How the mighty ANC got rejected by SA

People stand in long queues outside an IEC voting station in Brackenfell. South Africans headed to the polls for their seventh democratic general election since apartheid ended in 1994. Over 27 million South Africans aged 18 and above registered for the elections. Photographer: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

People stand in long queues outside an IEC voting station in Brackenfell. South Africans headed to the polls for their seventh democratic general election since apartheid ended in 1994. Over 27 million South Africans aged 18 and above registered for the elections. Photographer: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 2, 2024


By Penuell Maduna

The counting of votes is soon to be completed and the ANC sits at 40.25% nationally and 34.55% in Gauteng, having failed to secure over 50% in the Northern Cape and with KwaZulu-Natal lost to the MK Party. This is a call to action.

The people of South Africa have rejected the ANC; we garnered 40% of the 58.6% of registered voters who turned out to vote, while 42.4% chose to stay at home and not participate in the seventh democratic National and Provincial Elections.

This means the number of votes we received is not even a quarter of the total number of eligible voters. What needs to be done?

One of the reasons we have continuously been rejected by the people of South Africa is the elitist character that the leaders of the ANC have adopted, even those at grassroots levels.

The leadership is aloof to the living conditions of our people, evident in how we conduct ourselves, including during critical times of campaigning. We are seen driving luxury cars, dressing in expensive Italian clothes, living in mansions, sending our children to the most affluent schools and accessing the best medical care.

All this occurs while our people live in dire poverty, are unemployed, do not know where their next meal will come from, face substandard medical facilities, and cannot afford basics such as school shoes or toiletries.

This is also identified in paragraph 153 of the Strategy and Tactics of the ANC:

“Yet in this period, many negative tendencies have crept into the conduct of ANC members and leaders. Political incumbency has resulted in a situation in which public representatives of the motive forces are socially elevated from the mass of the people, thus creating ‘social distance’ between the leaders and their constituents. Incumbency also means access to powerful instruments of state and massive resources. This creates fertile ground for corruption and a vicious cycle of illicit mutual dependence between some private and public sector elites.”

The conduct of front-line public servants also plays a major role in the reasons the people of South Africa have lost trust in the government of the day. Every day, our people are treated as substandard human beings in police stations, clinics, hospitals, Home Affairs offices, municipal offices and every government institution.

These public servants, at this level of public service, serve as the face of the government, and the way they treat people with disdain and complete disregard reflects how those in power fail to hold those in public service accountable.

Not a single day passes without people being told that the “system is off-line” in public service institutions. For a government to effectively serve its people, it needs to take decisive action against incompetent employees who are paid by the very taxpayers they treat as subhuman.

We have seen young people sleeping in toilets and libraries in institutions of higher learning, others studying without textbooks, and the few who thrive beyond these challenges find themselves unable to graduate due to the failures of NSFAS and subsequently the Department of Higher Education and Training to hold its leadership accountable.

Yet during elections, we expect these same young people, who are subjected to this, to come out in their numbers and vote for the ANC.

The way the ANC conducts the election of its leaders is concerning. We fail to appreciate talent among ourselves and often drive the best among us outside the organisation, opting for mediocrity.

Those with money can buy themselves into power, while those with talent and understanding of the organisation are overlooked. The people we elect often lack understanding of governance and the movement itself, yet we continue to entrust them with the responsibility to lead the movement and ultimately the people of South Africa.

At conferences, outcomes are usually predetermined in favour of patronage. Leaders are elected based on whom they align with and pledge loyalty to, rather than capability. We have seen this in the ANC itself and even in its leagues.

This past year, we witnessed congresses of the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League where the leadership of the ANC dictated who must lead, forcing their favourites onto thousands of delegates representing their branches.

These imposed leaders do not appeal to society, hence, we find ourselves with an ANC NEC that cannot unite and lead society, an ANC Youth League that cannot champion the interests of young people while rallying them to the ANC banner, and an ANC Women’s League that cannot galvanise women behind the ANC banner.

Our leadership composition does not reflect what society needs, and if the ANC cannot lead society, then society will lead itself. The strategy and tactics document also acknowledges that gatekeeping, money politics and fraud characterise most ANC electoral processes.

Our deployees in government do not effectively serve our communities. Medical facilities are collapsing, schools are safety hazards, our road infrastructure is failing, unemployment rates are high and crime is rampant, yet millions of rands are returned to the Treasury, if not misused.

We have deployees more concerned with blue lights and enriching themselves than servicing their communities. Yet the ANC does nothing to hold them accountable. To regain the trust of our people, we need to be decisive against those who fail in their entrusted roles.

Corruption plays a major role in how our people view us, and addressing this challenge based on factional lines undermines our credibility.

Many of our leaders have been accused of corruption, but only those seen as aligning in a particular way are held accountable, while those who align with the dominant faction continue as if nothing is wrong.

Much needs to be done to rebuild the ANC and regain the trust of the masses. The second part of this article will address "What needs to be done?".

The journey may be long, and the effort required is much greater, but the struggle continues, and victory is certain.

NB: Note to revise sub: The by-line was originally Penuel Maduna, with one “l”. I assume the writer is in fact the former minister (from back in the 1990s) Penuell Maduna (with two “l’s”). So I have changed it. But this is at odds with the description below, where he is described as a “former ANCYL regional spokesperson”. Why not “former minister in both the Mandela and Mbeki cabinets”? Or is this a different Maduna?

* Penuell Maduna is an ANC branch deputy chairperson and a former ANCYL regional spokesperson. The views expressed here are his own.