On the 8th of January 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the African National Congress's (ANC’s) annual January 8 statement in Mangaung. This year’s address marked 111 years since the African National Congress was formed and where best to host it than in the party’s ancestral home? Typical of addresses that we have grown to expect from the current sitting president, the speech offered a diagnosis of the current problems that plague the ANC and the country, preaching a message of renewal during the chaos it finds itself in and ultimately splitting the ANC into two factions, “the good guys” and the rest. While the speech offered insight into some of the challenges faced by the ordinary South African and perhaps acknowledged the role the ANC had played in creating them, the address offered no tangible solutions that we have not heard before that could be immediately implemented as means to reverse the tide. Instead, it chose to look at the liberation movement's infamous past victories, honouring its past leaders as if that was supposed to mask the stench of its modern-day incompetence.
This year’s address came at a rather peculiar time for the African National Congress, it was at the back of a hotly contested policy conference that had to be continued virtually well into the new year. The address came at a time when the party is losing relevance with the ordinary voter daily and most importantly at a time when the party’s members are at loggerheads over who gets to lead and who must step aside as per their adopted step aside policy. This year’s address also came at a time when we are almost one year away from the 2024 general elections, a time that will test the stronghold the ruling party has had on South Africa’s voting populous.
The past two months have shown us that the ANC is now a party in distress, one need not look far to see the signs of a party that is not entirely sure of what they are doing. Their bold arrogance and aloofness of yesteryear have been replaced by a certain meekness and almost plea to South Africa’s voting majority that seems to say “we know where we have erred in the past, allow us to fix it”.
Whether or not they will be granted that grace remains to be seen, but judging from the results of by-elections and a lost Metro, however, one can reach the conclusion that it’s not likely that South Africa will fully extend them that grace.
The plight of the ANC is also not helped by the South African legislative environment that enables any disgruntled member to form a competing political party when they fall on the wrong side of those leading the ANC. In the past 15 years alone, we have seen no less than five ANC breakaways that dealt a blow to their previous voter base. While these breakaways do not differ much from the ANC ideologically (at least on paper), their injection of new ideas and different techniques for organising have made them favourites with many in South Africa. Furthermore, the success of parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (who are celebrating 10 years this year) has proven false the adage that “it is cold outside the ANC”.
The reality is that it is indeed warmer outside the ANC, the coldness once associated with being outside the party is now finding expression within the party itself. And if the battle for the “soul” of the ANC continues, many members of the party are about to be in for a long Winter.
There are several challenges that currently face the African National Congress, chief among them is a great deal of political negligence that exists among its elected officials. The past year has shown us that there are many people in the party who are driven by the desire to be in government and not necessarily by the will to govern, or the call of service. The failures of coalition governments where the ANC has been a partner for the past few years have been a testament to this limited will to govern from the party. ANC politics have been awash with court battle after court battle in the ultimate game for power with no attempts to deliver basic services. The unfortunate bearers of the consequences of ‘leadership’ that does not lead have been ordinary people in South Africa in many municipalities throughout the country where the ANC leads, municipalities that have either collapsed or are at the brink of collapsing.
The ANC’s woes have not been helped by having at the helm a president who has seemingly lost the faith of many South Africans. The president as a leader is looked upon in times of crisis, to provide leadership and direction charting a path that ordinary citizens can follow. The sitting president has not been able to achieve this in a country that is in a perennial state of crisis. Similarly, to the proverbial road to hell, Ramaphosa’s presidency has been paved with good intentions, marked by inaction, and decorated by a string of poor judgement calls. He has managed to both lose some of his earlier supporters and further push away many of his initial adversaries. If he is to regain the support of South Africans again, his approach to leadership will have to change significantly. Judging him on his CV alone, one could easily bet that he is the ideal man for the job. A political career birthed and nurtured in trade unions, a thriving career as a businessman and a civil servant with great potential. His indecisiveness and seeming meekness however have been his biggest downfall.
This year’s January 8 statement did little to dispel the already existing connotations associated with the president. The truth is, South Africans are tired of talk that isn’t followed through with action, and this is something the ANC and the president are aware of. Seemingly, the will to change this within the party and the presidency is not as strong as it needs to be.
For his second term, we are going to need a significantly more decisive president Ramaphosa. We are going to need an ANC that represents the president’s claims of pursuing a corruption-free government, an ANC that has the best interests of South Africa at heart. We are going to need results from the multitude of commissions that marked his first term as president. The renewal that has been a constant theme in his speeches since he ascended to power will need to be visible in both his actions and those of the party he leads. This second term should be a moment for his own renewal, an opportunity for him to be remembered, and remembered for decisive action on critical matters and not the perceived good intentions of his ideas. In his inaugural State of the Nation address, the president asked that we send him, send him to chart a path towards our emancipation as a nation. For his second term, all we ask is that he remembers his commitment to the people of this country, the mandate he asked that we give him and for him to remind us that we sent the right person.