Nothing succeeds like success or fails like failure - Business Day, 3rd September 2012.

Sep 03, 2012
In his fortnightly column in Business Day, John Kane-Berman, the Chief Executive of the Institute, argues that, "the violence that erupted after the Soweto shootings in 1976 showed there were issues far bigger than imposing Afrikaans as a language of instruction. So also, the Marikana shootings on 16th August have brought a host of issues to the fore."

The judicial commission of enquiry will pronounce on some of these. The wider question is whether Marikana will turn out to be the "turning point" many commentators suggest.

One key issue is the moral authority of the African National Congress (ANC).  It has been on the wane for some time. Proposed legislation to restrict the Media played a role in this. It prompted unprecedented criticism in the South African press, upset some influential local intellectuals, and shocked some of the ANC's biggest fans abroad.

Secondly, there was the school textbook fiasco in Limpopo. This was further proof that the ANC in government is not only corrupt and incompetent, but also callous and indifferent towards the people who most depend on it. The callousness of President Thabo Mbeki's handling of HIV/AIDS seemed to many an aberration. Now callousness seems to be one of the hallmarks of the ANC - an organisation, thanks to Marikana, now seen by some as prone to shoot people in the way they thought only the National Party did.

A third key issue is effectiveness. When the ANC assumed power, many commentators argued that it should be backed as a source of stability and the only party that could keep the poor in line with promises of a "better life for all". With daily violent protest around the country, the question arises as to whether the ANC, with its brutal and inept police force, actually can keep the poor in line.

This raises the triple question of unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Rightly or wrongly, all of them have been highlighted as contributing factors to Marikana. But, despite repeated promises of millions of jobs, the ANC has no remedy for unemployment, which has worsened under its watch. And its only answer to poverty and inequality is the unsustainable one of redistribution.

Waning moral authority and effectiveness are accompanied by declining support. A 70% majority in the 2004 election dropped to 66% in 2009. Even more dramatic is that, whereas the ANC marshalled 54% of all possible votes in 1994, that proportion was down to 39% in 2009.

There is an old slogan "nothing succeeds like success". It has stood the ANC in good stead. But now failure is the handmaiden of corruption and callousness. This will embolden the ANC's growing number of critics, not least those within the ruling alliance. More and more people can therefore be expected to start asking fundamental questions about policy, something hitherto largely avoided.

Whatever it may wish, the ANC, like the National Party, will be forced to start retreating from unworkable and destructive ideology into pragmatism. This will be messy, slow, and contradictory. There will be advances and then retreats.

Anti-job policies will come under increasing scrutiny. You cannot go on making promises without eventually having to implement them. The previous government kept on declaring war on the pass laws and promising "new deals for urban blacks". It did this for about 10 years before it started to keep those promises. Sooner or later, the ANC will be forced to do something serious to back up its promises about jobs.

The once revered and powerful ANC is therefore in the position where its popular support, moral authority, and effectiveness, are all crumbling, while its overriding ideology cannot solve the country's major problem. Marikana adds a powerful twist to the downward spiral

In the short term, Marikana will be used as a pretext to advance national democratic revolution ideology - more interventionism, for example, to speed up the advent of the "developmental state", a mirage beyond the reach of the ANC. In the longer term, the blow to the ANC's prestige that Marikana represents will consign the national democratic revolution to the scrapheap beside apartheid.

- John Kane-Berman

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