Freedom Day should be an occasion to reflect upon the road South Africa has travelled since 1994. But applying even the most analytical detachment, not only is it difficult to find anything to applaud. It is equally difficult to embrace the future with anything less than scepticism.
That outlook is also expressed by Tony Leon in his elegantly articulate book published last year titled Future Tense: Reflections on my troubled Land. Beyond his catalogue of the country’s descent into kakistocracy, his reference to historical precedents is helpful in fathoming the end run of the ANC.
Despite the appalling failure and malfeasance of the ANC, its electoral dominance has been sustained by voter gratitude for its role in liberation. But, as Leon points out, history shows that the “liberation dividend” or “ticket” eventually expires and voter outrage at corruption and unmet promises ultimately results in regime change (p 249).
For example, he cites Ireland’s Fianna Fail party. As the vanguard in the struggle for independence, it held power for 61 years until 2011 when voters were tired of its scandals and corruption. India’s post-independence politics was dominated by the Congress Party of Gandhi and Nehru for some 30 years until Indira Gandhi’s unpopular authoritarianism resulted in the election defeat. Today, as Leon points out, it is remembered only for its past achievements, not its future prospects.
Israel’s Labour movement, unchallenged in power for 30 years, became complacent and was voted out. Despite its valiant efforts in securing Israel’s independence, its liberation dividend expired and today it has been reduced to political irrelevance with just six seats in the 120-member Knesset.
The Gaullists, prominent in re-establishing French national pride after defeat and Nazi occupation, lost their liberation dividend by 1980 and subsequently succumbed to political irrelevance.
Abuse of power, arrogance, lack of empathy and detachment from voters saw the undoing of parties that were once revered. In Africa, the liberation party of Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, which held power for decades, resides in the dustbin of history. That fate ultimately awaits Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe.
Based on those examples, it seems reasonable to conclude that the ANC’s liberation ticket is in its twilight years. But that could mean another decade or so of its ruination of South Africa.