ANC has squandered its political capital
In his State of the Nation Address last week, President Jacob Zuma spoke like a president who was just getting into office, like he still has another 10 years to fulfill promises to the citizens of this country.
But the reality is he officially only has just over two years left before he completes his second term.
His punch statement during the speech was that political freedom without economic emancipation is not enough. He said political freedom is meaningless without the return of the wealth to the people.
This sounded too much like the ticket he used during his rise to the ANC's top seat in 2007 and the presidency in 2009. He promised a better life for the people because he was a man of the people, in touch with their struggles, unlike his "aloof" predecessor, he claimed. (The irony is that this year he used the army to ensure as much distance between himself and the public during his Sona).
After the ANC's Mangaung policy conference, the ANC and Zuma's new slogan was the second phase of the national democratic revolution that was to focus on giving black people economic freedom.
Last week he merely regurgitated this very same line and sermon from his archive of radical rhetoric. He dusted it off, polished it and then presented it to the nation as if it was a novel product of an inventive mind, to the cheers of the ANC benches and the silence of the empty DA and EFF benches.
This is the ANC's modus operandi. It is a tactic the ANC uses in every elective conference year and election campaign cycle. The party's leaders brush up on their very old and tired act and think that the public won't remember that they've seen the show before.
Many have criticised Zuma's speech for offering nothing new. But what is the value of him presenting new plans when the ANC-led government has only partly delivered on its long-stated plans?
The ANC has, by its own account, not achieved the promise of giving the majority in this country a stake in the economy and meaning to their citizenship. They remain on the periphery of economic life.
The education system has left many young people not only with insufficient skills to enter the world of work but with no skills to render them self-sufficient and able to grow businesses that can employ others.
After eight years in power, the Zuma administration cannot be judged by its sophistry in making promises and announcing major plans. And after 23 years as government, the ANC can only be evaluated by its record. The party has had more than 20 years to marshal the state and all its entities to direct the project of fundamental socioeconomic change. All it has achieved are cosmetic changes.
ANC apologists, including the chief among them, its president, who go on blaming apartheid, the external constraints of the global financial system, lack of a cooperative business sector and the Washington consensus for the party's failures, are denialists.
They fail to acknowledge to the people that the ANC has squandered its political capital.
The ANC thought that the trust and confidence that it won in 1994 and in the early years of the transition was an infinite resource that it would draw on "until Jesus comes", as Zuma once declared.
But it is certain from the scenes that have played out in the fifth parliament since Zuma took office again in 2014 that the ANC-led government has forfeited the trust, goodwill and influence it once possessed.
Indeed, the chaos in parliament is a microcosm of the chaos in broader society where divisions have deepened and where every section of society is waging its own battle against the state.
Although the ANC had, until last year's local government elections, maintained high levels of electoral support, these were not to be seen as approval ratings.
Poor communities have been taking to the streets more regularly in democratic South Africa since 2004. The middle class civil society has resorted to holding alternative state of the nation addresses this year to rival what in their view is the ANC's attempt to hide the truth and deny its failures.
The reactions of these different sectors of South African society are symptoms of the same problem but there is very little solidarity among them.
Although opposition parties like the DA and EFF may be gloating over the current circumstances and the failings of the ANC, they too have failed to galvanise society and mobilise them towards their visions and programmes.
The opposition shouldn't fool us into thinking the 2016 local government elections were a victory for the opposition. The people are disenchanted with the political system and no longer rely on political parties for assistance with the problems.
It is clearer today that the 2019 provincial and national government elections are open season.
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