Thursday, 26 March 2015 07:26

Sooner The ANC Dies, The Better

TWO young, highly educated intellectuals — with masters’ degrees and a PhD in political science in spite of growing up in shacks — share a deep determination to see South Africa become a better country. But they do not believe it can happen under the ANC government.

Prince Mashele and Mzukisi Qobo have written what is arguably the hardest hitting book yet on the ANC and how it is “ruining our country”.

In 200 short, easy to read pages, they describe a South Africa where “political governance has collapsed” with some government ministries where “nobody knows what is happening”.

Heading into an election in South Africa’s 20th year of democracy, the authors argue that the ANC “has duped South Africa with its liberation myth” and contend that the country is now a “sham democracy.”

Strong words from strong-thinking, opinionated men who are fully aware that there could be “irrational elements in the ANC”, who will likely see this book as an attack on the party. Some have suggested to the authors that they should hire bodyguards.

“But we’re not driven by fear,” Mashele says. “We should be able to openly express ourselves.”

Violence feels a foreign and distant threat as we sip coffee in a Sandton restaurant, even as we are all aware of the fact that police have just killed a protester near Johannesburg and that people are dying as they protest and demand a basic service such as water.

Mashele and Qobo are affable and relaxed as they talk about why they wrote this book.

One of their drivers is to get the middle classes of all races engaged and off their apathetic backsides and out of their comfort zones of private medical care, private education and private security guards — an existence they liken to living in a parallel society, out of touch with everyday South Africa.

“It’s false comfort,” Qobo says. “If social stability disintegrates, it will affect the middle classes. We need to be involved, to drive new ideas about South Africa’s future.”

Pressure has to be brought to bear on business leaders “who have the power to act but are not using it optimally”.

His co-author Mashele, executive director of the Centre for Politics and Research in Pretoria, believes the educated middle classes are uniquely positioned to form viable organisations that can challenge the status quo.

The core of their book lies in the claim that the ANC was not ready to govern when it assumed power, “and that it continues to fiddle in the dark”.

They are both respected political commentators, writers, analysts who have worked for the ANC government in various positions in the past.

Says Qobo: “It (the ANC)] did not have a plan on how to govern South Africa. The possibility of liberation only dawned on it in 1988. It was complacent and had reached a comfort zone in exile.”

So the ANC did not have likely scenarios for a future South Africa before 1990, and it miscalculated, notably in its economic policy.

Not surprisingly it decided to follow a redistribution route, the Reconstruction and Development Plan, but to their shock, write the authors, the ANC inherited a bankrupt economy, which meant it could not deliver the laundry list of election promises it made. “The ANC was guilty not only of complacency but poor judgment.”

The stage was set not only for an unprepared government but a corrupt one “for the seeds of this were sown in exile”, Qobo says.

Qobo and Mashele emphasise they are “not into prediction or reading tea leaves. We’re involved in the science of analysing trends and presenting scenarios about what the future might look like. We’re not saying that certain things will happen.”

In this they’ve relied heavily on discussions with the Midrand Group, a group of young intellectuals, “in an atmosphere of brutal honesty, that extends to our own weaknesses”, Mashele says. “This has guided us through the writing process.”

The authors discuss four political options for South Africa. They believe that the ANC is a poisoned river slowly killing the best of its talent, is incapable of renewal and is a front organisation for Jacob Zuma’s acolytes and the business of thievery. “The sooner it dies the better for South Africa.”

The DA, they argue, has issues of race. “If it addresses them, it is possible for it to be the political ruling party,” the authors write.

Agang is really a one-woman show, with Mamphela Ramphele at its helm and almost no presence in communities, which will have to change if it is to have any impact as a political party.

They consider Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters a “very dangerous party, a band of anarchists who could tear the country apart with (their) talk of nationalisation.”

In a 20-year future scenario to 2034, “no single leader will be able to say he has participated in the liberation struggle”, which means that an entire generation of voters will no longer be tied to the ruling party through historical loyalties.

In the book, which at times is repetitive, with some flawed arguments, one of the heaviest blows is aimed at the education system. “The ANC has failed to use public education to rescue black people from poverty … only a few have managed to escape destitution.”

It is a point that seems particularly painful to both writers, whose life stories lend a heft to their central thesis in The Fall of the ANC.

Qobo, born in Langa and raised in a Khayelitsha shack fighting for space to survive with 12 siblings and cousins, has been educated at three universities including the UK’s Warwick where he obtained his PhD in political science. Today he lectures in political science at the University of Pretoria and lives in the capital city with his wife and two young daughters.

Mashele, married with three daughters, was raised in a Bushbuckridge shack and got his MA in political science from Rhodes University. He headed the crime, justice and politics programme at the Institute for Security Studies and was a speech-writer in the Presidency.

In spite of the heavy and serious issues The Fall of the ANC touches on, it is nonetheless, a readable book. It starts with Jan van Riebeeck and ends with an exhortation to every one to shed inertia and become leaders.

The book is a relevant addition to South Africa’s political discourse. Its timing and tone have imbued it with a particular urgency.

This article appeared in the Business Day Live, 28 January 2014