Pretending has come to be a dominant feature in South Africa.
Citizens continue to vote against their own interest, as if pretending that those in power can actually deliver on their promises will make it come true.
In politics, all parties pretend – acting as though they have no crises, no factions, no demagogic and power-hungry individuals. They put on masks and present false fronts, pretending that the internal problems don’t exist.
If the ANC’s 108th birthday celebration this past weekend and its associated speeches – including President Cyril Ramaphosa’s delivery of the January 8 statement on Saturday (January 11) – are anything go by, it seems the party has become a symbol of pretence and pretension.
We know the reality is difficult to face, but in choosing to again wear a mask, the ruling party has become a victim of the unfortunate reality that playing make-believe can come to hide the truth even from the pretender itself.
Only the ANC could say, with a straight face, that it has declared 2020 to be the “year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation building”.
Only the ANC could fail to fear shame and embarrassment about claiming to prioritise job creation and economic growth when its actions, decisions and policies as the ruling party have been such that they achieve the opposite.
Pretending has become a coping mechanism, a tool for self-comfort, a way to save face … but mostly an excuse for the party to continue to lie to itself that things are going well.
Given the country’s past, and the current government’s constant failure, a reflection on what is happening inside the ANC – including its role in governing SA – could have been more useful.
It could have shown that it is a party capable of public self-reflection.
This would also have given it an opportunity to refine its eight priorities – including education, healthcare, land reform and growth – instead of repeating them. Ramaphosa’s speech did not mention anything that we didn’t already know to be his party’s priorities, nor did it introduce anything new.
Believing that repeating a story will somehow make it true does not make it true. Trying to hide one’s failures doesn’t turn them into successes.
It is unsurprising that nothing very hopeful came out of the president’s speech, and it seems nothing hopeful is going to happen while the ruling party continues to believe the lie that it tells itself and the public.
The collapse of key institutions and state-owned enterprises, the plundering of state coffers, and the erosion of good governance in the public sector has not only reversed any progress, it has plunged the economy into a crushing rut.
Pretending to be a thriving democracy that is able to accomplish political and social growth does not make it so.
The morning after
When the sugar rush from the birthday celebrations wears off and the exhaustion from partying sets in, it may surprise the ANC and its alliance partners to see that much of what the festivities were trying to mask is still there.
The priorities the party set out for the new era are simply a collection of past plans that were never implemented or failed to lift off.
It can be said that, as the ruling party, the ANC has been riding the wave of an organisation that is forward-looking and in control of its own and the country’s future.
The reality is that it is set in its ways, has been plunged into organisational chaos and, as a government, is less clear about what it is doing than it would have its citizens believe.
The Eskom crisis is good evidence of a president at the helm of a government that is incapable of running things, let alone demonstrating a leadership that is in control.
Moreover, the corroding effect of state capture and corrupt practices is so deeply rooted that it has undermined many of the former good practices in the public sector. And the collective response from the powers that be? Go through the motions, set up commissions and inquiries, act as if action is being taken against those liable, and hope that this will keep the public appeased. In other words, present a false image of a party in control and hope that people will believe this image.
I am not moved by statements from a party that pretends to care about reducing poverty and inequality when in reality, through its actions, it extends them.
For many young people who are the most impacted by structural problems, the ruling party’s birthday celebration means nothing. Many continue to be locked out of the economy and have no way of knowing how they are going to survive daily, let alone in the coming decade.
This past weekend’s birthday celebration was a splendid diversion used to cheer the masses, by keeping the pretence of ‘Batho Pele’ (government’s ‘People First’ initiative) alive. But soon the lies will not hold anymore.
There was a time when the public and even its own members listened closely when the ANC spoke. This is particularly true of the January 8 statement. But the party’s command for attention is diminishing.
And so too, unless things change, will its power over the people.