The African National Congress: A sad and sorry decline; The ruling party that triumphed under Nelson Mandela is in desperate need of cleansing—or it will deserve eventually to be defeated

The African National Congress: A sad and sorry decline; The ruling party that triumphed under Nelson Mandela is in desperate need of cleansing—or it will deserve eventually to be defeated

Jun 29th 2013 | JOHANNESBURG |From the print edition


THE ruling African National Congress (ANC), like many old revolutionary outfits, is fond of anniversaries. Reminding voters of past struggles and victories, with images of heroic Nelson Mandela prominent in its publicity, still helps win elections in a landslide. Last time round, in 2009, it won two-thirds of the vote against a mere 17% for the runner-up, the white-led Democratic Alliance (DA). After orchestrating a grand fanfare to celebrate its centenary last year, the ANC is preparing for another big party in 2014 to mark two decades of rule under democracy.It has some reasons to feel proud. Millions of black South Africans live better than under apartheid. More than 3m houses have been built for the poor since 1994, according to official figures; many more now have electricity and access to clean water. Despite a dismal hiatus under Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mr Mandela as president, serving from 1999-2008, South Africa is at last beating back the scourge of HIV/AIDS with campaigns of testing and treatment. A “national development plan” launched last year offers a thoughtful way to tackle poverty and inequality, though how to implement it is less clear.

Race relations are more amiable than before. Extremist groups, white and black, have faded away. Crime and murder rates, though still among the world’s highest, have dipped quite a bit. In 2010 the football World Cup brought South Africans together and showed off their beautiful land.

But in many other respects the ANC is floundering. Corruption is pervasive, with a permissive tone set at the top. President Jacob Zuma was previously tainted by an arms-deal scandal, though charges against him were dropped on technicalities. More recently he has been lambasted for the taxpayers’ fortune spent on glorifying his rural homestead. An official report into the matter has been declared top secret.

Just as big a blot on the ANC record is unemployment: 37% of working-age people, if you include “discouraged workers”, are jobless. In 2009, at the global recession’s height, Mr Zuma promised 500,000 new jobs by the year’s end; instead, 395,000 were lost. Black-empowerment schemes to redress apartheid’s injustices have been widely abused to enrich ANC-linked people. Mr Zuma’s relatives and pals have hugely benefited. Meanwhile the economy, led by a creaking mining sector in labour turmoil, is flagging. It hit its lowest point last year, when 34 protesters at the Marikana platinum mine were shot dead. Unrest elsewhere persists.

The list of problems goes on. The rate of rape is horrifying. Public hospitals are so bad that people say you go there to die, not to recover. Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid veteran who recently set up her own party out of frustration with the ANC, says that public education is worse than it was under apartheid. Through corruption and incompetence, tens of thousands of textbooks go missing every year.

Badly needed land reform has failed to materialise. The ANC pledged to transfer 30% of farmland to blacks by 2014 under a “willing seller, willing buyer” programme, but only 7% has changed hands. The ANC marked the centenary of the racist Natives Land Act with yet another gala dinner in an effort to show it intends to tackle the issue. Populists want the ANC simply to confiscate white-owned commercial farms.

The ANC’s foreign policy has hardly been more effective. As chief regional mediator over Zimbabwe, South Africa has plainly failed to get rid of Robert Mugabe (see next article). Mr Zuma’s belated attempt to resolve Libya’s crisis was an embarrassing flop. South African troops sent this year to sort out the Central African Republic came back with their tails between their legs, after rebels had killed 14 of them.

Mr Zuma is widely deemed to lack vision and panache. Younger leaders have yet to emerge. The ANC Youth League’s executive was disbanded after its bombastic boss, Julius Malema, turned against Mr Zuma. Many young South Africans plainly join the party to acquire business connections, not to serve their country.

The ANC is sure to win its fifth democratic election in a row next year. But it may enjoy an outright majority for only one or two more terms, as voters tire of the corruption infecting what has, in effect, been one-party rule. The opposition, led by the DA, is steadily growing. Moreover, the ANC’s alliance with the trade unions’ powerful confederation may be fraying. The ANC’s union-led faction and the communists, both key partners in the struggle against apartheid, may one day split from the ANC’s more mercenary establishment. More vital political competition is just what the country needs. Mr Mandela, saddened in his dying days by the ANC’s woeful decline, would surely have agreed.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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