Jan 15 2012

Praise the ANC, if faintly

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:00 PM

The 100th anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress — the ruling party in South Africa — brought forth earlier this month, in British and America media, an onslaught of negative, pessimistic and downright damning portrayals of a political party that carries the mantle of Nelson Mandela and post-apartheid reconciliation. South Africa may be ungovernable, and the country’s ruling elite may be as corrupt as Nigeria’s. Nevetheless, the achievement of ending the African variant of “Jim Crow” in Africa’s richest country — and ending this odious apartheid without resorting to a civil war or the planned liquidation of the Afrikaaner leaderships — was an accomplishment of world-historical dimensions. As disappointing, disorganized and downright dystfunctional as the African National Congress appears to be, the party has been in power for less than 20 years. While nearly a generation, and longer than a single election cycle, 18 years is too short a period with which to indict and convict the ANC of irremediable mistakes and even crimes.

Of course, the ANC’s shortcomings are legion. Mandela himself failed to properly respond to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Violence against women and children, while not caused by the ANC, are a scourge on South African society and should be the reduction of violence against women and children should be a primary goal of the government. Policing is appalling in the new South Africa; any government must make improving policing to be a foundation for wider social and political reforms. The government’s failure to re-distribute wealth and opportunity is a bigger problem than the corruption of its leaders. Chinese elites are thoroughly corrupt and yet poverty has dramatically fallen in China during the very period when the ANC has presided over an enormous increase in inequality in South Africa.

Certainly, the ANC’s failures are seminal, yet the party’s accomplishments are also monumental. Whites and white priviledge, while challenged in the new South Africa, have not been eradicated or even drastically reduced; the effect is to create consistency and stability in a South African economy still highly dependent on the skills of white settlers and their descendants. The foreign policy accomplishments of the ANC, notwithstanding the grievious failure to break with Zimbabwe’s tyrant, remain formidable. South Africa has emerged as a consistent voice in favor of more level playing fields in various global arenas, from trade to climate-change. And crucially, South Africa’s decision, made personally by Mandela, to destroy its arsenal of nuclear-weapons, stands as a singular victory for human values over technocratic power.

That I believe that the African National Congress deserves to lose the first and next fair and free election in South Africa does not prevent me from disagreeing with the recent reviews in The Economist (“Disappointment”), Time magazine (“How the ANC Lost its Way”) and elsewhere about the ultimate legacy of this most political of African movements. Make no mistake about decolonization in the sub-Saharan. Sekou Toure of Guinea famously declared that freedom was worth more than wealth, and Nkrumah, his Anglophone contemporary, insisted that political liberation would inevitably unlock productive economic wealth. But both knew well, and repeatedly reminded their audiences, that so long as the southern cone of Africa was a virtual plantation where white overlords dictated the terms of existence for indigenous people, then all of Africa would neither realize political freedom nor economic sustainability. Until the ANC broke the will of the Afrikaaner/apartheid regime to persist in its awful brutality, no one knew how long the rest of Africa would be held hostage to the rank evil that permeated South Africa. Perhaps the world’s gratitude towards the ANC has an expiration date; but if it does that date remains in the future.

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