the poor.
Post 1994, the ANC was virtually forced to adopt a neo-colonial socio-economic paradigm that was propagated by the World Bank and the IMF. We also adopted its values of selfish individualism and wealth creation. The outcome was never in doubt and we have now achieved the unenviable status of being the most unequal society in the world.
Without doubt there have been great changes in South Africa since the ANC took power in 1994. Millions of poor people have been lifted out of the poverty trap, thanks to welfare support payments. But contemporary South Africa manifests the shortcomings envisaged by Fanon and there is a dark underbelly because the socio-economic situation has worsened for the majority of the poor. South Africa’s Human Development Index ranks below that of many comparable developing countries with much lower levels of GDP. Life expectancy has deteriorated and child mortality has risen in comparative terms. We have substituted the rigid, racially classified apartheid social structure with a stratified class society.
Given the fact that unemployment, especially among young people, has stayed at crisis levels for the past three years and poverty remains pervasive for the majority of the poor, we need a serious rethink about the development strategy that we must adopt going forward. Under President Zuma there are indications that the ANC is seriously considering a new development paradigm that will put the poor at the centre of development policies. The work of the National Planning Commission is an inspirational start and one hopes it will focus the attention of the whole nation and be concluded speedily.
For the ANC, as the party in government, this moment calls for visionary leadership and decision making. Patronage has become a systemic political tool that promotes corruption. It is undergirded by an electoral law and the system of governance that flows from it because it gives power to the political parties. In this situation, the political party chiefs decide on the selection of public representatives. It is this centralised control that has spawned the patronage that is now tearing the ANC apart and inhibiting progress in national development. Our electoral law is the most critical source and cause for the patronage, corruption and faction fighting that is at the heart of the instability within the ANC in all regions.
The call for change is loud and immediate. What then must be done to arrest this untenable situation?
Patronage and corruption have been condemned by all in the top leadership of the ANC but it continues to grow, especially as Mangaung draws nearer. The time has come to accept and implement the recommendations of the 2003 Frederik van Zyl Slabbert report on a hybrid proportional and direct electoral system. The goodwill that would flow from this decision would also enhance the ANC brand value as a party that is sensitive to the mood and desire of the electorate. The quality of the representative would also improve as well as the standard of accountability. Another decision that would improve the image of the ANC, especially among rural women, is to pull back the Traditional Courts Bill. In its current form it entrenches traditional feudal authority practiced by traditional leaders. It has no place in contemporary South Africa as envisaged in the liberation struggle and vision.