One of the great mysteries is what do ANC leaders really think about what they have done since 1994? On any honest reckoning it is obvious that the ANC has destroyed – is destroying – many of the institutions on which South Africa depended.
The list is long. Eskom hasn’t worked properly since 2007. The railways have been torn up in many places and trains don’t run as they used to. The trains that have run into Cape Town since the 1850s run no more: more than a century of colonial progress has been wiped out. SAA and SA Express have gone bust. So has the Land Bank (again). The Post Office is on its last legs. At least two thirds of all municipalities are failing. Potholes everywhere, half the sewage farms don’t work, pavements overgrown, water and electricity bills unpaid – and this applies to all the metropoles outside Cape Town as well as small towns. The education system is failing, the police force is utterly corrupt, crime rampant, the army is in a hopeless state. One could go on.
We all know these things. What they mean is that the ANC has not only not carried out its promises but that it is destroying the country and its future. Ironically, Ramaphosa dreams of bullet trains and smart cities – precisely because he knows that the ordinary trains have gone to hell and that the existing cities are failing.
What these things mean is that the ANC has failed completely. It promised “a better life for all” and “Jobs, jobs, jobs” but unemployment, 3.67 million when the ANC took over, is over 11 million now. It is far, far worse than it was under apartheid, which means poverty and inequality are worse too. We are now in our seventh successive year of falling per capita incomes, so year by year the populace is getting poorer.
I remember talking to Frene Ginwala in London in 1989. I said, You’re going to find you face many of the same problems that the Nats did. You’ll want higher commodity prices, just like they did. “Oh no we won’t”, she said. “The ANC had a committee look at this. We’re not going to depend on mines. We’re going hi-tech”. What happened to those dreams? Similarly I remember talking to Alec Erwin in April 1994 and he spoke boldly of the wonders a state-owned steel industry would achieve. What happened to all that? The SACP and ANC leadership thought that, perhaps after an early dip of adjustment, the country would surge ahead under ANC rule as all the potential of liberation was unleashed. In fact the opposite has occurred.
Our leaders know these twin facts of failure but they never, ever allude to them. To be sure, they do not wish to undermine the rationale for their own continued tenancy in power, but they must think about why these things have happened. And no matter how silent they remain, this will not prevent most South Africans from recognising what is going on. This is the greatest conundrum of South African political life.