South Africa is entering an interregnum, a time of moving away from the certainties of the ANC hegemony says Justice Malala.
Malala has joined hundreds of local and international journalists at Gallagher Estate, in Midrand, Johannesburg, to cover the ANC‘s most important meeting between its five-yearly elective conferences, that of its national general council.
The party had embarked on some frank assessments of its parlous state and compiled a long list of resolutions.
Except for the assessments of the state of the party. Nothing in the council’s resolutions was innovative, new or startling.
It was a long laundry list of wishes, many not rooted in the reality of an economy that is grinding to a halt and in a global landscape that is beyond the politics of the 1970s.
This year has been pivotal in politics. It marked a departure from the comfortable time we have enjoyed since 1994. The ANC is losing electoral hegemony, members and the battle of ideas. The party of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, which fired up the imaginations of Africans throughout the continent and led to the formation of liberation movements from Accra to Harare, has lost the ability to define what our people want and need. It can‘t come up with solutions to these problems and how to implement them.
At the beginning of this year students at the University of Cape Town called for the removal of the Rhodes statue and for transformation at the university to be stepped up. They pointed at the shameful lack of black teaching staff and professors, at the symbols that, they felt, continued to hold sway at the university when they had become obsolete but remained hurtful.
The ANC was nowhere in this debate. It took weeks for the party to show up. Its campus off-shoot, the SA Students Congress, was nowhere to be seen and had nothing to contribute to the debates that spread to other campuses across the land.
Then there were the xenophobic attacks that spread countrywide from KwaZulu-Natal, started by some idiotic remarks by the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini.
The ANC found itself unable to respond because of its molly-coddling of the king and other traditional leaders over the past 10 years. President Jacob Zuma was outshone by his home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, who at least had the courage to lay the blame at the king‘s door before being told to keep quiet.
And so the year went. And now we are here, after a week and a half that has shaken the country … and university students shaking their fists at the state for its silence as university fees increased.
On the day the protests started, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande was debating transformation in KwaZulu-Natal. But the debate had moved on.
Nzimande and his colleagues in the ANC-led alliance (including the youth and student formations, the ANC Youth League and SA Students Congress) had absolutely no clue what was going on. Their attempts at insinuating themselves into the protests were clumsy and laughable — issuing press releases saying that the ANC Youth League had led the protests was embarrassing to say the least.
All these incidents point to the malaise one felt at the ANC national general council meeting: the ANC is slowly running out of ideas and steam.
This is not an occasion for chortling and glee. The ANC has been a crucial part of the building of the new South Africa, and history must rightly reflect that its contribution and its leadership have been majestic.
But that era is coming to a close. The signs are all around us.
The truth is that South Africa is entering an interregnum, a time of moving away from the certainties of the ANC hegemony of the past 21 years and towards an era in which power is no longer concentrated at Luthuli House, the ANC national head office, but is dispersed through society.
It will not be an easy time. Policy will not be as predictable as it once was, for example.
We knew that policy unpredictability emanated from the ANC‘s alliance with Cosatu and the SACP, now we might have to contend with an ANC that is trying to see off a militant Left movement and a restive, populist grassroots EFF.
“A change is gonna come,” as Sam Cooke once sang. It‘s here.
Read also : Another ANC Leader resighns as party decline continues.