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The ANC and the crisis of democracy in Africa

07 Aug 2016 at 10:33hrs | Views

Since its formation as an African party, not just a South African liberation movement in 1912, the African National Congress has had its slogan as "Amandla!" which is a determined cry for power. Two decades after the end of apartheid, threatened by the growth of its opponents, Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance, a member of the alliance of Liberal Democratic Parties in the world, the ANC now goes with the slogan "asinavalo," a claim that the movement is not afraid.

Politically speaking, the loud announcement that the liberation movement is not afraid actually indicates that there is something to be afraid of. In his increasingly famous speech that is consumed more for its poetry than its points, Thabo Mbeki spoke about this lingering fear that haunts not just the ANC but all liberation movements in the Global South and Africa in particular. Concealed among the many pulsating verses of the "I am an African" speech is a verse in which Thabo Mbeki expresses dread that the democratic project and the project of reconciliation in South Africa forces the liberation movement to co-exist with not only its enemies but also its future death. "At times" Thabo Mbeki cries "in fear, I have wondered whether" I should really "concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena and the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito."

Optimistic readings of the poetic speech have exhausted themselves in that Thabo Mbeki was, to his poetic credit, able to mobilise the imagery and symbolism of wildlife in describing nation building and reconciliation in the new South Africa. That leopards and lions, the hyena, the black mamba and the small but deadly mosquito represented the traditional enemies of liberation in Africa that the movement was now forced to share citizenship with is a political point totally missed by many an astute reader.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, in their origins from the ANC, are a product of the failure of the ANC to contain dissent within its ranks, personality and not policy clashes within the ANC created the EFF. The call for economic freedom in South Africa and Africa at large should not have resulted in the formation of a new political party; it is a call that could have been made powerfully from within the ANC as a liberation movement.

The Democratic Alliance, on the other hand is not a creature of the failure of the ANC, but it is a product of a worldwide determination by liberal movements to prevent liberation movements, failed or successful, from achieving economic and political power in the Global South. Through a series of splits and mergers all the way from the Union of South Africa of 1910, the DA traces its political DNA from the South African Party, the Afrikaner Bond, the Het Volk and the Progressive Party of the Cape Colony, well to Cecil John Rhodes' Progressive Party. Through these splits, mergers and alliances, the party has been changing names but not its origins and its spirit. Under its many guises, the DA has opposed apartheid, not for liberation but for liberalism.

DA cadres of different names make claims about the personal prices they paid in the struggle against apartheid. A few people actually know that the daughter of Jewish nationals that survived Nazism in German is the girl who, working for the Rand Daily Mail as a reporter, exposed the cover-up of Steve Biko' s death in 1977. The apartheid prison services claimed that Biko died after a long hunger strike but Helen Zille cracked the lie to unmask assassination. The fiery journalist who belonged to the Black Sashes anti-apartheid movement was forced to go to exile after death threats from the apartheid regime.

ANC and the DA: Tale of Two Parties
As a liberation movement, the ANC is responsible for answering questions even of the apartheid past and solve problems of the legacy of conquest, colonisation and racism, inequality and poverty. The DA is not bothered by the past, it claims that the past is dead and just promises a bright future. Nelson Mandela whose ANC the DA challenged in elections is now claimed by the party as its inspiration, to secure the legacy of Madiba is the DA's new rallying cry, never mind the irony.

In death, Nelson Mandela has been stolen from the ANC and usurped by his former jailers to be used as a political fetish. Members of the National Party, some right wingers and other radical Afrikaner individuals and groupings, from 1994 onwards, silently trooped to join the DA. Big miners and farmers, manufacturers and retailers of the white establishment make the few but strong foundation of the DA.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not compel economic beneficiaries of apartheid to pay back the money or give back to the victims in any way. Property, business and money that were drawn as benefits of apartheid are today used to fund the DA whose job is to erode and diminish the power of the liberation movement.

Former perpetrators and direct beneficiaries of apartheid, in the name of democracy are now human rights activists who populate the ranks of the DA and work over time to pelt and pester the ANC with court cases and electoral torment. In keeping the economy to themselves white perpetrators and beneficiaries of apartheid have kept poverty to blacks and produced millions of hungry people. Using their economic and financial muscle, through the DA, they buy the poor through handouts and token economic opportunities. White monopoly capital finances and sponsors the unpopularity of the liberation movement among poor blacks.

It is the powerless black government that is blamed for failing to create employment not the world wide white establishment that reduced blacks to employees and whites to employers, in the first place. From the days of apartheid, the white people who form the foundational base of the DA enjoy economic power inherited from decades of apartheid; they enjoy economic and social privilege. Through their ownership of the media they control black minds and attitudes by setting public political agendas and control the national imagination.

What was a liberation movement in the ANC is now a democracy movement whose energies are exhausted in extinguishing fires that the DA is starting for them in every part of South Africa. The Constitution of the Republic protects white privilege and power, in the name of democracy. Liberation credentials of the ANC have become nothing compared to the promise of money, jobs, service delivery, education and happiness that the DA is circulating far and wide.

The black mambas and mosquitoes that, Thabo Mbeki feared to share citizenship with are here; and they are biting to kill and to sicken the ANC. In the name of reconciliation and in the interests of democracy perpetrators and beneficiaries of apartheid were allowed to keep their economic benefits, social privilege and power. Presently, in shape of the DA, the lucky survivors are mobilising and deploying the full immensity of their resources to electorally finish off the ANC. While the ANC remains a political party, the DA has become part of an international system that has direct links to the march of white supremacy in the modern colonial world order.

The Crisis of Democracy
What is happening to the ANC, the erosion of power for the benefit of the opposition that represents the economic and political legacy of apartheid, is proof that democracy is not necessarily liberation. Democracy can co-exist with and even protect inequality, racism and hatred. Democracy, from a reading of the South African case study, can be used against liberation. This reality does not mean that African liberation movements should start fighting democracy, but they should remember that liberation in its economic, political, cultural, social and spiritual expression is what they exist for.

There is far much more to liberation than liberal democracy. What split the ANC and the EFF are petty struggles and personality contests that have kept African liberation movements and political parties, from within and from without, specialising in minor fights and issues that do not feed the masses or protect them from poverty and other forms of suffering, turning them into gullible buyers of whatever myths and fictions that are sold by merchants of liberalism in the Global South.

Where a liberation political party can use its privilege to buy votes and make paradisal promises, a liberation movement must go the extra mile and create jobs, fight poverty, prevent diseases and confront the lies of simplistic liberalism worldwide.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena is a Zimbabwean academic who is based in South Africa:

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