Youth must build ANC to inherit

There is something almost biblical about the accelerated demise of the ANC under President Jacob Zuma.

Biblical in the allegorical sense where we find ourselves witness to the chaotic conflicts of a once great house (the party), now ruled by an increasingly paranoid man who has been deceived by his own venality.

The country he governs feels the full effects the leader’s quest to maintain power at all cost as it is plunged into an intensifying political and economic crisis.

While all this goes on I have wondered, what it must be like to be a new generation leader in the ANC, one who would still like to have a movement to inherit?

The great disadvantage of the younger ANC leaders who are not yet at pension age, is that they have to carry on with an ANC that has been steadily losing electoral strength.

The generation of leaders from Nelson Mandela to Zuma had the benefit of an ANC that came into state power on the momentum of a 100-year-old forward moving struggle towards liberation.

This forward momentum in struggle had attracted on average the bravest, brightest and most committed human beings into the movement. If you joined the movement and you had none of those qualities, the context of struggle fashioned you into some kind of ethical being as you joined as community with a virtuous cause.

Today however, younger ANC leaders have to ascend the ranks of leadership in a movement whose ideological and political virtues have been sapped and transformed by the experience of governing.

Moreover, they come into an ANC that has institutionalised a model of fast-tracked wealth accumulation through the model of individualised black economic empowerment.

So for many younger leaders, the movement and its power within the government, are seen as a career path and a means to acquire some kind of wealth.

Perhaps this would all be fine if such vicious competitiveness was not necessary inside the movement in order to achieve position and access economic opportunity.

It must be a stressful and bleak time to be a younger leader in the movement – your entire financial security depends on your being able to play attacking political games and siding with one faction or the other.

Political service has become a zero-sum game. If you do not get in, somebody else will.

If today, you are 40 years old in the ANC, you will be 50 in 2027. Imagine, between now and then, the amount of brutal factional politics you will have to engage in at all levels – municipal to national – to secure yourself that much wanted seat and salary.

Once the current pensionariat leadership is gone – the Mkhizes, Mantashes and Zumas – the younger ANC members will face an ANC that is almost entirely based on who can mobilise which faction, rather than on experience and longevity in the movement.

You can already see within municipalities that the average governance lifespan of a faction that takes power is about five years.

In those five years, that faction often faces repeated attempts to remove its key leaders from positions, rendering municipalities unstable. And once those five years are up, new factions with greater energy and higher motivation to take power, try to edge out the old.

This does not bode well for governance and service delivery – an unstable ruling party will struggle over time to deliver, until systems break down completely.

Nor does it not bode well for the young politicians themselves.

These types of politics cannibalise the party – you can never be sure that you will have a political career, thus you are likely to focus on delivering patronage to factions rather than services to people.

It is in the interests of the younger ANC leaders to call their pensionariat leadership to order, to stabilise the party, get rid of capture and rebuild the movement so that it is a good shape for them to inherit in the near future.

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