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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: Business Day Live by Gareth van Onselen.]

The ANC has for a long time demonstrated many of the symptoms of denial. The classic indicators that tend to manifest in those afflicted include blaming (shifting culpability); minimising (downplaying consequence); justifying (post-facto rationalisation); and regression (puerile or intemperate behaviour).

Typically, they are a response to trauma, death or loss, invoked as a coping mechanism. But in the ANC, they have come to define the party’s response to its decay and disintegration. So prevalent is this kind of behaviour that each of the symptoms is easily illustrated.

Blame is ubiquitous, from “white monopoly capital”, to rogue elements in the party and the media that, we are told, “acts like an opposition party”. These and a thousand other things are routinely identified as the source of our national despair — never the ANC.

The governing party is, however, more sophisticated than an average psychiatric patient. In blaming, it legitimises the role it has conceived for itself: a revolutionary movement dedicated to establishing a new order. So, in identifying “the enemy” it not only negates responsibility on its part but, it argues, also necessitates intervention that only the ANC is able to provide.

The party and its leadership are at pains to downplay and dilute the seriousness of the damage it has inflicted on SA. Last week, President Jacob Zuma wrote off the effect of his decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister as no more than a minor bump on the economic road. It was caused by a “speculative attack”, he said. And the economy had now “significantly recovered”.

So, it is with almost every indictment of the ANC and its government. Nkandla and the recent adverse Constitutional Court judgment about the president are all mere blips on the radar, nothing to worry about. Everything, you see, is under control.

This lends itself to rationalisation after the fact. Nene, again, is a good example. To this day, Zuma insists Des van Rooyen was a wise choice, the best-qualified man for the job. Our institutions have never been stronger, governance never better and leadership never more decisive.

Then there is the puerile behaviour. Look no further than the now notorious Al Jazeera interview with International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane for evidence. Or Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s “bunch of losers” diatribe against Bafana Bafana. Or, pretty much every news briefing yet delivered by SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. They and many more rage tirelessly against the machine.

Were the ANC a person, no psychoanalyst worth their salt would deny that the party demonstrates acute symptoms of denial. The real clincher is the ANC’s behaviour in the past few weeks. As election campaigning draws to a close, its rhetoric has shifted to “winning”, which it tells us it is doing every day.

The party has changed its Twitter handle to read “Siyanqoba” (“we are winning”), no doubt as a precursor to its final rally that traditionally takes that name.

“We are in the victory phase of our campaign; we smell and taste victory,” Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week.

“We smell victory,” said party spokesman Zizi Kodwa.

The ANC will hold onto its majority in the August elections. In that sense, it will win. But that the party is “winning” more broadly is a ludicrous claim. It is winning like an ageing battery that, with one final burst, only just manages to power a toy before it needs to be recharged.

Weather-beaten, battered, bruised and bleeding profusely, the party will drag itself over the finish line and raise a hand to the crowd. But fewer people will be watching and any applause will be muted.

All of this is held together by little more than deceit. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe says the difference between the ANC and other parties “is that the ANC doesn’t make promises, but it makes commitments”.

That’s a remarkable sentiment from a party that cannot deliver — a bold statement of fact, where the facts say the complete opposite.

After Brexit, many in Britain claim the country is now in a “post fact” age in which emotion and irrationality rule. In the ANC and SA more generally, it has been the way of things for some time now.

In psychoanalysis, the problem can be taken all the way to its ultimate conclusion: denial of denial. No doubt that applies to the ANC.

IT’S the kind of thing you see in alcoholics and drug addicts. As they waste away, they will tell you they have never felt better. They are immune to reason and evidence; rationality is no longer a commodity they deal in. There is one fix that matters. For the ANC, it is winning.

There will be those who hope it does not win. A tough-love approach would advocate that some sense of loss, in metros such as Nelson Mandela Bay or Tshwane, would be the best thing for the party to understand the extent of its condition. Nothing less than the loss of national power will jolt the ANC out of its state. All this election will do is confirm that it is winning.

Once you are immune to rationality, trapped inside your own nightmare, in which up is down and left is right, the smell of your next hit is enough to reinvigorate you.

There  is another arena in which you see this kind of behaviour: religion. Religious fundamentalism acts much like drug addiction. True believers outsource consequence to divine design. They have no agency.

For the ANC, everything is preordained: its actions, which it can neither justify nor reconcile with democratic norms, are inherently good; any opposition, inherently evil.

“I hear people complaining when we say the ANC will rule fully until Jesus comes back, but we have been blessed. Pastors have prayed for us,” Zuma said last week. He believes it, and so do many others in the ANC. The party is winning in heaven too.

How do you have a meaningful exchange with that opening gambit? You might as well argue with God.

The sad truth is, whatever the result, in the grand scheme of things, the 2016 elections do not represent a moment of truth for the ANC. Rather, it will be yet another moment of confirmation.

From now until 2019, don’t expect anything different. The bubble the ANC lives in is impenetrable. The oxygen inside needs to run out before it will engage meaningfully with the outside world.


South Africa at a Glance
58 780 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in June 2019 (CPI) & +5.8 y/y in June 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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