Fixing the economy only hope the ANC has of staying in power for much longer

ANC supporters listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa at Msobomvu sports grounds in Butterworth. The topic of the economy must drive all ANC addresses, the writer says./ALAN EASON / DAILY DISPATCH
ANC supporters listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa at Msobomvu sports grounds in Butterworth. The topic of the economy must drive all ANC addresses, the writer says./ALAN EASON / DAILY DISPATCH

The ANC needs to make 2020 the year of the economy. 'The economy, stupid' should be a phrase recited by every cadre and leader.

It should be the overriding theme of every event and gathering.

It should be the first agenda item of every meeting of the party's structures.

At 108 years old, if the liberation movement does not turn its rhetoric and plans into concrete actions, it is certifying and speeding up its decline.

People who are sympathetic to the ANC, and who continue to support and vote for the party, often argue that 25 yearsis not enough time to substantially reverse centuries of colonialism and unequal development.

Frankly speaking, this is a nonsensical argument.

The ANC has spent the bulk of its century-long existence on a mission to convince South Africa and the world that its vision for the country was the best.

It has dubbed itself the leader of society. By so doing it has piled on itself major expectations.

The ANC promised to deliver a better society than during apartheid, a humane and caring one that protects the dignity and promotes the wellbeing of all people.

It is on this basis that the electorate has demonstrated an almost implicit trust in the liberation movement turned political party.

To say that 25 years in leadership is not enough time and to perpetually plead for the people's patience is an exhibition of the ANC's belief that it is entitled to rule indefinitely.

There is nothing magical or mythological in how the ANC has survived so long and continues to survive.

It has institutionalised itself through its deep associations across communities. It transformed from an organisation of elites in its early years to a mass movement in its latter history and formed informal associational networks.

The ANC relied on these networks as it fought to remain relevant through decades of banning, having to operate as an underground movement.

As the party's leaders sat at the negotiation table with the leaders of the National Party in the early 1990s they were buoyed by the ANC's widespread entrenchment.

When the ANC came to power in 1994 it leveraged the same informal associational networks to construct clientelistic linkages within society.

Like many liberation movement governments before it, the ANC-led government has distributed benefits in the form of patronage jobs and procurement contracts, as well as social policy that favours widening access to education and health care.

It has gone further, providing a range of other benefits like free housing and a social net made up of a myriad of social grants.

The ANC remains SA's governing party primarily because of people who have bought into its goodwill.

The reality, though, is that the ANC has eroded wealth through its policies, instead of creating it.

It has largely approached the state as the gift that keeps on giving and has not put in place the necessary conditions to ensure the sustained wealth creation and its equitable distribution.

As the economy continues to perform in a lackluster fashion and people's lived experiences continue to worsen, the ANC will not be able to leverage on clientelistic linkages for much longer.

The country's economic crisis threatens the ANC's continued ability to dish out goodies. This means the electorate is likely to continue to turn on the aged liberation movement.

Fixing the economy is the only hope that the ANC has of surviving much longer in power. I wouldn't hold my breath, though.

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