I don’t buy the “good people in the ANC” argument. I believe they are there and they are many. I am not sure that makes a compelling argument to vote for the ANC. If we have learnt anything about how organisations and social change work, it is the complexity of changing patterns that have already set it.
Allow me to use an example that is outside the political environment. Let’s look at academia and how things work. Why? Because these patterns, hierarchies and self-servicing are deeply structural and embedded in our institutions.
Let’s look at the buddy network and appalling patronage systems in academia that no one wants to talk about. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. There are good people there, yet they too, are complicit, they too position themselves to get their tenure confirmed, to have security, to have a Professorial position and all that goes with it. Some, of course, are frustrated and find difficult to make changes in institutions, whose cultures are so deeply embedded.
So, we can continue to look at the academy and say, “ why is such and such an institution not transforming? It has good people.” Yes it does. Many are swimming against the tide. Many do so at great risk to their upward mobility. Many do just a little so that they are well positioned in all sorts of imaginable ways.
I choose not to be disparaging about the “the good people in the ANC”. I am not sure; in all honesty, I am not equipped nor do I have the moral standing to question their intentions. I am keen to examine my own practices in the spaces in which I work. I am curious to see what patterns I produce that either conform to the existing paradigms or challenge these. All of us are located somewhere and we have power at some point or the other in relation to others. My greatest anxiety is how these “free institutions” are left to their own devices. Please, don’t tell me about state interventionist approaches to universities. I know that and I know its dangers. For one, I am curious about individual and collective networks of academics and how these work.
Why have I focused on academia? Because this is where knowledge is produced, this is where future thinkers and epistemological questions are explored. This is where, in many instances, tight control exists in who publishes in what journals, who is on the editorial board, whose publishing is stifled by peer review and so on. These are not minor issues.
So, “the good people in the ANC” are probably frustrated and seek ways of turning the ship around. It is a big ask and yes, it is not impossible. So, if others believe that the ANC can be changed from within, for me that is a separate argument. So far, no one has shown how this can be done in the face of cultures and practices that have set in, within the ANC. I would like a conversation that takes us beyond these “good people” and demonstrates how they can do it and what they have done so far (even if its battles have been lost, at least we can learn from that).
I have no truck with people voting for ANC on the basis of “hope” that it will change or can be influenced from within and outside. It is a statement of faith and trust. One trusts without knowing exactly whether that trust will be betrayed again and again. This is different from blind loyalty and blind faith. It is partly a yearning for things to be set right in the ANC by the ANC. I respect that. Voting is also an expression of hope and desire. Those who have that, by all means, must be encouraged. Those who claim they can change things from within, it is about time they stepped forward and told us what it is that they intend to implement.
Frankly, I am not invested in electoralism. I don’t think one party or even ten parties will necessarily take us closer to where we want to go. Yes, that is an important and strategic space. Yes, one must use one’s vote wisely.
I am invested and invest my energy in understanding other zones of influence and other spaces of influence and holding those elected (from whatever party) accountable to that. That is why I am curious about the academic environment and how academics navigate that space.
In the last 6-7 years, I have been grappling with other spaces and sites of power and influence, institutions of traditional leadership and their power in communities. In every community, I have found counter-veiling forces that challenge the dominant narrative. I have found this most uplifting even in the most difficult times.
Any society can change for the better of worse when different players come into the picture. First, I think, they have to be as ready to be questioned and engaged, as we expect from politics. After all, academics are funded from our tax (to a limited extent).
I have not even touched on the private sector and it’s collusion with undesirable and exploitative practices.
I for one, am exhausted from these uni -dimensional conversations that focus only on political parties. Professor, Unionist, NGO leader, Market leaders and many others, please show me your record. Show me how you have made choices based on conscience, even if they do not advance your self-interest. In short, show me what you do, perhaps on a small scale that we can learn from and use as an example for those who play in a larger pond – that is the murky waters of politics. Until then, I am not sure I am qualified to make judgments on the choices of others, including those we consider “venal politicians”.