South Africa goes to the polls next month. In all previous elections, the African National Congress has won big majorities in parliament.
There is no doubt that the ANC will win the forthcoming election too, albeit with a diminished majority. But to what end the expected win?
The ANC has a unique character in African political history. It is the oldest political party in Africa, having been formed in 1912.
It is the only party in Africa that has an ideological grounding. In its 1955 Freedom Charter, the party advocated equitable distribution of wealth, equality of races, ethnicities and genders.
Unlike parties in other African countries, the ANC is a party of intellectuals and people of great moral authority.
Contestation for leadership in the ANC is a contest of ideological positions. Winners are those able to successfully lobby for the support of the different ideological shades within the party.
Thus, for instance, Zuma won leadership by getting the support of the powerful left-leaning Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, won by gaining the support of the intellectuals and business friendly groups.
Cyril Ramaphosa was supported by the pro-business caucus and, because of his former trade union role, by Cosatu.
In contrast, parties in Kenya are tribal outfits cobbled together in order to capture power for their leaders and, according to coded party propaganda, for the leader’s ethnic group.
The war cry, “It is our turn to eat,” expressed in a variety of ways, rallies the tribe to come together to capture power in order to gain exclusive “eating” rights.
Contestation for top leadership is a mockery of human intelligence as the outcome is pre-determined.
There was no doubt William Ruto would head the United Republican Party, or that Uhuru Kenyatta and Kalonzo Musyoka would lead The National Alliance and Wiper Party respectively, etc.
And yet despite the unique character of the ANC, voting in South Africa has come to resemble that in other African countries.
Elections have become a social calendar event with no relationship to welfare of people. In democratic theory, elections give citizens the opportunity to weigh various competing policies and vote for people and party who will best advance their interests.
Prior to the last election in Kenya, a political observer said that even if the cost of bread increased six-fold, those who had woken up at 3am to vote for Uhuru Kenyatta in the previous election would wake up at the same hour to cast their vote for him again.
Elections in Africa have become divorced from their purpose. That is why millions will vote for Museveni no matter that their situation has not improved.
And before he was ousted by the army, millions would vote for Robert Mugabe despite painful evidence that he had no agenda other that self-perpetuation in power.
When he was deposed, tens of thousands, many of whom had no doubt voted for him, danced in the streets.
Compare this with the UK in 1945. Winston Churchill had just won an apocalyptic war with Nazi Germany. He had rallied the British and the world against an unstoppable Nazi war machine when all seemed lost.
People still respected him and recognised him as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, but in their estimation, his politics and policies did seem apt for the post-war challenges. They voted him out.
By any measure, the ANC has been a failure. The South African economy continues to contract. Unemployment remains one of the highest in the world.
There seems to be no solution in sight for power outages and water shortages. Crime continues to claim thousands of lives every year, and the country has the dubious distinction of being the “rape capital of the world.”
South Africa has also failed to be a significant player in world diplomacy. For years, the country gave material and moral support to the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe.
South Africa opposed the International Criminal Court’s efforts to hold African leaders accountable for crimes against humanity. Corruption in South Africa is so crippling, citizens have devised a new term for it – “state capture.”
The ANC has likewise failed to transform itself into a post-nationalist party in order to deal with the challenges of post-Apartheid South Africa.
Bereft of hope, South African see African migrants as the problem and lynch them. The world watches with horror as South Africa begins to take a familiar trajectory.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.