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Unravelling of a nationalist party

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 12, 2022

The advent of nationalist parties in developing countries in the late 19th and 20th centuries demonstrated the desires of the struggling masses that yearned to control their own affairs and to develop their nations. In this context, the goals of the People's National Movement (the word "national" is important) were no different from those of the Indian National Congress in India, the African National Congress in South Africa, and the People's National Party in Jamaica. These parties were all steeled by the impetus to empower the struggling masses and to democratise a system ruled by colonial powers.

At its beginning, these parties were led by men and women who had the best interests of their people at heart—their leaders found enormous satisfaction in devoting their lives to benefit their people. Several illustrious leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru of India; Nelson Mandela of South Africa, and Eric Williams of T&T emerged during that glorious period. No sooner had these nationalist leaders left the scene than a band of weaker leaders emerged to take their place.

One example would suffice. The ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, was founded in 1912. When the ruling party of South Africa adopted a formal policy of apartheid in 1952, the ranks of the ANC swelled to oppose those laws. Nelson Mandela, the freedom fighter who embraced his enemies, emerged from this patriotic ferment and led his people to freedom and the abolishment of apartheid in 1994.

When Mandela resigned the presidency in 2004, he wanted Cyril Ramaphosa, his close aide and chief negotiator of the apartheid talks, to succeed him but the party elected Thabo Mbeki instead. Mbeki was followed by Jacob Zuma, whose scandal-filled regime brought shame to the ideals of its ANC founders. Ramaphosa got his chance in 2018 to serve as president. He didn't do as well.

After Ramaphosa was bypassed for the presidency in 2004, he devoted himself to business. By 2015 his net worth was $450 million, making him one of the richest people in Africa. This was quite a rise for a man who was born in Soweto Township, one of the poorest areas in South Africa.

When he announced his run for the presidency in 2018, he declared he wanted the party to revert "to the values that were espoused and subscribed to by Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and many other leaders" and to tackle "the roots of this corruption" that had infected the ANC leadership that was running the country.

However, prior to his becoming president of South Africa, Ramaphosa displayed his own despicable betrayal of the people who had made him wealthy. In 2012, he was implicated in the shooting deaths of mine workers at the platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa. Forty-seven people were killed, including 34 miners, while 78 other people were injured.

At the time of the shootings, Ramaphosa, a former mineworkers' union leader, sat on the executive board of the London-based Lonmin, "the company that operated the mine at Marikana" (CNN World, February 1, 2018). Although many of these mine workers were members of the ANC, it did not prevent Ramaphosa from urging "government ministers to come down hard on the ‘criminal' workers" (London Guardian, August 15, 2014).

But character is destiny. Six months ago Ramaphosa said the sum of US$580,000 was stolen from a sofa at his private game reserve in Phala Phala, although his accusers believe the true amount was about US$4 million. Ramaphosa says the money came from the sale of buffalo to a Sudanese businessman even though no buffalo ever left his property.

An independent panel led by a former South African chief justice Sandile Ngcobo released a report that found Ramaphosa might have committed serious misconduct in not reporting a US$4 million theft from his private farm. In an effort to save Ramaphosa from impeachment, ANC's National Executive Committee threw its weight behind its leader while Ramaphosa "asked the country's highest court to dismiss a damning report accusing him of abuse of power" (Financial Times, December 6).

The ANC will hold its leadership vote on Friday. Ramaphosa is expected to win the leadership contest in spite of his apparent flaunting of the nation's law and the killing, in cold blood, of the members who supported his party in the first place. However, his reputation as an anti-corruption crusader has certainly been damaged. One wonders how he views the struggling masses who support him.

ANC's main trade union alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which supported Ramaphosa's bid to unseat Zuma in 2016, said it will not support Ramaphosa's election bid. KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Secretary Edwin Mkhize said "he didn't think the labour federation would endorse any candidate since all candidates that COSATU supported ended up disappointing them and left workers divided" (South Africa Daily News, November 30).

Today, unemployment is sky-high in South Africa while "the demand for South African assets collapsed on Thursday (December 1), with the rand sliding and the yield on government bonds soaring... The prognosis isn't unreservedly gloomy... It's a good thing that South Africa's political system, for all its flaws, allows for a leader to be removed for misdeeds" (Washington Post, December 2).

Last Sunday our nationalist party held its party election. Despite the tremendous problems that plague our country, they re-elected the same tired leaders. As the liquor flowed and the populist rhetoric soared, the opulence of the moneyed interests in the party revealed itself. One wonders where the little man stood in all of this. Or is it that nationalism has taken a backseat to careerists, special-interest groups and plutocrats?

Prof. Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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