It seems clear that we are now entering the beginning of the end with regard to African National Congress (ANC) rule in South Africa.

Although this has been clear to many observers for some time, only the wilfully blind and ignorant cannot agree that the last few weeks have shown that the ANC is out of ideas, out of talent, and lacks the will to make the hard decisions to fix South Africa. 

The ANC is dying and in some ways it is a suicide, as internal battles pull it apart and it insists on holding on to outdated ideas from the last century, which most countries have thrown in the dustbin.

However, the question is, when the ANC dies, will it politely shuffle off the mortal coil with a minimum of fuss, or will it become a zombie and continue to consume resources long after its putative death?

Zombies have become part of global popular culture, with a resurgence in the movie monsters this century, after having first entered the popular consciousness in the middle of last century, with film maker George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead considered a classic of the genre. In the 21st century zombies have made a comeback, ranging from the ‘Walkers’ of The Walking Dead to the ‘rage’ zombies of 28 Days Later (who were people driven insane by a virus, but the movie is still considered part of the broad zombie genre).

For anyone unfamiliar with the modern portrayal of the zombie, they are generally depicted as corpses which through some means (normally a virus) become reanimated after death. They will have forgotten their previous life and now only exist to consume flesh, normally human, with our protagonists having to avoid being eaten by the ravenous and unrelenting monsters and seeking a safe place to rebuild civilisation.

Now the question is, will the ANC become a zombie once it has died and exist only to consume resources? Or, once it has died, will it quietly go into the night and let other parties emerge?

The evidence from places around us that the ANC will not become a zombie when it eventually dies is not good. One only need to look north of the Limpopo, where the corpse of Zanu-PF (or Zombie-PF as a quick-witted colleague said in a recent meeting) continues to feast on what is left of Zimbabwe.

Zanu-PF first began dying in the 1990s when President Robert Mugabe, having also run out of money and ideas like the ANC of today, began printing money to pay bills and scapegoating white farmers as the source of all Zimbabwe’s problems. The rest, as they say, is history, with Mugabe and Zanu-PF using increasingly violent and underhanded means to stay in power. The party probably finally died in 2008 when Mugabe lost a Presidential election to the late Morgan Tsvangirai, but thanks to violence, outright cheating, and political support from our own ANC it managed to hold on to power. Zimbabwe continues to regress economically, with all that means for the Zimbabwean people. To illustrate this, in per capita terms the average Malaysian is now ten times richer than the average Zimbabwean – Malaysians were only slightly richer than Zimbabweans when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980.

The ANC is showing similar signs of dying. It is simply out of ideas and this is reflected in the policy solutions it puts forward for South Africa’s problems. Further evidence of its impending death are election results; the ANC secured its lowest-ever share of the vote in 2019, following a trend which began in the 2009 election.

To prolong its existence, the ANC may hope it doesn’t have to face the electorate, as the party has shown that once out of power it is even more bereft of energy and ideas. The Western Cape is the only province where the ANC has ever been voted out of power. In that province it went from a high-water mark of 45% in 2004, to winning barely 30% in 2019. And it has shown that once out of power it has little purpose; having no access to patronage taps, the party has floundered and it will take a brave man to vote against another ANC decline in 2024.

The fate of other hegemonic parties in Africa once they have lost power should also be cause for concern for the ANC. One need only think of UNIP in Zambia, KANU in Kenya or the National Party in this country to see what happens to parties which dominated politics in their country for many years but soon floundered once they were booted out by the voters.

And this suggests that the possible postponement of the local government election – originally scheduled for October – is more evidence that the ANC is slowly metamorphosing into a zombie.

The reasons given by Dikgang Moseneke for recommending a postponement of an election simply do not pass muster, as my colleague Gabriel Crouse points out here. And, given the nature of Covid-19 – which is likely to become endemic amongst humans (if it is not already) – postponing elections because of it could become the norm rather than the exception, with all that that means for democracy.

The party knows that facing the electorate in October could be a disaster for it. Its inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the economy suffer with untold misery. The recent looting and unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng also seem to be, at least partly, an internal ANC civil war that has spilled out onto the streets and seen many desperate and hungry people being used by cynical and nefarious actors. 

And many people will ask what the point of the South African government is, and by extension, the ANC. Many ordinary citizens had to work together with neighbours and private security to protect property and homes during the unrest, with the police (and the government) often abandoning communities to their fate (although at the same time many police bravely stood with citizens to protect lives and property).

In many ways the state is very close to already becoming a zombie, with South Africans paying tax (whether these be income or consumption taxes such as VAT) and getting very little in return for it.

It seems that the ANC is incapable of reinventing itself and becoming a party that can run a small, fairly sophisticated economy on the outskirts of the global hub. It is likely that it will continue to haemorrhage votes and probably die. However, there is little prospect of the ANC politely making its way into history books. On the available data the party will, like a zombie, be for all intents and purposes dead, but will continue to relentlessly devour resources until there is nothing more to eat. 

[Image: 1tamara2 / 284 images]