There is no question that the ANC, Nelson Mandela’s party, will rule South Africa for many years to come. Like most independence parties on the African continent, the ANC has immense political capital because it claims almost all credit, and rightfully so, for the success of the liberation struggle against apartheid and its evils.
But does South Africa still need the movement-style organization of the ANC? Movement parties are populist, unpredictable and are not suitable for a stable country on the path to economic development. Post-apartheid South Africa needs not a movement party but a party driven by issue oriented democratic ideals. If the country is to realize economic growth and social stability the ANC has to put its house in order and embrace institutionalized internal democracy and transparency.
South Africans should be watchful of the populist politics that is driving the upcoming ANC elections – which will effectively choose their next president. Jacob Zuma, a man who has appeared in court on corruption and sexual offense charges and who has no formal education is poised to clinch the party chairmanship from the embattled Thabo Mbeki. Zuma’s only credentials are that he feels the mood of the crowd and panders to their dissatisfaction with Mbeki’s rather lackluster performance on issues of wealth redistribution and tackling of the aids disaster.
To some extent this is all Mbeki’s fault. His presidency has not met the needs of the largely poor party masses and their vote for Zuma will be nothing but a protest vote against him (Mbeki). Zuma does not represent change. He has no concrete plans for wealth redistribution to the black majority or to tackle social evils like high crime and the country’s astonishing HIV infection rate. He is a man who is on record to have said that his only form of protection after he had had sex with an HIV positive woman was to take a quick shower.
Hopefully the ANC delegates at the upcoming congress will see the light and settle for a compromise candidate that is not as polarizing as either Mbeki or Zuma. But if the party chooses to continue wallowing in mindless populism, the main casualties will be the South African people.