Last Sunday, in a public speech, Jessie Duarte, the Deputy Secretary-General of the African National Congress (ANC), spoke thus: “Comrades, …. You know in your heart that you can never live in a country where there is no ANC – because the opposite to that would be chaos, and undoubtedly, lead to a civil war that none of us want.”

This might have been casual ANC arrogance, like Zuma’s remark that the ANC would rule until Jesus came back. But it might have had intent. It might have meant that every other party was unfit to rule or that the ANC would stage a military coup if it lost an election.

ANC government has been a disaster for South Africa, especially for poor black people. The ANC are corrupt, incompetent, and destructive, and care for nothing except enriching themselves. They have looted and wrecked just about every institution in the land, including public education, public transport, the municipalities, Eskom, and SAA. The expanded unemployment rate is 43%, hunger is widespread, and violent crime is rampant. We are doomed while the ANC is in power but there seems no hope that the ANC will ever lose it – for the indefinite future at least. Is Duarte warning us that the ANC will take to arms if the people vote against it? This is what Zanu-PF did in Zimbabwe. When the people voted overwhelmingly against it in 2008, Mugabe’s soldiers tortured, killed, and broke the bones of Zimbabweans who voted the wrong way. The ANC supported Mugabe enthusiastically, and made sure he retained power. Maybe Duarte is hinting, “We’ll smash you if you vote against us, just as we smashed the people of Zimbabwe when they voted against Zanu-PF.”

There were uneasy, imperfect parallels among the white community in the 1980s, when the ruling Nationalist Party (NP) was reforming apartheid and a militant, hardline white faction was gaining votes and calling the NP sell-outs and traitors (“veraaiers”). There was talk about a possible white coup. It seems preposterous now but didn’t at the time, and if circumstances had been different I think it might have happened. I finished a late degree in engineering at UCT in 1986, and then moved up to power stations and factories in the Eastern Transvaal and Natal. There was a frightening difference of mood between the bourgeois white students at UCT and the white working-class operators, artisans, and technicians in the factories. The students supported the ANC and thought the NP were racist oppressors; the workers supported the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and the Conservative Party and thought the NP were liberal sellouts. The hardline whites had the potential to control overwhelming military and industrial force. They had the potential physical means to stage a coup. They could have smashed the ANC as easily as swatting a fly.

Apartheid ended because the masters of apartheid lost the will to continue it. They had other aims, including moral aims, besides the aim of clinging to power. After 1976, they stopped fooling themselves that apartheid could ever work. It shocks some people to admit that a primary reason the NP leaders chose to end apartheid was simply Christian decency, and a feeling of shame for the suffering they had caused. FW de Klerk, when he came to power in 1989, accelerated a process already in motion. He held all the physical power necessary to maintain white minority rule but chose to surrender it. With brilliant skill and courage, De Klerk managed between 1989 and 1994, to disarm the white hardliners who might have staged a coup.

By contrast, the ANC had no military power at all. They were derided as the world’s most useless guerilla army, and regarded with contempt by the Russians who sponsored them. But they did have a strong will to power. They were useless against armed soldiers but mightily effective in terrorising poor, unarmed black civilians in the townships. They fought like tigers to stop any other black party coming to power as they saw apartheid ending. Now they are in power and, unlike the old NP, they have no moral qualms and one aim only, to keep power forever. They don’t have the physical means to keep power against a party as determined as them but with military competence. They have wrecked the South African armed forces; the South African army, once feared throughout Africa, is a joke. Photographs in this week’s media show South African soldiers, in battle fatigues and with big guns, arresting surfers on the beach for violating some absurd regulation. That’s about all they are fit for, but that would be enough to terrorise unarmed civilians if the ANC needed them to do so.

Are we doomed to perpetual ANC rule? It seems so. The Economic Freedom Fighters is just a louder version of the ANC, and it looks very unlikely that any party or combination of parties could get more votes than the two of them. But if they did, there is no party with the military means to stop the ANC retaining power by force, as did their hero, Robert Mugabe.

(Postscript: Duarte’s honesty about the ANC is infinitely preferable to the feeble, dishonest, harmful ramblings of President Cyril Ramaphosa on its 109th birthday.)

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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