Oliver Tambo, the longest-serving president of the ANC, famously opined that “nothing can destroy the ANC except for the ANC itself”.
While meant as advice and warning, these words have a prophetic ring.
Over the years, disgruntlement with the ANC has led to the creation of many splinter groups. It could be that the party of Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela has outlived its purpose. The broad church, far from being united, is imploding under the weight of deep internal ideological contradictions.
Triumphalism, expediency and crass opportunism have displaced the promised unity and renewal. In the absence of a clear vision, party leaders have resorted to desperate measures.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the party’s attempt to use Jacob Zuma as a scapegoat for its failures.
The party has become so desperate that it characterised the past nine years of the Zuma era as “wasted”, signalling a dark period. But the politics of desperation are dangerous. They easily lead to self-mutilation.
First, the ANC leaders risk exposing themselves to charges of hypocrisy. After all, these same members served under the Zuma administration, either as members of the top six, members of the national working committee, members of the powerful national executive committee or as Cabinet ministers. Their expedient attempt to seek a scapegoat is self-serving. It is an attempt to exonerate themselves from assuming collective culpability.
Some leading members of the ANC joined forces with many in stating that Zuma was the main reason the country is hobbled from being prosperous. This is hardly objective or accurate.
Zuma himself admits mistakes were made, but under his administration the nation achieved many socio-economic milestones, particularly for the poorest and most disadvantaged.
Early indications are that the removal of Zuma will bring little relief to the majority of South Africa’s people, who are poor and landless, and will not better South Africa’s prospects.
The New Dawn, puffed up as a “spring of hope”, has shown little promise of taking South Africa out of a “winter of despair”.
Second, these members risk exposing the ANC to charges of perjury for deliberately misleading Parliament.
The notion of nine wasted years stands in glaring contrast to the many statements they made in Parliament.
In his 2016 Budget Vote, Minister Blade Nzimande noted that under the Zuma administration university access expanded by the establishment of new institutions.
“Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga R1.6billion was invested and 17 new buildings built, enabling this expansion. New infrastructure for further expansion in 2017 valued at R1.26bn is under construction On behalf of all of the beneficiaries, allow me to express our profound gratitude to the president.”
In 2017, Minister Ebrahim Patel noted that “investment in infrastructure has grown in the past year, with R300bn in investment in the National Infrastructure Plan by the public and private sector. This is more than R1bn per working day spent to improve the foundations of the economy and service-delivery to people.”
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, pointed out that the ocean economy unlocked investments amounting to around R17bn and led to 4500 jobs being created.
Unfortunately these and many achievements remain largely under-reported if reported at all. Painting failure is the default position of most of the media. If the narrative of nine wasted years is to hold, then Parliament must accept that it was lied to.
Triumphalism and factionalism are at the heart of this inconsistency. This does nothing but arm the opposition with effective political weaponry.
Third, such pronouncements betray their lack of appreciation of constitutional stipulations. Section 92 (3) is unequivocal that “members of Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually”.
Put differently, those who now want to conveniently distance themselves from whatever mess was created during their term are asking the nation to forgive them as if they were bewitched by the person of Jacob Zuma, and rendered helpless without any power of influence.
Indeed, the refrain that is easily accommodated is that we didn’t know.
Surely this will not wash for discerning voters? The concept of collective accountability is invoked when it is convenient to do so.
Responding to a DA question on whether he supported the government Nuclear Programme, Ramaphosa said he attended the meeting that took a decision to proceed further with a nuclear build programme, but was quick to point out “all members of Cabinet, regardless of their personal views, are bound by decisions taken by Cabinet and are collectively responsible for implementing those decisions”.
Even the most propagandist pens cannot ink out that Ramaphosa served as deputy president over many of the “nine wasted years”.
There may still be time for the ANC to redeem itself. But such redemption must start with honesty and acceptance of collective culpability.