The People Should be the ‘Centre of Power’

by Sep 21, 2010All Articles

By Aubrey Matshiqi

20 September 2010

I am at Durban’s North Beach pier, a few minutes away from where the national general council of the African National Congress (ANC) will take place from today. The waves, as they always seem to do at this time of the morning, are toyi- toying as if expecting the council to adopt resolutions that will help bridge the gap between the procedural and substantive aspects of our democracy.

I came to this spot in the hope of seeing members of the ANC and the tripartite alliance in swimming trunks and bikinis.

For some reason, imagining leaders of the alliance in swimming costumes is taking my mind to a discussion document of the trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), I was reading the other day. In the document Cosatu says: “At the level of governance, the call at Polokwane was for the ANC, together with the alliance, to reassert leadership of all processes of governance. But where does the power lie today? Luthuli House? Presidency? Treasury? The executive? Parliament? Alliance? The reality again is that the ANC is not on top of processes in government, and that policy decisions continue to be made in an untransparent way, without the meaningful participation of the ANC, or alliance.”

Shame, poor alliance.

In my obsession with power politics in the ANC and the alliance, I have been arguing that there are multiple centres of power that are in competition and conflict with one another.

But this is an argument I have posited to the exclusion of what should be the most important centre of power — the citizens of this country, also known as the key motive force of the national democratic revolution, “the people”.

Be honest, when was the last time you felt like a key motive force of the revolution?

My point exactly!

While I don’t dispute the fact that there are many comrades who are committed to capturing the ANC and the state with the aim of effecting a better life for all South Africans, it seems to me that the counter- tendency is still on the ascendance.

In other words, those who want to capture the ANC and the state in pursuit of factional and other parochial interests are having the effect of a majority on the relationship between struggle principles and goals, and the extent to which the ANC is succeeding in making them part of the lived reality of citizens.

It is for this reason that I suspect the waves are misguided in welcoming council delegates with such joy. For many in the ANC and the alliance, participating in policy debates is not dissimilar to prostitution. The prostitution of policy positions with the aim of achieving objectives that are either narrow or ignoble is one of the challenges facing the ruling party today. I will not be surprised if the council turns out to be nothing more than a site where the policy debate is a proxy for political and leadership battles for power in the ANC.

This view notwithstanding, I will never give up the hope that in either the ANC or a different ruling party there will emerge, sometime in the future, a tendency that will counter the anti-intellectual and nefarious in our political culture.

For now, I remain content with imagining the political arrangement between the ANC, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party as a misalliance of interests that, at the moment, does not have the alleviation of our people’s conditions of underdevelopment as a core priority.

As we approach the centenary of the ANC in 2012, there needs to be an intensification of the struggle to reconnect members of the ANC and the alliance with the idea for which so many died and sacrificed.

Many of those who made these sacrifices will be at the council this week. I hope that during the deliberations they will remember why they sacrificed so much for our people.

I hope that the council delegates will remember that policy debates should not be about saving or eating President Jacob Zuma ’s bacon. The ANC must deliver to the people.

Matshiqi is senior research associate at the Centre for Policy Studies and Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies.


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