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Book predicts ANC’s last decade of political dominance in SA

The ANC’s electoral fortunes have steadily declined in the last three national elections.
The governing ANC is losing its political hegemony. Image: EFE-EPA/Yeshiel Panchia

The declining political dominance of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has increasingly attracted scholarly attention since 2009. Political analyst Ralph Mathekga’s new book, The ANC’s Last Decade: how the decline of the party will transform South Africa, is a welcome addition.

The ANC’s electoral fortunes have steadily declined in the last three national elections; 2009 (65%), 2014 (62%) and 2019 (57.50%). But, since the 2016 local government elections saw the party lose some of its former strongholds, including four major metropolitan municipalities, the question has shifted from whether to when the party will lose power at the national level.

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This book is one of the few researched publications bold enough to offer specific timelines for the end of the ANC’s dominance. Mathekga puts this at 2024 or 2029.

Throughout the 17 chapters of the book, he expertly combines his journalistic and academic writing flair to educate the reader, especially the lay and uninformed, about the ANC. He offers insights into its grip on South African politics and development, and what the country would look like in a possible future without the party that led the struggle for freedom.

In essence the book argues, quite persuasively, that the ANC is on a downward slide from power. This could provide new opportunities for political reform and development in the country. But, it also comes with uncertainty as the state and society compete for dominance over the development agenda.

Fatal flaw in the ANC’s DNA

The book – from chapter one through to the end – is an interesting read of the good, bad and ugly of South African politics.

Chapter one provides an historical overview of the ANC, focusing on what the author calls “the fatal flaw in the giant’s DNA”. This is a culture of “democratic centralism”, which is a consequence of its history. Chapter 17 predicts and describes “a strange new world” of South Africa without a hegemonic political party.

The book engages with a number of the factors that explain dominant party decline globally, and contextualises them.

It’s a subject fellow political scientist Hakeem Onapajo and I explored, idenfitying a number of factors that result in the demise of dominant parties. These include opposition coordination, institutional or electoral reforms, high levels of corruption and gross abuse of office as well as factional conflict in the dominant party.

The book focuses on corruption and factionalism, which in my view, the ANC needs to kill before they kill the ANC.

Mathekga traces the ANC’s struggles with governance in a liberal democracy to its failure to transform from a liberation movement to a political party after 1994, when it assumed power.

He argues that the vagaries of the liberation struggle, which heightened when the ANC was banned for 30 years from 1960 to 1990, tended the party towards “democratic centralism”, that made it more autocratic and thus

ill-suited for the demands of a liberal democratic system of governance.

Relatedly, the centralisation of decision-making perpetuates an elitism that excludes the ordinary people the ANC purports to represent. This, despite pretentions to representing their will through the argument that decisions flowing from the branches reflects “the collective” will.

It is an elitism that is not transparent or accountable, at least at the individual responsibility level. This constitutes the bane of the ANC and thus South African politics.

Conflating party and state

The second important point the book makes is that the ANC conflates the party and state. This has the deleterious effect of reducing South Africa to the ANC and its shenanigans.

It is the basis of the third critical point of the book; putting a timeline to when the ANC will lose power, and how that will change South Africa.

In essence, the country’s fortunes are tied to what happens in the ANC. This is a reality all South Africans must contend with. It is why every South African should read this book.

Also, horizontally, the chapter 9 institutions – which protect the country’s democracy – and the judiciary are emerging as centres of power that successfully challenge executive and legislative excesses or silences in ways that foster a separation of power that works in the public interest.As pointed out in the last three chapters, South African politics is evolving from below, and shifting towards a more competitive political system. New critical actors (ordinary people and civil society) are working the system to force political accountability and meaningful change.

As Mathekga aptly contends, this also comes with associated risks for the country’s survival and development. For one, it will result in fragmentation and cleavages along ethnic, racial, and class lines which exacerbate the disruptive tension between extremist identity politics, and populist nationalism.

Also, the ANC’s responses to its waning dominance, which include a tendency to resort to “a quasi-dictatorship under the guise of a developmental state”, pose a threat to democratic consolidation. For example, Mathekga contends that the mooted establishment of district development councils aimed at consolidating and coordinating service delivery across municipalities, extends the ANC’s hold on municipalities the same way as it seeks to restructure state institutions to extend its hold on the country, and counteract its declining political power.

In my view, consensus-driven leadership such as the one favoured by President Cyril Ramaphosa is critical to dealing with the political and socio-economic fragmentations bedevilling South Africa. For good effect, this should be combined with what German political philosopher and historian Jan Werner Muller calls “constitutional patriotism”. This is a set of beliefs and dispositions that promote a liberal democracy.

Maintaining hegemony

Mathekga concludes with the point that the ANC “will remain a force to be reckoned with”. He also argues that it “will not go quietly into the night”.

This is not far-fetched considering the opportunities the ANC has to devise new strategies to maintain its hegemony. These include exploiting a fragmented political space and weak opposition.

Indeed, exactly when its reign will end rides on what the party does or does not do between now and its elective conference in 2022.

For example, if Ramaphosa reemerges as its president and carries on quietly separating the party from the state, including building consensual leadership, he could get broad-based support to win the 2024 elections. This will be boosted by his upping the gear in the fight against corruption.

Reforming the economy to improve access, appropriating and redistributing land without hurting the economy, and creating jobs for teeming unemployed young people will also work in the ANC’s favour.

Finally, if Ramaphosa makes significant inroads in internalising democracy and debate in the ANC, which can produce a successor that is acceptable both within the party and other centres of power in society, such a candidate would win the 2029 elections. That would take the ANC to a new decade of dominating South Africa’s political landscape.

There are a lot of ifs. But it shows the extent to which the fortunes of South Africa are tied to the ANC.The Conversation

Christopher Isike, Professor of African Politics and International Relations , University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

COMMENTS   19

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No need, this was already accurately predicted by RW Johnson in his book written over 7 years ago, ‘How long can SA survive?’.

That is nothing, it was predicted in a comment I made on this website 8 years ago.

This isn’t the Guinness book of records. Nobody claimed this was the first one.

Reading comprehension is clearly not taught in African public schools.

Ralph’s articles on News24 are usually good.

It is funny because what is next after the ANC is not better.

Agreed.

The people have been damaged beyond repair for the next couple of generations.

The anc has spent over a century teaching people ill discipline and how to “struggle”. Why will it ever stop?

Oh and by the way. The leader is no “freedom fighter” nor is he a successful business man. He is a unionist that managed to be first in the BEE line. Maybe in SA that’s an achievement. Hahahaaaa.

DA is a million times better. Their record speaks for itself compared to the self serving ANC. Even though I won’t personally vote for them this election for personal reasons but to say that the next option is not much better than the ANC is wrong.

Indeed so. A demeaning part of the narrative is the notion that only the ANC can govern this country.

Just not true, but it’s a belief held by many

Cute, you think the DA come after the ANC? Cute man!

They are too busy playing themselves on twitter. They embarrassed themselves in JHB and Pretoria.

I agree fully with your first sentence…but you wont vote for the DA for personal reasons??? That thinking is whats got us here in the first place. About time we start voting with our heads, and whats best for the country and leave our personal agendas at the door.

@Bloemfontein big time exec, yes the DA is the only other party to have any meaningful record of governing a big province for over 10 years. They are also the official opposition nationally. That tells me they are the ‘next’ option you refer to. Based on their records in Western Cape vs the ANC’s record nationally, it’s not even a contest but people are more focused on the media narrative versus the actual record of the DA. And yes, of course their have neen blunders by the DA but again, their service delivery records is what matters.

@MortyB, my political views are more conservative than the DA and due to party representation opportunities in our political system, I don’t actually want to see one big party calling the shots all the time. I would prefer to see a government made up of a few parties representing all South Africans.

The issue is that it won’t be the DA – it will be the EFF

The ANC has rather brilliantly laid the cause for the junking of SA’s economy on corruption and the cause for this the Zuptas.

Apart from obscuring the supporting role of the current leadership, it also masks that it is its ideological beliefs — command economy, wealth redistribution instead of creation, ethnic cleansing, “capable” state, etc etc which is just as much to blame.

Around the world, without exception, countries that follow that ideology end up having to lock their borders in order to imprison their denizens until they adopt a New Economic Policy (market reforms – Lenin) or a new economic model (market reforms – Cuba). And it is to countries with market economies that refugees flee to.

The DA is the leading party promoting the markets; other parties do so as well (IFP, VF+) but they lack the electoral clout and party machine necessary to take on the ANC.

Who’s got a whole decade to wait for this? And what comes after? Do what you can now, instead of waiting for a miracle that’s not going to happen. And by doing what you can now, I mean emigrate.

Concur… this implosion is happening rapidly…definitely not a decade….

Where do we go to?

Which place is the least resistance to get to?

Perhaps the decent part of the ANC takes back the party from the gang of thieves that ran the show for a decade.

There is a decent part of the ANC. There is no way that most of this country of ours are thugs.

If we can fix the ANC nominee process we have a chance. If not, the country is going to look like the very sad places I am seeing on a backwaters tour the past week.

Perhaps the decent part of the ANC takes back the party from the gang of thieves that ran the show for a decade.

There is a decent part of the ANC. There is no way that most of this country of ours are thugs.

If we can fix the ANC nominee process we have a chance. If not, the country is going to look like the very sad places I am seeing on a backwaters tour the past week.

If…big word, will never happen. South Africa with go down with the anc if nothing changes. Learn from history…look at Zim.

Dont believe everything you read, look at Zanu PF. ANC will copy their manual, when the piggybanks empty and theres nothing more to give they will say help yourselves to free land to buy votes, the ANC will rule forever.

End of comments.

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