Few Americans have probably heard of the African National Congress, also known as the ANC. Of those that have, the majority most likely associate the party with the struggle against Apartheid. If those Americans are like me, they probably view the ANC in something of a heroic light. After all, the ANC fought for decades against one of the most prejudiced governments in modern history. With an opponent like that, your PR is pretty much done for you.
But even in Apartheid South Africa, nothing is ever truly that clear-cut. The ANC was not a non-violent organization, and it essentially gought a guerilla war against the Apartheid government. Depending on one's moral and political beliefs, this fact alone does not automatically put the ANC in the wrong. Nonetheless, the ANC embraced questionable tactics in its struggle for freedom. The most notorious of these was the practice of "necklacing." As the ANC was underground in the 70s and 80s, it deeply feared government collaborators and informants. Those suspected of traitorous activity were summarily executed in an especially grusome fashion. Denied any form of due process, suspected snitches had a tire placed around their necks, which was then set alight. The victim was burned to death in the street, his or her body left as a warning to those who would cross the party.
To be sure, the 1980s were dark times. Nearly every faction in the chaos of Apartheid's twilight years have blood on their hands. Black factions fought the government and each other, and the government ignored any semblence of civil rights in its attempts to maintain power. What's interesting about the ANC, though, is that it took power once the dust settled.
Viewed by the majority of black South Africans as the party of liberation, the ANC has enjoyed nearly unchecked power since the first free elections in 1994. It currently controls eight of nine provincial legislatures, the majority of the national Parliament, and the presidency. Cynics have alleged that South Africa teeters on the edge of becoming a one-party state.
Though that proposition is up for debate, there is no denying that the ANC is almost always in the headlines, and not always for good news. The biggest scandal that gripped the press this summer was the Limpopo province textbook fiasco. Several thousand school textbooks went missing in South Africa's northernmost province. Thousands of students waited months just to get their textbooks. Thousands more still wait. Papers have reported how school districts have lacked schools and have been forced to meet under trees. Reporters have also investigated police barracks around the country and found them unfit for human habitation.
In the midst of all these scandals, the ANC at times seems more interested in its internal political intrigue and consolodating its power. Frustrated with its inability to take power in the Western Cape province, the home of Cape Town and the seat of power of the Democratic Alliance party (DA), the ANC has proposed redistricting the country into six provinces, instead of the current nine. This plan would naturally split the Democratic Alliance-dominiated Western Cape into more managable pieces for ANC electoral success.
In the meantime, the ANC has embarked on a campaign to make DA-controlled Cape Town "ungovernable." Echoing its Apartheid-era tactics, the ANC is organizaing protests, marches, and general civil disturbances to frustrate the DA's ability to govern.
The ANC points to DA "service delivery" issues and the generally poor state of affairs that most Cape Town residents must live in, and they have a point. The average Capetonian lives in utterly horrid conditions in the townships. But I take umbrage with the ANC's tactics for several reasons.
First, the ANC is being, frankly, hypocritical. For prime examples of service delivery failure, one need only look to the rest of South Africa, where one will fine conditions just as bad as Cape Town and an ANC just as flawed as the DA, if not more so.
Secondly, the entire conflict has unfortunate racial overtones. The DA has deep support in the white community, wheras the ANC is largely black. The ANC has st points been willing to cast the conflict between the two groups in racial terms.
Most disturbing, however, is the ANC's willingness to circumvent the legal system in its struggle against the DA. Cape Town's mayor is regularly shouted down by ANC supporters at official events. ANC protests have been regularly attempting to shut the city down. My most recent brush with the ANC's circumvention happened just this past week while I was on holiday in Cape Town. I was on a tour of the Cape wine region, and our bus narrowly missed a huge traffic back-up. I read later in the Cape Argus that the snarl was created by an unscheduled protest at the airport.
"Protest" was a charitable term. "Riot" would have been my word choice. Demonstrators shut down the airport for hours and tossed petrol bombs and human excrement at the police sent to restore order. Such tactics do little to help the ANC or its cause. This kind of behavior betrays the ideals that the ANC sacrificed so much to achieve and the ideals it stands for.