Revolution Decay and the Historic Challenge of the Africa National Congress of South Africa

Revolution Decay and the Historic Challenge of the Africa National Congress of South Africa

Friday, June 7, 2024 9:23 am


Ademola Araoye,

Ademola Araoye,

Ademola Araoye

In the fullness of time, every revolution must decay. The outcome of the June 2024 elections in South Africa reflects the profound evolution of the character and internal dynamics of the African National Congress (ANC) as the driving force of the rainbow nation in the post-liberation era. The results of the elections also provide a template for longitudinal comparative interrogations of the evolution of the politics of post-liberation societies. This is particularly germane for those states that achieved independence through revolutionary means with promises and hope for transitions from the oppressions of non-colonial administrations to democratic governance. The results of recent elections in South Africa thus portend significant import along many analytical planes. The analytical explorations may be undertaken through the deployment of diverse conceptual lenses: at the level of the consequences of the decay and devolution of the revolutionary ethos that motorized the liberation struggle; the implications of the evolved character of corrosive sub-national forces on the one hand; and on the other hand the impact of the institutionnalization of critical outliers of puritanical ideological vanguard movement as significant players, even if along the tangents of mainstream politics of South Africa. It is averred that the emergence of these two radically opposed forces is the expressive syndrome of the decay of the original revolutionary ferment of the African National Congress. The declining electoral fortunes of the party attest to this.

With a record voter turnout of 89.30 percent in the June 1999 elections that surpassed the 86.87 percent in the April 1994 elections, the first post-racial democratic poll in South Africa, the ANC recorded a landslide victory. It won 266 in the 400-seat parliament, 14 more seats than its impressive performance in 1994. The slide of the ANC from the almost impregnable commanding fort of revolutionary leadership of post-apartheid South Africa to a party struggling to remain barely at the helm is evident in its electoral misfortune in 2024. The diminution of the leverage for the penetration of society of the ANC results from the loss of traction of the revolutionary vision, values and ethos that had shredded the sense of enduring internal comradeship and eroded the legitimacy of the party as the historic guardian of the revolutionary pulse and the hopes of the now vastly disenchanted and disaffected people. The grating realities of the ANC in recent times are vividly captured in the four reports of the Zondo Commission, known as The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector, Including Organs of State. Describing the reports as “a metaphor of fatalism” Garth Le Pere affirms that the revelations of the Commission are a sad and tragic indictment of the extent to which the ruling ANC party has failed its already beleaguered citizens and a growing population of alienated youth, whose bulging demographic is increasingly resorting to forms of nihilist behavior.

The crisis emanating from the relative ascendance of forces driving the decay of the revolutionary ethos of the ANC reached its crescendo and manifest in the outcome of the 52nd National Conference held in Polokwane in December 2007. Polokwane 2007 was a historic watershed and the precursor to the September 2008 unceremonious repudiation of the leadership of the intellectual and ideologically steadfast Thabo Mbeki, who served as the immediate post-Mandela second President of post-liberation South Africa. As expected, the ANC won the general elections of 2009, with 66 percent of the vote. However, a major 15-seat loss was reflected in the 264 out of the 400 seats it won in parliament. Meanwhile, the national leadership of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma that emerged as president from the 2009 elections crystalized all the elemental fissures to drive popular disenchantment with and the implied de-validation of all that the ANC had historically stood for. When the chairman of the Zondo Commission posed the challenge: “Where was the ANC as the Guptas took control of important SOEs [State-Owned Enterprises] such as Transnet, Eskom, and Denel? Where were they? What were they doing?” Of course, we know the answer because the ANC was directly and indirectly involved as the ruling party in lubricating the machinery of state capture, besides being an active rent-seeker in that sordid process. Chairperson Zondo further asserts in the fourth report: “The ANC and the ANC government should be ashamed that this happened under their watch.” President Jacob Zuma was in charge of the brigandage of the ANC. The ANC paid a heavy electoral price for the scathing report of its mandate dereliction and negligence in power in the June 2024 elections. Paradoxical, a disgruntled Zuma, playing spoiler to avenge the humiliation of his imprisonment for corruption and loss of stature within the ANC party, took a cue from the playbook of African politics and mobilized his ethnic Zulu constituency to price away vital votes of Zulus from both the ANC and the radical EFF. The idiosyncratic Zulu Zuma was thus the most triumphant in the June 2024 South African elections.

Meanwhile, in the universe of post-liberation states, the loss of the parliamentary majority by the African National Congress in the June 2024 elections signposts a seminal movement away from the near euphoric unanimity of the vision of post-liberation South Africa as a potentially predictable radical departure from the malignant proclivities of the African state. At the same time, the new political reconstruction of the political space facilitated by democratic elections suggests a positive reaffirmation of the ultimate universal functionality of democracy where the substantive tenets of democracy are faithfully adhered to. In that sense, notwithstanding the paradoxes iterated above, the shifts in the construction of power in South Africa has given the lie to spurious conceptualization of the imperative of an Africanized version of democracy.

In the  June 2024 elections, the ANC the main party that fought the war of liberation mobilized by the revolutionary canons of Marxism and eventually led the negotiations for the relatively pacific end to apartheid under the heroic leadership of Nelson Mandela, as predicted by informed pundits, managed to garner a mere 40.18 percent of the votes cast. That translates to 159 seats in the 400-seat parliament. The Democratic Alliance, which has its antecedents as an anti-apartheid Progressive Party founded in 1959 scored 21.81 percent of the popular mandate. Between 2009 and 2024, the DA increased its share of parliamentary seats from 67 to 87. Two parties that had broken away from the ANC for reasons not unrelated to the crisis of the continued legitimacy of the ANC made the last four major parties in the new parliament. uMkhonto we Sizwe, commonly referred to as the MK Party, claims to be a left-wing populist party. It was founded in December 2023 by embattled former president Jacob Zuma, who was jailed for corruption. Although the symbolism implied in the adoption of the name of ANC’s military wing MK by the new party is not lost on analysts, the MK is an umbrella of the Zulu nation. It was in third place with 14.58 percent of votes cast and allotted 58 seats. In the fourth place with 9.52 percent was the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of youth Julius Malema. It has 39 seats in the combined regional and national seat allocation. The emergence of the EFF which has assumed the critical role of a lightning rod of the decaying status quo broke from the ANC to express disappointment with compromises forged by the mainstream ANC during negotiation to post-liberation, to protect the integrity of the institutional, structural, and infrastructural gains in the post-liberation South Africa. Of significance is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), also a Zulu-oriented party that won 17 seats.

The end of the run of the dominance of the political firmament of post-liberation South Africa by the African National Congress (ANC) since 1994 was inevitable. At the level of conceptual abstraction, much of the problem of the ANC in post-liberation stemmed from the inevitability of the decay of every revolution. The process of revolutionary decay is impacted by the interaction of any multiplicity of factors and forces as well as the structural configuration that defines the immediate environment. These forces, factors, and the dynamic emanating from their interaction may be distilled as contextual exigencies driving the trajectory of the reformatory process. Overall the extant contextual exigency poorly served the ANC. For a start, South Africa’s transition to democracy in the 1990s was not as peaceful as is often characterized by the outside world. Compromises made in the context of attaining a pacific resolution of the historic complexities that bedeviled the country constituted sore points for the puritanical radicals within the ANC. At the same time, the difficult compromises were welcomed by marginally committed ideological wayfarers, some in the highest echelon of the ANC hierarchy, who were determined to exploit the transition to post-racial society and transform their private economic standings.  The tensions of the various tendencies left the door open for the accelerated pace in the process of the decay of the revolution. In the case of South Africa, the onset of decay of the revolution was reflected in internal tensions within the ANC that followed the signing of the National Peace Accord in 1991. These were exacerbated after the passage of the international icon and hero of the nation, Nelson Mandela, in December 2013. Under the watch of Mandela, the centrifugal inclinations of the potentially clashing diverse forces within the ANC were effectively kept in check. These resulting difficult internal dynamics of the ANC initially elicited a trickling disillusionment in the followership.  That disillusionment snowballed into a groundswell of apathy to the fate of the once formidable guardian instrument of the vision of an inclusive, safe, secure, developmental state of a post-racial national society. Ashraf Patel codifies that of the registered 27.8 million voters – and with a voter turnout of 58.7 percent, 13.5 million voted. 14 million eligible voters (majority youth and rural) chose not to register or participate, suggesting a large-scale disillusion with the current political system.

The disillusionment is codified by Le Pere as follows: The Zondo reports are, therefore, symptomatic of an underlying cynicism in our (South Africa) national life where the powerful and networks of ANC patronage get what they desire while the weak majority suffer what they must. Consequently, the ANC has hopelessly failed the test of what  the great French philosopher and historian of ideas, Michel Foucault, called ‘governmentality’  which has to do with the responsibility of government to provide consequential welfare and

security for its citizens that is normatively defined and ethically driven. Instead, Le Pere continues, the Zondo reports are emblematic of a growing pathological syndrome where the ANC government has and presided over greater inequity and injustice, whose manifestations are rising of racially determined poverty, inequality, and unemployment, compounded by economic stagnation, institutional decay, and social dislocation. For Ashraf Patel, the impact of the crisis of continued legitimacy of the ANC is highlighted as having collectively brought about the rise of populism and discontent in our (South African) politics that have led to a death knell of the grand social democratic compact. Patel also apportions blame to Alliance partners South Africa Communist Party (SACP) and the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). He accuses them of happily riding the gravy train benefits of patronage, without any critical discourse within their ranks and those who questioned this were marginalized.

The descriptions above could also refer to any post-colonial African state. It is sad because the fortune of the ANC has serious implications for the trajectory of South Africa and, indeed, for the African continent as a whole. The moral slide of the ANC, seemingly infected by the paralyzing pathologies and malignancy of the post-colonial state, is disturbing in reneging its moral leadership for the people. A key threat to social harmony is identified as a crucial imperative that requires attention. Noting that with race-based parties now entrenched in the body politic at legislative level, the need for mechanisms to consolidate the fragilized social cohesion is proposed by Ashraf Patel. He advances that Government and civil society partners should convene a Social Cohesion summit, perhaps annually and set up a council to address a myriad of race, gender and other exclusions that have led to the rise in ethnic-based populism. It is important to proactively develop measures to mitigate threats to social harmony.

These failures have the potential to dismantle the prospects of sustaining a pole of assured developmental thrust for the continent as a whole. South Africa’s leadership as the nuclei core around which continental progressivism revolves may also be imperiled. Yet, in all this is an assuring silver lining. The outcome of the elections adequately reflected the pulse of the nation. The statement of President Cyril Ramaphosa, even in the face of the historic setback for the ANC, was poignant. He asserted that through their votes the people had demonstrated, clearly and plainly, that our democracy is strong, it is robust and it endures. They have given effect to the clarion call that has resonated across the generations: that the people shall govern. Our people have spoken. President Ramaphosa was notable when he affirmed that: Whatever authority, whatever power, we are entrusted with must be exercised to advance the interests of the people. A final takeaway may be that while a few discordant notes around the integrity of the process may have been heard, South Africa still provided exemplary operations of democracy credibly at work. Even and critically so, in Africa. Secondly, timely interventions are necessary to equilibrate in given periodicity every social system. A pretension of the ostrich of not seeing, hearing nor speaking evil as state policy serves and saves no one.

* Professor Ademola Araoye is a retired official of the United Nations and former Director of Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFUND Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. He is author of Sources of Conflict in the Post- Colonial African State (AWP, 2012).


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