The grand old lady of African politics is back in power, but very soon the fat lady will sing

Friday June 07 2019

Supporters of president of South Africa and the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) take part in a campaign rally at the Alexandra Stadium on April 11, 2019, in Alexandra, South Africa. PHOTO | WIKUS DE WET | AFP


The grand old lady of African politics, the African National Congress, has won another election and will remain in office as the governing party of South Africa, but it has been seriously wounded.

It has been in power ever since the apartheid regime ended in 1994, brought to heel by a combination of intensifying domestic revolt and international isolation, but it is becoming increasingly clear that its hegemony will not last long.

For those of us who grew up learning about the ANC of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela, the organisation was much larger than a political party or movement, it was literally a nation. To be South African you were ANC, I-Kongresi, even though other organisations, such as the Pan Africanist Congress existed and made noises on the fringe of things.

The ANC was larger than life, an awe-inspiring behemoth that dwarfed everyone who had played a leading role in it. Even the later-to-be-venerated Mandela had not been there at its birth; he was born some years after its founding.

But soon after the ecstasy that accompanied the end of apartheid and the advent of a new, non-racial South Africa, tell-tale signs that the Colossus had clay feet appeared, and we started to notice issues all too symptomatic of the rest of African politics.

Umkhonto we Sizwe were swallowed up by the lure of an easy life of luxury and hedonistic pleasures assured by what Julius Malema keeps calling “white monopoly capital.”


Former comrades, in a hurry to amass as much wealth as they could, did not seem to even notice the depth of the levels of poverty of their people, levels I dare say that were historically unknown in other parts of Africa.

Yes, it is true, after Zuma worked his way to the top of the party and the country by throwing the highbrow Thabo Mbeki under the bus at Polokwane, he became the very epitome of the rot that was eating up his country, but he was not alone.

A whole lot of his comrades were with him, and that is partly why his removal was such an excruciatingly drawn-out process. There is honour among thieves, I suppose.

Now, the latest election results tell us the ANC has paid for its transgressions, at least partially, and may be working its way to eventual removal from power.

I use the adjective “eventual” because I am aware of the grindingly slow speed at which such processes move. Julius “Juju” Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters may not gather enough momentum in the short term to oust his former party, but matters do not look too good for the rulers in Pretoria right now.

Juju’s constant harping on issues pertaining to land, calling for “expropriation without compensation,” has given him significant purchase, and even forced some elements in the leadership of the ANC to mouth words that seem to agree with Juju.

Of course, this has alarmed those on the Afrikaner right, who now claim they are being discriminated against, and whose party, Freedom Front Plus, has shown signs of growing in electoral importance.

The new picture that is emerging suggests that the new president of the ANC and South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has his work cut out. If he tries to steal Juju’s thunder, he may find himself riding a tiger.

If he sticks with ANC’s traditional stance of not wanting to stir up racial hostilities, he may preside over more dilution of his party’s support among the majority black population.

Any which way, Ramaphosa has to find the means to make South Africa’s immense wealth benefit larger numbers of its people, not only himself and the handful of ANC.

Any which way, Ramaphosa has to find the means to make South Africa’s immense wealth benefit larger numbers of its people, not only himself and the handful of ANC bigwigs favoured under the Black Economic Empowerment, which has meant the creation of a posse of filthy-rich black men while the crushing majority of their people remain dirt-poor.

The tycoon head of state is known to be a man of reflection, not only money, and he may find a way out of this dilemma. But he may have to take measures that do not please his partners in corporate South Africa.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]