The Big Read: Time to think of what will follow the ailing ANC

02 December 2014 - 02:02 By Justice Malala

Celebrations of South Africa's 20 years of freedom and democracy are petering out.

The parties have been held (most of the government-funded ones before the May 7 election, funnily enough) and the advertising budgets are exhausted.

We have reflected and opined on, and celebrated, what our 20 years as a normal, and perhaps not-so-normal, democracy means. It is now time to go back to work and begin the tough job of governing and growing this, our South Africa.

Before we do that, though, it is worth saying two things. The first is to acknowledge that we have, 20 years later, a dramatically transformed country that is a million times better than the sick, divided, bankrupt entity that was apartheid South Africa.

Only those who are blind can dispute this.

The second is to acknowledge that we do not have the country of our dreams. The united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic ideal is not yet fulfilled: the likes of Steve Hofmeyr remind us that racism and apartheid denialism flare up thick and sharp.

We are not fully democratic. Our parliament shows us this every day as rules and regulations are bent to the will of individuals. Those of us who took the non-sexist part of our dreams as seriously as the non-racist part know just how far away that dream and ideal are. Men are, sadly, still on top.

Yet, tomorrow is another country. We can still achieve these dreams. The question is: Can we achieve them without the ANC? This is an organisation that has been at the centre of our struggle and our post-apartheid life for a full 113 years. It has evolved our understanding of what progressive politics mean. It inspired and helped shape virtually all the liberation movements on the continent. This behemoth is at the very heart of South Africa.

We owe it a lot. We also demand much from it.

But it is a wounded tiger. President Jacob Zuma, speaking at the chaos-filled ANC Youth League conference in Soweto last week, spoke honestly about the organisation he now leads.

He said: "The ANC Youth League has been shaken and the mother body, the organisation, is in trouble. And if anything goes wrong with the ANC everything will go wrong in the country."

Unfortunately, as Zuma was about to continue speaking, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe passed him a note, bringing his soliloquy to an end.

Zuma then got into a huddle with Mantashe and Jessie Duarte, the ANC deputy secretary-general. When he returned to the podium he said there had been an "intervention" and went on to speak about other matters concerning the youth league.

What Zuma was saying is nothing new. Some of us have been saying it for years.

The point to reflect on now is whether the country has outgrown the ANC. Is Zuma wrong now when he says "if anything goes wrong with the ANC everything will go wrong in the country"?

In 1994 the idea of peaceful governance without the ANC was impossible to contemplate. Any attempt to build a South Africa without the ANC would have collapsed. The Bantustan system was just such an attempt, and it folded and died an ignominious death.

The ANC commanded 62.15% of the votes cast on May 7. It is worth noting that IEC research shows that there are about 31.4million eligible voters in South Africa. Of these, 25.3million registered to vote this year. Only 18million turned up to vote on May 7 and of these just over 11.4million voted for the ANC.

The ANC commands a mere third of the vote. Of course, the same can be said of the rest of the entire opposition, who command even less.

My point is that the ANC - with its glorious history and the values espoused by the likes of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela - is still an important ingredient in the achievement of the peaceful South Africa we all want.

However, the values of democracy and non-racialism (despite the racial attacks in Western Cape, for example) that it espouses have now taken root so deeply in the South African psyche that we can continue to run without the ANC.

A South Africa without the ANC as the leader of society is no longer such a distant dream.

In the next five to 10 years this reality will deepen. More South Africans will believe that an ANC in trouble does not necessarily have to mean a South Africa in trouble. The "liberation dividend" the ANC has rightly benefited from will diminish. In 10 or so years South Africans might look elsewhere for political leadership.

They might not choose the ANC.

And that will be okay. The ANC will have given us its greatest achievement: a democracy in which people can reject, or endorse, an incumbent party when they cast their vote.

That way, even in its death, it will still be part of us - but not as a political party. Only as a great idea: a collection of great values, the way its founders envisioned it.