As the euphoria about the ANC’s centenary continues, South Africans should perhaps pause to ponder a simple but important question: if the ANC was a human being, how would biographers tell the story of this person, the ANC?
Two perspectives could provide a useful narrative of what is essentially a tragedy of the rise and fall of the ANC. The first is a gerontological perspective, the other a philosophical one.
The first would confirm that age is not just a number; it has both physiological and psychological connotations. Thus, gerontologists would tell the story of how it (the ANC) evolved from its formative years until today.
The colourful years of youthful energy, enthusiasm and idealism would not escape the ink of the biographers. They would remind us of the long-enduring and productive years of its midlife.
However, they would find it difficult to conceal its current state of senility, vulnerability and hopelessness. If they are honest, they would also prepare our minds to readily accept news of this creature’s eminent death – which may not be too far into the future.
This tragic tale of the rise and fall of the ANC would go something like this:
On January 8, 1912, a child by the name of the South African Native National Congress was born in Mangaung, conceived by the black elite, the learned and the clergy.
News of her birth spread throughout the country like wildfire. She became a symbol of unity in a community divided along ethnic and tribal lines.
During these formative years she explored different approaches from strike action with the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union to sending delegations to seek audience from the Queen. These did not work.
She changed her name to the African National Congress when she was 11 years old.
As a teenager in the 1920s, she befriended and cohabited with other formations which, until recently, shared similar ideals of a free society.
In her mid to late thirties she was full of energy and blossoming with ideas to change her circumstances. This was a period of rediscovery and of redefining her identity. It was this youthful energy, militancy and idealism that led to the development of a programme of action that birthed the defiance campaign of the1950s.
Realising the stubbornness and brutality of apartheid, as a young woman full of idealism and self-confidence, she decided to take up arms for the liberation of blacks in general, and Africans in particular. This was long before the current rhetoric of taking arms to kill for a person became vogue. It was before the fatal tender wars that have led to the deaths of many people in some of the provinces she now leads. It was the freedom of expression, of association, of the press, and in the end, freedom for all, that she professed to be fighting for.
Middle age came with lots of sacrifices. She was banned in 1960 together with her associates and friends. She endured horrendous treatment from her oppressors. Middle age meant living in exile or in jail, operating under difficult circumstances, all for the good of humanity. She was underground for almost 30 years – yet she never allowed despondency to overcome her. She remained determined to succeed.
As victory dawned in the 1990s, she brought hope and a sense of belonging to all. Finally, her dreams of becoming a symbol of unity among her people were becoming a reality. As she was reunited with her people, they began to see themselves in her. She was the people and the people and their values were embodied in her.
And yes, she led.
Because of her selfless hard work and determination, senility appeared to be way beyond the horizon. This is the truth that many commentators lack the temerity to explain: the ANC is old; it is 100 years old and it is senile!
However, as psychiatrists would say, senility is the most feared stage of human development. Thus we should take a deeper look into its manifestations to explain the situation the ANC finds herself in.
Senility is defined as a weakness or mental infirmity associated with deterioration of the body and mind in the elderly. Respected professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto Dr D Berger describes its symptoms and defects as “intellectual impairment, progressive memory loss, poor judgment, impaired concentration and confusion”.
The ANC began to show the symptoms of senility when she was in her late 80s to early 90’s. With senility taking over, she became vulnerable to all sorts of opportunistic diseases.
While the cancer of corruption grew rapidly, eating away her moral fibre, the demon of factionalism was at large, tormenting her soul. Since then she has never quite been herself. She began to make poor and irrational judgments, eroding the gains, she herself had made. That was when she killed one of her own hardworking offspring, the Scorpions.
Suffering from progressive memory loss, she seems to have forgotten that media freedom is a cornerstone of the democracy she fought for. She is now fixated on muzzling journalists.
At a policy level, she appears even more confused. She speaks in different tongues to different audiences, be it on the death penalty, economic policy or social transformation.
Reckless nationalism is thriving as a result of this confusion.
She has lost her sense of selflessness. Infighting and appetite for pomposity is tearing her apart. The age of senility has brought miseries and internal decay. Thus the battle for the soul of the ANC is no more – it has become a battle for the Range Rover. This chase for pomposity will accelerate her demise.
Having considered a gerontological perspective, what then would be the philosophical explanation to this euphoria?
Hebert Marcuse, the father of the new left, would hasten and counsel us that the spectacle we are witnessing is euphoria in unhappiness. In his magnum opus, One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse, put it thus: “To be sure there is a pervasive unhappiness, and the happy consciousness is shaky enough – a thin surface over fear, frustration, and disgust. This unhappiness lends itself to political mobilisation; without room for conscious development, it may become the instinctual reservoir for a new fascist way of life and death.”
There is unhappiness about what is happening in the ANC as it grows senile and as it accelerates it implodes. The hysteria about the centenary is a temporary thing. It lies upon a thin surface, beneath which there is fear about what the ANC will be capable of henceforth. Will it become dictatorial in its tendencies?
The current veneer of happiness is not substantial enough to suppress the frustration of multitudes of young people who are unemployed. The large numbers that may flock to the stadiums should not be misconstrued to mean satisfaction with the quality and pace of service delivery.
This hype should not mislead the ANC into thinking that the public is not disgusted by the battle for the Range Rover, by the corruption and moral decay that characterises it today.
The unhappiness has already manifested into political mobilisation, with fascists like Julius Malema feeding off the reservoir of unhappiness.
As biographers narrate the story of an organisation that has become a shadow of her former self, South Africans must ponder yet another important question: if implosion is prolonged, what will the next 100 years under the ANC be like?