As the ANC celebrates its 107th anniversary, it must also be a moment of honest reflection on the challenges the movement and, as a consequence the country, faces.
The ANC and the country have been saddled with corruption — costing the SA gross domestic product at least R27-billion annually as well as the loss of 76,000 jobs, economic depression and a faltering on the higher moral-political questions, themselves the ideological and spiritual foundations that are at the core of our human aspiration as a people.
In reflection, the movement and country are in desperate need of solutions: For unemployment to be reduced, for the land question to be addressed, for our healthcare system to work. In short, that revolutionary goal of our progressive movement of a united, non-racial, non-sexist democratic society that can deliver a better life for all.
That 2019’s celebration happens a few months before what looks like a defining election makes both the celebrations and the consequent deliberations of extreme importance.
A brief synopsis of the political economy tells a rather challenging story: surging unemployment now at 27.2% as of the second quarter of 2018 from 26.7% in the previous period; a ballooning social welfare bill now catering for more than 17 million people — almost a third of the population, growing inequality and according to a 2018 World Bank report, the top 1% of South Africans own 70.9% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 60% only control 7% of the country’s assets.
These are but a minute fraction of challenges the ANC is facing. These problems are further compounded by the complex drive for unity that is placing President Cyril Ramaphosa and the party in an uncomfortable space.
President Ramaphosa has managed to dock the ship that was sinking. The economy is growing again, runaway corruption has been tamed, FDI in record billions is moving in South Africa’s direction and the delicate issue of land reform is being treated with much care, compared with other regional economies. All this is happening with the government being able to balance the budget while also sending children to school — free for those who can’t afford to pay fees.
The story is no longer what it was, things are changing. As of January 2017 the unemployment rate for college graduates was only 2.5%. That means that only one out of every 40 college graduates is unemployed. The picture is more dire to an electorate the ANC should speak to, which holds the key to its prospects, especially in the fragile environment which presently exists.
Statistics South Africa reported the unemployment rate among young people aged 15–34 at 38.2%, implying that more than one in three young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of 2018. Since then the country sank into a technical recession and is only now beginning to show a glimmer of hope. The big question the ANC might have to answer as President Ramaphosa delivers his January 8 Statement is what the near future holds for the despondent electorate.
When Ramaphosa addressed his party this time in 2018, the government was almost crippled with allegations ranging from a moribund NPA to privatisation of the state by a foreign family widely believed to be the status quo. The country was growing impatient, the same impatience that had cost the ANC three metros it controlled before the last local government elections — Nelson Mandela Metro, Tshwane and Johannesburg.
There has been renewed hope, with Shaun Abrahams exiting the prosecuting authority, Tom Moyane leaving the revenue service, Dudu Myeni leaving SAA and a few others who had become daily headlines for all the wrong reasons, draining the reputation of the ANC and by extension the government.
The ANC’s Thuma Mina campaign has once again inspired hope, with Ramaphosa being actively involved in addressing myriad socio-economic challenges this country is facing. There is no doubt that the ANC and by extension South Africa are in a far better position in 2019 than 18 months ago. The decorum of Parliament has been restored, making it even harder for the opposition to gain the limelight and the support it received during the previous administration.
While more work needs to be done, there is no doubt that the possibility, almost undeniable in 2017, of the ANC losing its parliamentary majority is now a thing of the past. The question now is by how much of a margin will the ANC victory be — for both optimists and pessimists.
To grow its majority to a much more comfortable number, the party needs to reboot its founding and core values of a non-racial, non-sexist democratic state. The ANC needs to once again become that broad church where the progressive middle class, the poorest of the poor and racial minorities are comfortable.
Ramaphosa has been hitting the right notes and increasingly some of these demographic groups previously alienated are starting to like, if not the ANC, the person at the Union Buildings, who is naturally expected to carry the party to victory.
There is so much a party can drain from its liberation icons such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Winnie Mandela. As the saying goes — people don’t eat history, they want to see their chair, their spot and their plate at the table too. Ramaphosa’s ANC is doing the right things — will it deliver the much-needed transformation in time for the elections? DM
Rhulani Thembi Siweya is the founder of Africa Unmasked, and an NEC member of the ANC Youth League.