Yes, there is life after the ANC’s death. This is what voters ...

Ideas

Yes, there is life after the ANC’s death. This is what voters need to know

People vote for it because they mistake it for the state. They must be assured they won’t be destitute without it

Columnist
Image: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/File

Modern capitalism, I am regularly told, will be the death of us.

Certainly, when it has become quite unexceptional to read that Siberia and the Amazon are on fire, that billionaires have profited enormously from a global pandemic, and that the rest of us are praying that the world’s factories will soon return to full capacity, making plastic whatsits that nobody needs so that imaginary wealth can keep being juggled by the “richest” nations, I can’t help feeling that capitalism, at least in its current form, is pretty terrible.

But what’s the alternative?

I’m not asking this facetiously or to dismiss the possibility of an alternative. If we can talk seriously about landing on Mars we must, surely, be capable of figuring out a system that doesn’t require large numbers of people to be very poor so that a small number can be very rich.

If that system already exists and is being ignored by the capitalist-owned media, I apologise. But from where I stand right now, the alternatives to capitalism still seem to be little more than passionate debates between well-intentioned people being paid by grants donated by capitalists.

Which is why, when people tell me the current system is broken and monstrous, I have to say: Yes, I hear you, and I believe you. But until you’ve figured out what comes next, and can present me with a clear outline of how the handover is going to work, and whether I’m going to keep paying rent with money or need to ask my bank if it accepts 800-word columns, or perhaps small collections of sonnets, in lieu of debit orders, I’m afraid I’m going to keep my head down and keep doing what I’ve been doing.

I am aware that this makes me complicit in inequality and injustice. I know that, simply by living my life in this decade of this century, I am an investor in the burning of rainforests and the wasting of human potential. But what comes next still feels like an abstraction, and you can’t eat abstractions.

By implying that people who vote for the ANC are credulous suckers, it is deliberately ignoring the fact that millions of people vote for the ANC not because they feel it is a political choice.

In the last week or two, some of our leading pundits have suggested that the ANC has finally gone too far and could realistically lose the next general election. Certainly, there is a sense that something has torn loose and has started to slide, and it makes a certain sense to imagine that the frenzy of looting will sink the ANC as a political party.

The thing is, the ANC isn’t a political party any more. It’s an economy. By deliberately erasing the distinction between party and state, the ANC has also erased the distinction between itself and South Africa’s real economy. For millions of ANC voters, the national economy is the finance department of the ANC. The “invisible hand” of classical economics isn’t invisible at all: it wears a stylish leather glove, branded in ANC colours, and clutches a regular paycheck, sometimes a braai pack, and, if you’re particularly well placed, a McMansion with a Range Rover in the drive.

Every week, my media colleagues and I despair about the most visible beneficiaries of this parallel, parasitic economy; this entirely new socioeconomic class that has sprung up like weeds on the dung heap of patronage and corruption. But out of the glare of the headlines, living quiet, law-abiding, god-fearing lives, there are millions of South Africans, from business owners to bureaucrats to grandmothers relying on social grants, who believe that the state is the ANC, and that they are therefore being fed by the ANC.

Expecting these millions of people to abandon the party because it is corrupt and destructive is exactly like expecting me to abandon capitalism because it is killing the world. Fair enough, we’ll say, but who’s paying my rent next month?

This is where, I think, the opposition has missed an essential trick.

By implying that people who vote for the ANC are credulous suckers, or by explicitly suggesting that they are accomplices to a terrible crime, it is deliberately ignoring the fact that millions of people vote for the ANC not because they feel it is a political choice but because they believe it is an economic necessity.

And it is there that the opposition should focus its messaging: not by telling ANC voters how wicked they are but by showing them, carefully and clearly, that the party and the state are not supposed to be the same things; that the country will still need bureaucrats and police and teachers and municipal workers when the ANC falls; that the social grants will still be paid.

It has told us that the ANC will be the death of us. Fair enough. But now it must show us what comes next: more of the same, or life after death?