Alex Boraine

EXTRACT: What’s Gone Wrong? by Alex Boraine

Alex Boraine on the ANC's fetishisation of power

Control is almost a fetish. It is not sufficient to control members of parliament; even mayors have to have their sanction, provincial premiers are elected by Luthuli House, all those who hold any office at all are under very tight supervision. The executive of the state has been replaced by the top six ANC leaders, who are Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, Baleka Mbete, Gwede Mantashe, Jessie Duarte and Zweli Mkhize. Nothing happens without rigid control and deployment to ensure that loyal cadres are in place.

The aim remains the exercise of power at every level, and leading up to the 2014 election, Zuma and other leaders of the ANC are calling for a two-thirds majority. To what end? To change the Constitution in order to increase the power of government.

A further question which was raised in an earlier chapter is whether the criminality and the culture of corruption which occurred during exile foreshadowed the criminality and corruption which is rife amongst ANC leaders and many in public service, and seems endemic in every government institution. Bureaucracy, maladministration, wrong choices, deployment, political incoherence, the high life enjoyed by the top leadership, were all in evidence during the exile.

If all of this could be seen as a passing phase, mistakes made by a new government, it would be disturbing but understandable. New leadership with integrity could appear and steer the ship of state into a more positive, more moral direction. But if it is symptomatic of the ANC over the last 50 years, then it engenders a deep sense of uneasiness, an ominous suggestion that a failing state could become a failed state if not checked. Very importantly, it also means that reform from within the ANC is impossible.

Of course, there are many good people within the party, both at leadership level and in the rank and file, and many of these faithful supporters of the ANC must be deeply embarrassed and even ashamed by the failure of the senior leadership. But because the culture of power seems to be so ingrained, genuine and extensive reform is simply out of the question. What is needed is a new coalition which will give South Africa a fresh start and enable it to return to the period which has been termed the Mandela years.

It is the ANC’s obsession with power that engenders a culture of suspicion, distrust and extreme intolerance. This was evident in the period of exile and accounts today for the party’s disenchantment with the Constitutional Court and much of the media, and its contempt for parliament. In exile, it could be argued that the ANC had good cause to be paranoid and lacking in transparency. After all, the movement seemed to be riddled with state security agents. But nearly 20 years later, the same phobias exist and the ANC is no longer an exile movement but the government of South Africa. The leadership has not yet learned the lesson that a besieged movement in exile is not the same as a democratically elected government. It remains obsessed with control and is more concerned with the state of the party than with good governance for all South Africans.

What's Gone Wrong? by Alex Boraine Extracted from What’s Gone Wrong?, published by Jonathan Ball and available from



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