Monday, February 09, 2004

The Character of the Party
Interesting discussion at my South Africa Seminar today centering on the idea that the ANC may be a 'Leninist' party. The following put forward as evidence:

1 - The notion of deploying cadre's to fill important positions. The ANC has certainly made no bones about its desire to install party members in key bureaucratic positions. This is perhaps understandable (the Nats did the same thing) but what sets the spidey-sense tingling is the fact that they now appear to be trying to do the same thing in the private sector.
2 - A disdain for the opposition which at times appears to border on the belief that opposition politics is actually illegitimate. Recall Mbeki's frequent derogatory references to the DA and *that* speech three years ago in which he unleashed a torrent of abuse at the 'white' party and the 'white' politician.
3 - Evidence, admittedly scanty, suggesting that the party has been ruthlessly suppressing or removing dissenting voices. How long did it take the ANC to respond to calls for changes to its AIDS policy? Why are there so few dissenting voices over Zimbabwe. And what was the 'Mbeki assassination plot' of a few years ago really about? Very conveniently it sidelined a number of voices that might have become openly critical of aspects of govt policy.
4 - A general tendency to confuse or conflate the interests of the party with the interests of the state.

Evidence against:
1 - A strongly independent judiciary which, even though it is arguably more progressive than the good people of South Africa themselves, has nonetheless been allowed to continue about it's business unhindered.
2 - A free press which jealously guards its freedom and is frequently very critical of govt. It's possible that the ANC just doesn't care about a print media which is both largely urban based and not particularly widely read, but I like to think that, the commission into racism in the media notwithstanding, it has a genuine desire to promote a free press.
3 - The toleration of the activities of the SACP and COSATU which are both highly critical of the ANC and exercise a direct influence on government as members of the tri-partite alliance.

So, is the ANC 'Leninist'? On balance I'm inclined to think not, although I have some doubts about Mbeki himself - an elusive character, to say the least. I'll leave the conclusion up to you. Comments if you please...

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