20 years into democracy, it is an unalienable fact that South Africa is a better place than it was in 1994. By implication, we cannot remove the improvement in the South African society from the African National Congress.
At times, in our fervor to criticize, we fail to acknowledge that as a Liberation Movement, the ANC was simply not ready to govern in 1994. This statement is based on a retrospective analysis where we have seen the ruling party embark on various initiatives and programs, seeking to fundamentally change the conditions of the majority of previously disadvantaged South Africans.
By looking at the intended outcomes of these policy positions, we can unequivocally say they have failed. In fact, many of the policies undertaken were completed in a “Trail and Error” fashion. International consultants and organisations like the World Bank played an instrumental role in assisting the ANC to conjure these policy positions. Over the past 20 years we have seen the introduction of RDP, GEAR, NDP, to name a few.
The reasoning behind the constant changes in policy positions underlines three important points.
Firstly, the ANC has shown a commitment to delivering on the promise of making South Africa a more equitable society. While this “delivery” did not always come in the form of a job or house. The constant evaluation of the strategies being utilized shows a synchronization between the “desire to make a difference” and actually “making a difference”. The fact that they kept changing strategies, shows the determination of the ANC to get things right and ultimately deliver the South Africa we all dreamed about in 1994.
Secondly, the simple assertion that a specific ideology like “Social democracy”, or “Liberalism” will eradicate poverty and unemployment or tackle the land reform issue, is flawed. It is evident, that no specific ideological position holds all the answers. This postulation is derived from the failed RDP and GEAR Programmes, which were socialist and liberal in nature, respectively.
The ANC Government made “Ideological quantum leaps”, as soon as they realized that holding onto a specific ideology was not bringing the type of results envisioned. In fact, a collaboration and fusion of all ideologies, tempered with an understanding of the South African condition, is where we will find our “ideological holy grail”.
Thirdly, having ruled for 20 years, the ANC comprehends better than anyone in this country, what works and what does not work. An understanding has festered within the organisation that pure “socialism” or pure “liberalism” does not work within the South African context. They understand this, because they have attempted to apply each and failed.
We have walked a treacherous road. The ANC has been forced to go back to the drawing board several times. They have failed more often than they have succeeded. However, even in the perceived failures of the previous RDP and GEAR programmes, progress has been made. The lives of millions of South Africans have improved:
• From 1994 to the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, we had the longest recorded period of uninterrupted economic growth, growing at twice the
rate of the last 19 years of apartheid.
• Since 1994, five million more people are in work, with total employment at 14 million.
• Twice as many young people attended university and twice as many graduated in 2012 than in 1994.
• More than 1.4 million students have benefited from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
• The Public Works and Community Work programmes have created 6 million work opportunities for unemployed people, 40% of them young people.
• Nearly 5,000 farms have been transferred to black people, benefiting over 200,000 families.
• Nearly 80,000 land claims, have been settled and 1.8 million people have benefited.
• The number of people receiving social grants increased from 3 million to 16 million.
• Over 3.3 million free houses have been built, benefiting more than 16 million people.
• About 12 million households have access to electricity, 7 million more than in 1994.
• Around 92% of South Africans have access to potable water, compared to 60% in 1996.
No other political party has had the opportunity to test their ideologies within the South African context. It is far easier to theorize a projected policy and its outcome when one is not governing. However, the workability of a policy/plan can only be fully tested when one is governing. Our first 20 years of democracy will attest to this…
Therefore, there is no guarantee that the policies and plans of opposition parties will work. Can we really put another inexperienced* party into power and wait another 20 years for the inequities of apartheid to be addressed?
No we cannot.
The ANC was not ready to govern in 1994 because they simply did not know how. It is my belief that based upon the experience governing in the last 20 years; the ANC is now more equipped to develop a strategy (which takes into account the failures of the RDP and GEAR) to fundamentally tackle poverty, inequality and unemployment.
This is one aspect of my reasoning in voting ANC (both ballots) on May 7th
(*By inexperience, I refer to parties’ which have not yet governed)