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Sat Oct 25 18:06:38 SAST 2014

Let us celebrate the ANC we once knew

Sunday Times Editorial | 08 January, 2012 00:13
ANC bigwigs honour Chief Albert Luthuli
ANC bigwigs honour Chief Albert Luthuli
Image by: Reinhardt Hartzenberg

Sunday Times Editorial: THE ANC has survived as a political force for 100 years, in the face of one of the world's most oppressive states and, perhaps even more impressively, after 17 years as a post-liberation ruling party.

There are few political organisations in the world that have managed to transform themselves from liberation movements to governing parties and survived to tell the tale.

But the tale may be approaching its denouement.

For decades, the ANC managed its leadership succession battles with a simple formula, which can be described with the borrowed formulation: "Don't ask, don't tell."

As an underground movement facing infiltration, assassination and a "dirty tricks" operation of epic proportions, the ANC was able to persuade its members to accept a "line" emerging from its underground leadership.

Individual ambitions were submerged and the organisation was larger than the sum of its parts. In such an environment, leaders like Oliver Tambo - leaders whose every waking hour was dedicated to the movement at the expense of their personal lives - rose to the top.

Those who sought personal glory, wealth or to set one grouping against another were derided as "careerists", "factionalists" - terms which were almost as insulting as being described as "the enemy".

The ANC's problems began when this subterranean culture was exposed to the light of the democracy it had played no small part in ushering in.

The ANC agreed in constitutional negotiations to place the institutions of democracy above the frailties of ambitious politicians.

The Constitutional Court was given the role of supreme arbiter of disputes. The Human Rights Commission, the public protector and other "Chapter 9" institutions were given the power to order the government to correct actions that went against the democratic mandate.

Under the gaze of Nelson Mandela, these institutions thrived and the doors of parliament were flung open to public scrutiny. Transparency and accountability were the watchwords of the new order.

But Mandela was a waning force and as his term wound to a close, the party became a brooding presence on the fringes of the open society.

His successor, Thabo Mbeki, sunk into bitterness, reaching for the race card in an attempt to keep the jostling ambitions of those around him aligned behind a common vision.

It has, to use the old cliché, been downhill ever since.

These days leading lights of the ANC - such as Ngoako Ramatlodi - openly call the constitution an impediment to the party's political ambitions while others plot to close down freedoms enjoyed by the media.

Let us celebrate the ANC that freed us. But let us also mourn the rise of the ANC which seeks to roll back freedom.

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