The ANC: Jekyll and Hyde

William Saunderson-Meyer on the dual nature of the ruling party, and what it means for the Peter Bruce thesis


Young Thug wing of the ANC doing what comes naturally

Shock! Horror! The Young Thug wing of the African National Congress forcibly prevented a suburban launch of a book that they did not approve of.

The Sandton launch for Gangster State, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s expose of ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule's dirty dealings during his tenure as Free State Premier, had to be abandoned because of a book-ripping, customer-jostling crowd of ANC Youth League supporters. 

The police watched passively, either inept or complicit. They are so poorly trained, it is not always easy to tell the difference. After ruminating for a while like a herd of cattle, they advised the organisers to cancel the launch.

The only surprise about it all, is that anyone should be surprised.  

South Africa is a country where xenophobic attacks go unpunished, where a veiled call for genocide gets the blessing of the Human Rights Commission. This is a country where political opponents are defamed, abused and threatened with violence and death, and the Independent Election Commission sits with beatifically folded hands. 

Maybe the only notable aspect of the incident is that it just provides more evidence of the obvious: the ANC Youth League and the Economic Freedom Fighters share the same DNA. It is, after all, the EFF leader, Julius Malema, who, when former president Jacob Zuma was under media fire like Ace is now, threatened to “kill for Zuma”.

It is admittedly admirable that the old-guard ANC stalwarts have expressed their disapproval of the ANCYL’s undemocratic behaviour. As a result, in response to instructions from above, the mass Free State book burning that had been announced has been cancelled or, at least — much like Julius’s genocide — postponed, for now.

As the ANC’s Free State spokesperson Sello Pietersen earnestly explained: “We are disciplined members of the ANC, when the ANC spoke we listened.” In other words, the Constitution’s provisions on freedom of expression mean nothing, but when Luthuli House speaks, they’ll fall grumbling into line, especially on the eve of a general election.

While the book burning is off, it's not yet clear about the burning at the stake. Whether the ANCYL threats to tear Myburgh from limb to limb if he dares set foot in the Free State are similarly rescinded, has not been specified. He’ll presumably have to take his chances and see. 

This schizophrenia affecting the governing alliance — the ANC's right hand slapping its own left wrist in feigned rebuke — is a well-worn but effective tactic. Eventually the dissonance between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will become so great that the party will experience a permanent rupture, but for now it works wonderfully with a naive electorate.

It makes it possible for two ideologically incompatible but evenly matched parties, who are engaged in a perpetual struggle for mastery of the organisation, to co-exist under a single roof. It will continue until eventually one bests the other, or the electorate tires of the arm-wrestling, at which point the ANC may split.

This is what makes absurd the suggestion that concerned South Africans who have previously voted for opposition parties should “support” President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction against former president Jacob Zuma’s faction on May 8. 

In dogged pursuit of this goal, former editor Peter Bruce this week in Business Day renewed his plea for the “suburbs”, despite the inevitable slow death of the ANC, to vote for Ramaphosa to give succour to the “brave people at the heart of government who have consistently showed courage and rectitude in the face of unimaginable pressure and disgraceful thuggery in the governing party”.

There is an illogical circularity to this argument. Bruce is essentially saying that the best way of dealing with an abusive relationship with Hyde is to hope to nurture to the better nature of Jekyll. It seems to me more rational, and quicker, would be simply to turn one’s back on the relationship.

On the ballot there is only one ANC emblem and under it shelters not only Bruce’s “brave people” but literally scores of candidates who have been implicated in criminality, as well as an array of factions, ranging from toxic revolutionaries to old-style liberals. 

The choice, then, is between voting for none or for all. Every vote cast for the ANC is shared equally between those factions, as well as with the two formal members of the alliance, the SA Communist Party and the Congress of SA Trade unions. 

This, of course, is the reason why neither the SACP nor Cosatu has never, despite periodic spouts of hot air, dared to put up their own candidates under their own banners. It is much safer to ride on the ANC coat-tails, for as long as voters will tolerate it.

So, one can delude oneself as much as one wishes, but a “Ramaphosa” vote is equally a “Zuma” vote. The only way to influence the behaviour of any political party is either to join as a member and seek to change it internally, or to indicate your disapproval of its policies and actions by voting against it, or — only tangentially effective — not voting at all.

It is only when the governing ANC alliance is punished at the polls that ANC behaviour will change. Only then will riotous ANCYL office bearers immediately be suspended, face disciplinary hearings and be ejected, if found guilty. 

It is only when the ANC comprehends that the electorate is not entirely composed of gullible fools, that corrupt and disgraced candidates will no longer appear on ANC electoral lists. And that the increasingly politically partisan behaviour of the SA Police Service will no longer be tolerated.

Bruce ends his plea for an ANC vote with the explanation that he makes the call because he chooses “to live in hope, not despair”. 

He is wrong. Despair is what causes people to endure a burden. Hope is what causes them to cast it off.

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