HAPPY CENTENARY TO THE ANC!! Solomon Gebre-Selassie
The African National Congress (ANC) is celebrating its 100th year birthday this month (established on January 8, 1912 under the name of South African Native National Congress). The theme of the celebration is “Unity in Diversity”. As perhaps the most progressive, democratic and social justice-oriented party in Africa, saying a few congratulatory words and placing the meaning of the centenary in perspective might not be out of place. The ANC is a governing party whose social justice orientation puts it on a par with other social democratic parties in the world, such as those in Latin America…from Brazil to Bolivia, and the established parties in Europe, in particular those in Scandinavian countries. These social democratic parties are facing currently the challenge of implementation of a free market economic policy closely regulated by the government on one hand, and on the other, the distribution of socio-economic justice to their citizens, especially to the most vulnerable. To cap it all, they have also to ensure a democratic, multi-party society governed by the rule of law. These are the real developmental states that march on the dual tracks of development and competitive democracy, and as such, fly high in the face of a dictatorial developmental model, such as that espoused by the TPLF/EPRDF. In fact, the cause of development for which tens of thousands of young Ethiopians gave their lives over the past decades is now sadly the butt of jokes, thanks to EPRDF’s abuse of the notion through sloganeering – limatawi (developmental) journalist, limatawi singer, limatawi cadre, etc.
The ANC led the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and brought together all the races, classes, faiths, and marshaled the goodwill of most of the world, notably the Soviets, Cubans and East Europeans at the fore front followed by democratic forces and college students in the West. African countries, such as Ethiopia and the front line states significantly contributed to the cause. The ANC, as part of the Tri-partite Alliance consisting of the labour union COSATU and the Communist Party of South Africa, provided a template for freedom struggles on how to forge an unshakeable united front.
Although many heroes and notables have led the ANC in its 100-year history, such as Albert Lithuli – the first African Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Oliver Tambo, no one comes close to the near sainthood status of Nelson Mandela who was the first ANC president of the non-racial, democratic and free South Africa in 1994. It was a bit disappointing for the centenary revelers not to have Mandela in their midst as the 93 -year old man was too frail to attend.
After liberation, South Africa and ANC were known for implementing some far reaching and progressive policies heretofore unseen in the African continent: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu, the social justice programs that provided clean water, affordable housing, electricity, massive schooling to black children, and enshrined one of the most democratic constitutions in the world and largely implemented it, are a few examples. However, all is not well in the nation and in the ANC.
Like all social democratic parties in the third world, the party is caught in the difficult position of implementing a free market, while at the same time providing social benefits to its citizens. Rarely are these competing policies balanced. As a result, after 18 years in power, ANC has not been able to tackle the 40% or so unemployment, provide to all who need affordable housing and a decent life. Making matters worse, ANC seems of late unable to continue its earlier democratic credentials and moral ethos: internal party democracy, consultation, freedom of thought, unwavering service to the people, and the right to dissent seem in increasing danger. Intelligence forces and the police are sometimes used to trip up rivals (recall the 2009 removal from power of Thabo Mbeki), corruption prosecutions are at times used to humiliate opponents, and a youthful firebrand by the name of Julius Malema who is the leader of the party’s youth league disrespects such elders as Tutu, calls out to his followers to undertake unconstitutional measures such as disenfranchising whites – all this behind his corrupt and luxurious lifestyle. South Africa has slid to 64th in the world in Transparency International’s latest index of perceived corruption, from 38th in 2001. The country is one of the most unequal countries in the world.
South Africa suffers from one of the highest crime rates in the world. The xenophobic crimes committed against foreigners in 2008 are a reminder that despite all the gains, South Africa’s democratic culture and tolerance are still fragile. The ANC senior leadership was also blamed for dragging its feet in acknowledging the causal connection between HIV and AIDS.
Greek philosophers and subsequently others have argued in favor of the worthiness of political participation and a citizen’s public duty. However for the skeptic, the South African case might be cited as an archetype showing why the involvement in politics is after all for individual gain and fame. But the skeptic should look no further than the life and times of Nelson Mandela illustrating and glorifying the virtue of a citizen’s public duty.
Warts and all, ANC is most likely the most progressive political party in Africa (thankfully, there are currently about a dozen democracies in Africa and most of their democratic parties vie for the top slot). Splinters that broke away from ANC could not muster strength to be viable. It has won 4 elections in a row and there is no one on the horizon to slow it down. The ethically suspect current president of ANC and the nation, Jacob Zuma, says the ANC will rule “until Jesus Christ comes”. The only party close to contesting it is the white majority party DA (Democratic Alliance). Such dominance by the ANC breeds complacency, but is a cost to be regrettably paid when democratic governance is the rule of the game.
On the other side of the spectrum, African ruling parties like Ethiopia’s TPLF/EPRDF and Zimbabwe’s ZANU (PF) dominate the political system like ANC but only by stealing elections and mauling the opposition. Therein lies the reason why we must wish the ANC Happy Centenary and hope that the party will rectify its recent undemocratic tendencies, corruption and patronage. This is also a warning bell to the democratic opposition in Africa. The temptation for exclusion, dictatorial tendencies, media censorship, and corruption is all too high among opposition parties and affiliates. The benefit of an all-inclusive United Front is not only to defeat a dictatorial incumbent, but also to serve as a check-and-balance system among and between opposition parties.