ANC running out of ideas about how to govern the country

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the ANC's 2019 manifesto at the weekend, which the writer says is a repeat of promises the party has made before.
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the ANC's 2019 manifesto at the weekend, which the writer says is a repeat of promises the party has made before.
Image: THULI DLAMINI

The ANC has been in power for 25 years. Prolonged incumbency has made the party complacent and comfortable in the belief that it will continue to enjoy the privilege of governing.

Given that it has been in government since the dawn of democracy, the ANC is under greater pressure than any other party to keep coming up with something new with which to woo the electorate. This is because every five years, voters get to evaluate incumbents.

With every passing election, the 107-year-old liberation movement has fallen back on its record in government, replaying its achievements like a track on repeat.

Despite the change of guard at the party's electoral conferences, the reality is that its ideas remain the same, save for some tweaking here and there.

Rather than come up with a clear five-year plan with specific and realistic targets against which it can be evaluated, its 2019 election manifesto is long-winded, extending on promises that have been made before.

Ideally, it should have reflected on the extent to which it delivered on the commitments it made in its 2014 manifesto.

Instead, to paper over the disastrous preceding term, the manifesto dwells on the party's achievements going all the way back to the first administration.

The ANC is grappling with having to come up with novel solutions to governance and developmental challenges, which it has been central in creating - beyond the legacy of apartheid.

The party's manifestos demonstrate its strong belief that it is the anointed leader of society destined to deliver "a better life for all".

Despite heading into the most competitive elections since 1994, the party seems content to present its record over the past five years as milestones in its long-term vision for the country. The manifesto characterises the failures of the past five years merely as setbacks on this ongoing journey. It discounts that the promises made on the eradication of poverty, unemployment and inequality, transformation of the economy, investment in and promotion of small, medium and micro enterprises, and improving service delivery among others, are identical to promises made at previous elections.

The repetition is an admission that previous policies and attempts at achieving these goals have had limited success.

It is evident that the party's leadership is banking on the electorate as well as investors to overlook the past and go on blind faith that what the party could not achieve in previous administrations it will achieve in the next.

Although the ANC stands a good chance of retaining its electoral dominance, as recent polls show, the current political and socioeconomic context calls for a reimagining of the country's developmental path. Playing semantics with expired ideas even if that wins the party this year's general elections will not help the situation.

Rattling off statistics about the extension of electricity, water and sanitation, education and healthcare is pointless when the quality and consistency of those services are deteriorating.

Going on about how the size of the economy has tripled since the ANC took power is meaningless when the real economy is unable to absorb the millions of unemployed, contributing to deepening poverty and inequality.

The 2019 manifesto is a reiteration of the ANC's commitment to long-term planning. But the drawback is that the party increasingly hides behind this to make excuses for its governance bungles in the short-term.

And the conditions under which it has to pursue its aims have not gotten any better, but worse. With limited fiscal room and key state-owned enterprises crippled by corruption, it will take way more than political will to move the country forward.

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