A hegemon crumbles! – will the ANC survive after decades of parasitic policies? - Business Brief

Apr 06, 2023
The African National Congress (ANC) is imploding. The productive energies of private enterprise have long been suppressed under the party’s hegemonic rule. Policy uncertainty, and simply bad policy, has kept South Africa back from fulfilling its full economic potential.
A hegemon crumbles! – will the ANC survive after decades of parasitic policies? - Business Brief

Martin van Staden

The African National Congress (ANC) is imploding. The productive energies of private enterprise have long been suppressed under the party’s hegemonic rule. Policy uncertainty, and simply bad policy, has kept South Africa back from fulfilling its full economic potential.

Most analysts seem to agree that for the first time in South Africa’s democratic history, the ANC will lose the support of the majority of voters in the 2024 general election. Additionally, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent Cabinet reshuffle amounted to little real change, while his launch of the ANC’s electoral campaign in KwaZulu-Natal on 12 March reconfirmed the party is out of ideas – whether good or bad. Instead, the party is relying on the tried-and-tested tactic of appealing to past glories.

There is not much substance left in the ANC.

This collapse was not brought about by the opposition gaining popularity at the ANC’s expense. Instead, the ANC’s collapse seems to be largely self-inflicted. The collapse a result of:

·         decades of corruption;

·         incompetence; and

·         the pursuit of policies built on a destructive ideology.

These have turned many old ANC supporters either against the party or despondently indifferent. Many remaining in the party support it less than enthusiastically, justifying it to themselves and their peers by appeals to the ‘renewal’ of the party under ‘new’ leadership.

This ‘new’ leadership that will lead the ‘renewal’ of the party comprises people who have been involved in the upper echelons of ANC structures at the provincial or national levels for decades. They represent the same ideology as their predecessors, and in many cases preside over the same corruption. They have no apparent designs to bring competence into the civil service.

National Democratic Revolution

The National Democratic Revolution (NDR), a Marxist-Leninist-cum-Africanist ideology, defines much of what the ANC does – even its ostensibly ‘pragmatic’ policies, which are often utilised as stepping-stones to the party’s ultimate ends. Indeed, this is a central pillar of the NDR:

·         First there is to be a ‘political’ transition that involves much appeasement, especially to the business community; and

·         Only later, when the ‘balance of forces’ in society aligns with the NDR or is neutralised, will the second-stage ‘economic’ transition to socialism – and the elimination of private enterprise – be fully realised.

The National Party (NP) was as ideologically committed as the ANC is, if not more so. But there are two things, in this context, that distinguish the old NP and the ANC of today. The first is that the NP understood that it required competence to see its Apartheid ideology through to implementation. For the most part, it identified cadres who could do what was expected of them and held them to that standard.

The second distinguishing factor is that the NP allowed more room for pragmatism. While it was theoretically committed to Afrikaner nationalism to the end, it adapted this creed to the changing circumstances that the party found itself in. That is why Apartheid started out brimming with confidence but was continuously ‘watered down’ to the point where it fizzled out entirely in the face of its economic contradictions and the moral opprobrium heaped upon it.

The ANC shares both characteristics to some extent. It has appointed some highly competent people to the Treasury, the South African Revenue Services (SARS), the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), and the Auditor-General’s Office, to name some examples. Similarly, the ANC has displayed moments of pragmatism, as when President Ramaphosa recently liberalised some aspects of electricity generation and provision.

But the ANC does not have nearly enough of either to save it from its implosion, nor is it acting quickly enough to make either more prominent. The underlying commitment to the NDR, and the seeming desire to keep patronage flowing, militates against this, and the ANC has been paying the price at the polls for decades.

Ideology and pragmatism

A political party can be too pragmatic. Ideology versus pragmatism is an important consideration with no obvious balance.

Being overly pragmatic reduces any party to an unpegged big tent that stands for nothing in particular, and this is a problem that many South African political parties have faced:

·         What value proposition differentiates COPE, for example, from the United Democratic Movement?

·         By the end of its life, the old NP had watered down its Afrikaner nationalism so much that, outside of its history, the party was indistinguishable from any other centre-right Christian conservative organisation.

·         The Democratic Alliance was regarded as an ‘ANC-lite’ by some commentators for many years, until that party (re)adopted distinguishing classical liberal and federalist values in 2020.

On the other hand, some ideologies are not made for the reality we live in. If they are to be ideologies of government at all, they require significant pragmatisation. The socialistic NDR is one of those ideologies that bears little relation to reality.

The only way socialism has been translated into a relatively benign reality across the world has been via ‘social democracy’ – effectively, using the forces of capitalism to pursue ostensibly socialist goals. The ANC has been forced to embrace social democracy but seems to do so begrudgingly as many of its leaders long for that ‘second stage’ of the NDR, pursuing policies like the Expropriation Bill, the National Health Insurance, the Basic Income Grant, and the continued state ownership of entities like Eskom.

Parasitic socialism

But the NDR is pursued not only because it appeals to the intimately held values of cadres or to the ANC’s history as a client of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It also goes a long way to more fully enabling the kind of corruption many in the party thrive on.

Socialism is self-consciously parasitic. As the ‘transitional’ phase between capitalism and communism, it allows socialists to convince themselves that for now, while they ‘work toward’ the stateless, communistic nirvana, the government must ‘control’ the economy through intense regulatory and expropriatory means, amassing and redistributing wealth on behalf of the proletariat. This means standing antagonistically vis-à-vis private enterprise and initiative.

The government, in other words, relies on productive private enterprise to generate resources for it (the government) to use toward its own political ends. This parasitism necessarily grants politicians and officials access to immense wealth. Many in the ANC have been able to benefit from South Africa’s productive sector while at the same time pursuing policies aimed at undermining it.

SARS collected R1.56 trillion from the taxpayer in 2021/22. That is about the amount South Africa lost to corruption between 2014 and 2019, according to the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants’ Unite 4 Mzansi initiative. The government did not come by this money by coincidence – this is wealth it extracted from productive South Africans.

It is also no coincidence that it is government policy for agricultural property that is purchased or seized for land reform purposes to remain under government ownership, to be leased out to recipients under the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy. The direct control government exercises over farms, a classical manifestation of socialism, also empowers the same government to identify politically favoured individuals as beneficiaries.

It is no surprise then that investigative reporters with ZimOnline found in November 2010 that the patron saint of socialism in southern Africa, Robert Mugabe, had dished out 5 million hectares of seized agricultural land to military and political affiliates in Zimbabwe. It is partly on the Mugabe model of socialist revolution that many in the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters base their political programmes.

When you think about the NDR’s socio-economically destructive nature being combined with a deep desire to self-enrich, South Africa’s precarious situation is not surprising.

While privatisation of electricity generation has always been a relatively obvious answer to Eskom’s woes, this will not easily happen because the ANC’s ideology and the self-interest of a wide web of interest groups that have become dependent on tendering with Eskom – that would not happen were it subject to market forces – would be threatened. The same can be said for other government ventures and policies that any rational person would agree should have been binned or changed long ago.

Hope for reform

Some of the crises South African society has been plunged into will be difficult to end, but by no means impossible. Much of Eastern Europe was governed under oppressive socialist precepts for the better part of the previous century, and with few exceptions each of those states have emerged successfully from socialism in less than a generation. But it will take work to extricate ourselves.

The run-up to 2024 is the first time since 1994 that feelings of real change are in the air. At every previous election, the continued hegemony of the ANC was assumed and assured. That assumption has fallen away – replaced by new uncertainties, to be sure, but also by palpable excitement for reform. If such reform results, especially if much-needed market-friendly reforms are implemented, the business community should stand ready to make the most of the opportunity.

Even the ANC itself, if it makes it to the opposition benches, will be afforded an opportunity for internal reform: real renewal. This would only be possible because such an electoral defeat is the only thing that could divorce the party from the patronage network that helps maintain the destructive pursuit of the NDR.

Martin van Staden is Deputy Head of Policy Research at the IRR


A hegemon crumbles! – will the ANC survive after decades of parasitic policies? - Business Brief

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