Saturday, 14 April 2012

The rise and decline of ANC hegemony

By RW Johnson
18 December 2011
RW Johnson on the slipping away of the ruling party's moral dominance

It's not clear how far the ANC's thinking about the hegemony it wishes to exercise over society has been inspired by the Gramscian model, but it is hard to believe that Gramsci hasn't had something to do with it. An Italian Marxist of the early part of this century, Antonio Gramsci was imprisoned by Mussolini and died, aged 46, in 1937. His works first became known to the English-speaking world in the 1960s through the pages of New Left Review, which was also responsible for introducing Anglophones to Merleau-Ponty, Althusser, Poulantzas and a host of other Continental Marxists.

NLR never had a large sale but its influence was immense on university campuses, for it was uncompromisingly intellectual and was willing and able to take on all-comers. It was certainly well-read in Marxist circles on the Sussex campus at the time that Thabo Mbeki and the Pahads were there, as well as on many other campuses where ANC exiles were students.

There was a problem, however. NLR has been founded in the wake of the crisis of British Communism following the revelation of Stalin's crimes and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, which had triggered mass resignations from the CPGB. Thus while NLR was a supporter of the revolutionary Left throughout the Third World, it had largely lost faith in the Soviet model and was thus not wholly approved of by orthodox Communists - and most ANC exiles were orthodox Soviet-line Communists. And while Soviet theorists were not hostile to Gramsci - he had been a leader of the Italian Communist Party (the PCI) and had died fighting fascism - nor did they quote him, regarding him in practise as suspiciously liberal and voluntarist.

Even so, it is clear that his influence did seep into various exile circles, often influencing further generations of exile students through them. This is clear, all else apart, from the usage of the term "organic intellectual", a Gramscian term, which can not infrequently be heard in the mouths of Left activists, let alone the continual stress on the need for ANC "hegemony", Gramsci's central concept.

Gramsci's vision

Gramsci was fascinated by the way in which ruling classes rule. While he accepted the standard Marxist notion that all forms of rule were really class dictatorships, he pointed out that in normal capitalist countries the ruling class did not rule principally by coercion. Instead, the peasants and workers voluntarily assented to many of the norms of bourgeois rule.

How could this be? It was, he said, because each ruling class generated its own dominant culture - egemonia - and that these ruling ideas became the ruling ideas of the whole society, not just of the bourgeoisie. In the Italian case, the peasantry and workers were deeply infused with the Catholicism which overlaid the whole of Italian society, and while this was so they would never join in, let alone lead, revolutionary action.

Culture was manufactured and propagated by intellectuals, Gramsci said. On the one hand there were "traditional intellectuals" working away as Shakespeare scholars, mathematicians, astronomers or even as students of liturgy. In effect, they belonged to a part of the superstructure which had floated free of the sub-structure, for their work had no direct class meaning. But each social class also had its "organic intellectuals", consciously trying to propagate the culture of their class as a part of the wider class struggle.

This was how Gramsci thought of his own role as editor first of Avanti! and then of L'Ordine Nuovo. He also helped found the PCI paper, L'Unita. For Gramsci regarded the role of newspapers as absolutely primary in the building of the party and the class.

The working class could not just achieve revolution by violence, Gramsci argued. Just as the bourgeosie had done, it had to build the presence of the party within society and to generate its own egemonia, so that even the bourgeoisie would be affected by this new ruling culture and would voluntarily accept many of its ruling ideas.

To do this, the party would build a wide series of alliances, constiuting what Gramsci called a "historic bloc" and would attempt to get its egemonia accepted by the whole of that bloc. This would in fact minimise the need for violence. There would be no need for terror or a police state after the revolution, for acceptance of the new cultural hegemony would mean that most people voluntarily accepted at least the main principles of the new order.

These ideas became basic to the PCI - for Gramsci and Togliatti were exact peers - which is why it built itself not as a vanguard party but as a mass party with millions of members, why it spawned endless alliances and front organizations, and why it sought a "historic compromise" with the Christian Democrats, hoping to spread a vague progressivism across the whole of that alliance. By 1976 the PCI was winning a whole one-third of the vote and these objectives did not seem so far away.

The SACP - fast asleep

The South African Communist Party, for its part, lived in a different world. It conducted its struggle in classic Leninist fashion, becoming the ideological vanguard of the ANC, leading its armed struggle, and very largely controlling the ANC-in-exile.  It was a Stalinist party in that it simply paid no heed to Marxist theorists outside the Lenin-Stalin canon. Indeed, whereas European communist parties were traumatised and shaken by the twin shock of Hungary and Khruschev's revelations about Stalin, neither event had any noticeable effect on South African communism for it seemed to live in a parochial, iron-clad world of its own.

The Eurocommunism of the 1960s and 1970s found no echo within the SACP, and none of the great intellectual controversies of European Marxism seemed of any interest to the decidedly unintellectual SACP. Quite how insulated from reality the SACP had been became evident only in the 1990s when Slovo talked of how shaken he and his comrades had been by Gorbachev's recent revelations about the Gulag. Yet this was fantastical. First word of the Gulag had seeped out of the USSR in the late 1930s. In the early post-war world there had been a major controversy over the Gulag in the pages of Sartre's Les Temps Modernes in the late 1940s. 

After Stalin's death in 1953 more and more people were released from the Gulag and came back to tell their awful tale, a fact which built up to Khruschev's major speech on the subject at the 20th CPSU Congress of 1956. Thereafter, more and more details seeped out either in official ways - e.g. via the rehabilitation of  more and more of those murdered and demonised by Stalin - or through the novels (e.g. Gulag Archipelago, Cancer Ward) and other writings of the dissidents. For Slovo to admit to his shock at the revelation of the Gulag was actually an admission that he had been a Rip Van Winkle, snoring through the last several decades of Marxist and Communist life.

However, De Klerk's sudden decision to abolish apartheid in 1990 and to offer the exiles full democracy completely destabilised the Party and its strategy. Suddenly the slogan, so often repeated, about "the seizure of state power" was out of date, as was the armed struggle and many more such shibboleths. Before long, even nationalisation and socialism were gone, or at least indefinitely postponed.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union collapsed along with all the other Warsaw Pact communist states. Not only was the Cold War over but the SACP found itself on the losing side. Long term Communist cadres, both exiles and inziles - Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and many another - suddenly went on unlimited sabbatical from the SACP and even Slovo announced that he would "devote himself to ANC work" in the future, his way of saying that he wanted to be regarded as an ANC cadre instead of a Communist. The ANC grasped desperately at affirmative action, about the only "radical" policy still available amidst this flotsam and jetsam.

The new reach for hegemony

It was within this context that the ANC began to reach for "hegemony". Even if it could not have sole power, even if it had to be just one party competing against others, it would nonetheless demand a complete dominance over the entire system - and its culture. Straight away in 1990 its cadres fanned out, seeking control of the cultural commanding heights - of the universities, of the SABC, of the Human Sciences Research Council and, of course, of the press. It gained predominant control in the first three fairly quickly - but the problem was that ANC control was also profoundly destructive. Fairly soon the HSRC ceased to matter and most English-speakers just stopped listening to the SAFM English programme. Most of the old black tribal colleges either collapsed completely and had to be put under administration or were so close to that state as to positively repel students.

The assault on the universities

The Afrikaans-medium universities were left to their own devices - though soon almost none were Afrikaans-speaking. The old English-speaking universities were the main target and they effectively became parastatals whose vice chancellors could not be appointed save with ANC assent. This had a deadening effect throughout those universities which ceased to be reservoirs of critical thought. With no real exceptions they embraced the new ANC-friendly political correctness, with Wits setting a low point by giving William Makgoba its highest honour although as Deputy Vice Chancellor he had illegally purloined the personnel files of numerous senior faculty and used them to defame the faculty members in question.

This low point was matched by UCT bestowing a special leadership award on President Mbeki, making special mention of his Aids denialism in favourable terms. What these awards betokened was that the country's two leading English-speaking universities were willing to go to almost any lengths to ingratiate themselves with the new elite.

But the real damage was done less publicly. South Africa had followed the British university model in which the crucial academic body was the university senate, composed of all the professors. What this guaranteed was that in day-to-day governance universities were run as a republic of the scholars. This was, in the last analysis, the best guarantee of academic freedom and academic standards.

Which would, of course, no longer be tolerable in an age of ANC hegemony for it would guarantee the independence of critical thought, which was just what was not wanted, and of academic standards which might have politically undesirable consequences. What was wanted now was "transformation".

This vague term was seldom resisted: most academics and administrators voluntarily embraced it though there was no agreement as to what it meant. For some it meant a voyage of personal change - it was easily assumed that all whites were racists to some extent and needed a bit of healthy brain-washing. Others saw it as being about changing syllabi or gender equality or affirmative action. It meant all of these things and more and in general it meant changing in an ANC-directed way.

What it meant most of all, though, was pretending. University entrance criteria would be ratcheted down so as to make it easier for black students from lousy schools to gain entry but the pretence was that standards has been maintained.

Then, because many of these students were barely literate, many universities devised remedial courses for them to "bring them up to speed". This involved several levels of pretence: first that it was a reasonable use of university resources to do all manner of high school teaching; second, virtually all students were "passed" at the end of these remedial stints, so the pretence was that they were now really ready to do degree-level work, which most manifestly weren't; third, the universities would all pretend that they were committed above all to "excellence" though in fact the standard of their courses and degrees was dropping fast; fourth, degrees would be awarded to students who, in their final year, were still not fully literate, leading to a hideous devaluation of those degrees in the labour marketplace; fifth, black academics who were often clearly rather weak would be appointed in preference to whites who were often stronger on the pretence that these blacks were at least equally good or better; and finally, as the research output of these new appointees was often derisory, all manner of strategems would be adopted to disguise the resultant deterioration in the university's research profile - retired, honorary or supernumerary faculty would have their research counted as part of the university's output, and so on.

These pretences were not only dishonest but very cruel for they offered to underprivileged black students the promise and the appearance that they would receive an education of unaltered quality, prestige and utility, whereas in fact the opposite was the case. Coincidentally, these changes also collectively meant that the universities would fail the country.

It could hardly be imagined that all these changes would be acceptable to the academic faculty. So under the new dispensation the powers of vice chancellors and university councils grew enormously, as did those of new, more powerful deans and bureaucrats, as also the SASCO-dominated SRCs and the Nehawu-organised staff. Everywhere the academic faculty were the losers, finding themselves relegated to worker-ant status, with new ideological gatekeepers in powerful positions throughout the academic structure. Senates simply ceased to matter - and with them went academic freedom. In the worst case - the University of KwaZulu-Natal - the Vice Chancellor enacted rules giving him the ability to scrutinize and censor the e-mails of all academic faculty.

UKZN was important - the first of the old liberal universities to be reduced to tribal college status. Academics not only feared for their jobs but fled in fear. The whiff of panic could be sensed throughout the system. Protest and critical thought, let alone critical publication, simply withered on the vine. UKZN was not an isolated example: at Wits too there was a determined flight of the liberal-minded.

But nowhere was safe anymore and so universities became graveyards of critical thought. Such critical intellectuals as still existed had to live beyond the confines of the campus. For them it was a condition of life that the one place where they would never be invited to speak would be on a university campus.

With this something very important in South Africa died. But there was no funeral, no common understanding of the death that had occurred and it would have been dangerously politically incorrect for anyone to have been caught grieving. The pretence went on that nothing had changed. University PR departments continually spoke of their "pursuit of excellence", of how the universities were determinedly rising to their new challenges and so on. In truth everyone knew this was a fraud.

You just had to look at the modern breed of vice-chancellor and compare them to the old breed - Duminy, Malherbe, Bozzoli - who had fought for academic freedom against apartheid, to understand how much had been lost. Not just in courage and intellectual gravitas, but in intellectual depth and, indeed, in truthfulness. Occasionally, even black intellectuals like Mamphela Ramphele remarked aloud that the universities seemed to have fallen asleep, that there was no more protest, no more critical thought coming from that direction. Such observations would fall like hail on the roof: an immediate clatter and then they were gone, melted. For no one cared to enquire too deeply at how bad the damage was, how Mamphela herself had caused enormous damage when she was vice-chancellor of UCT. It wasn't just that the truth was painful. It was embarrassing.

A consensus with the press

This left the press. Here too there was grave cause for concern since Tony O'Reilly, whose Independent Newspapers (IN) had bought the Argus chain, was equally desperate to ingratiate himself with an ANC leadership which wanted nothing less than full press control. O'Reilly's nominee, Ivan Fallon - despite his ultra-Thatcherite past, a hired gun in the last analysis - sought to ensure that IN would give no offence to the ANC, a command all too happily obeyed by such shamelessly deferential editors as Peter Sullivan and Shaun Johnson. However, this never fully applied to either Business Day or the Mail and Guardian, nor to the whole of the Afrikaans press.

Meanwhile all sections of the press sought refuge in a ridiculous show of Mandela-worship, hoping desperately that this would protect them from the regime's ire. Anthony Sampson was dispatched by the ANC to go round Fleet Street demanding that the present writer not be published in any British paper - a foolish and illiberal errand which ended in complete failure.

Undoubtedly the period of greatest danger was 1994-1999 with Mandela's popularity at its zenith. In that period the ANC found many white admirers and members, often well-educated and well-connected folk so that a new sort of pro-ANC political correctness was very much in vogue at dinner party tables. Thabo Mbeki and Essop Pahad repeatedly tried to pull the press into an alliance with the government.

At endless bosberaads the suggestion would be made that the press should agree on its collective point of view and the governments on its. Then a deal could be brokered so that everyone could speak with the same voice - a perfect example of the attempted creation of a "historic bloc" which would then generate a single overall hegemony. This came close to happening, for many of the editors were naïve and wishful and everyone agreed that the government "had the moral high ground".

Luckily there were enough old-style liberals like Raymond Louw to argue that the press could never have just one view because newspapers were necessarily individualist and competitive, and that, a fortiori, the press could never forge a consensus view with government because its job was to stand outside such elite pacts, reporting on them and, if necessary, criticizing them. Even so, it was a close run thing and most of the press was deeply deferential towards the ANC. To the fury of the opposition Democratic Party, it was very difficult to get fair coverage of alternative points of view, and even when there was coverage it was often snide.

The mood was best expressed for me by a meeting I had with Philip Van Niekerk, editor of the Mail and Guardian, in early 1994. I asked him what he was hoping for in the coming election. Well, he replied cheerfully, I think there is a really good chance that the ANC can win all nine provinces. Would you like that, I asked? He seemed quite flummoxed by the question. It seemed never to have occurred to him that one could not be positive about such a prospect. "What I mean", I said, "is don't you want there to be an Opposition at all?" He was clearly discomfited to have it put like that. "Well, I don't mind if the DP get a few seats here and there", he said. "But that's not the point, is it?" I persisted. "If the ANC controls the central government and all nine provinces, no countervailing voice of any kind will be heard. It's crucial that somebody else wins at least some of those provinces."

Philip glared at me because it was obvious to us both that what that meant was the IFP winning KwaZulu-Natal and the National Party winning the Western Cape. Both of these parties were anathema to him. He could never find himself wishing for their victory. The difference between us, I realised, was that I just wanted someone - anyone - to block the road to one-partyism whereas, for him, anxiety at such a prospect was a wholly new thought. And this was the editor of a paper which had fought hard for press freedom, which saw itself as a critical voice.

To be fair, Philip became a good editor and fought hard for most of the right things. He certainly came to regret his own simple-minded ANC loyalties and, indeed, burnt his boats with Mbeki. The same was true of his successor, Howard Barrell. Up until then a career at the M&G had served as a useful springboard to higher office of one kind or another but both Van Niekerk and Barrell ended their editorial careers by emigrating, an ample comment on the rising price of dissent in ANC-ruled South Africa. But the real turning point came, of course, with the Zuma vs Mbeki struggle which accidentally but completely freed the press: since there were now two ANC sides at one another's throats, the press was at liberty to say what it wanted. There was an immediate sea change - which has never been reversed.

Yet hegemony escapes

Roll the clock forward to 2011 and what do we find? The universities and the SABC, still in their deathly coma, probably matter less than for generations. The press is lively, dissident and full of stories to the discredit of the president, government and ANC. The parliamentary Opposition to the ANC is stronger than at any time since 1994 and that Opposition continues to make inroads at local level. ANC factionalism has become a way of life. There is, nowadays, nothing particularly novel about the leader of Cosatu making angry speeches about corruption in the ANC leading to all manner of malgovernance, thuggery and even assassination.

This goes unchallenged because the evidence, even of the assassinations, is plentiful and public. The credibility of government has never been lower. When Zuma took office and promised half a million jobs, nobody really believed him - and indeed the score after a year was minus 900,000, not plus 500,000. So Zuma swiftly followed up with a promise to create 5 million jobs by 2020.

Even fewer believed a word of it. And then, to top it all, Trevor Manuel's Plan spoke of 11 million new jobs to be created by 2030. Mr Manuel is no fool and it is extremely hard to believe that he had the slightest faith in such a promise himself. Similarly, the government bravely claims to believe in a new National Health Insurance system which depends on the public health system being turned round to become efficient and well-managed and in the government finding, out of nowhere, many scores of thousands more health professionals. It is doubtful if one person in a hundred believes in that.

The ANC has lost virtually all its politically correct white fringe. The only whites left in the ANC now are either tired old apparatchiks (usually Communists) imprisoned in their own ideology or a few odds and ends who are typically regarded by other whites as cranks or as having personality disorders. Something similar is happening in both the Indian and Coloured communities. Even ANC supporters do not claim these days that they occupy "the moral high ground", for fear of ribald laughter. This has prompted some - Rhoda Khadalie, for example - to try to date when exactly the ANC lost that ground and changed from the Mandela ANC into today's federation of warlords. This is an ahistorical mistake.

Factionalism, corruption and the use of political violence (including assassination) were all part of the ANC's life in exile. All these tendencies were at work from the moment that the ANC relaunched itself back in South Africa in 1990. The truth was disguised for a while by the Mandela leadership cult but the fact is, of course, that the arms deal and the corruption it brought into the centre of South African life, occurred under Mandela's presidency.

Today's situation is a simple, organic growth. It is not some surprising and dreadful fall from grace (only the most shallow and tired political commentators speak of the ANC "losing its soul"). It is exactly what we should all have expected if we had bothered to notice how the ANC ran itself in exile or, indeed, had we had bothered to notice how harsh, corrupt and ruthless large areas of black South African life are.

The ANC has reacted to this denouement by trying to rein in the press and by frantic attempts to plug the damaging leaks which emanate regularly from its own ranks due to the exigencies of factional warfare. Gwede Matashe, the party's Secretary-General, frantically berates the "agents" and "fifth columnists" in the party's ranks who are "selling secrets". He even waxes indignant that press reports quickly appear with accounts of meetings of the party's "top six" officials - without, apparently, realising that this means that some within the top six are themselves leaking information. Naturally, Mantashe regards all this with the usual ANC paranoia, apparently oblivious of the fact that this is how all parties in democratic societies behave.

What all this means, of course, is not only that the ANC is not building a cultural hegemony over South African society but that it is quite impossible that it could do so. The test, remember, is whether the ANC's assumptions are voluntarily assented to even by its potential opponents so that they happily comply with no need for coercion. This is not a description of how any of the racial minorities think. Their attitude towards ANC rule is angry, mocking and entirely cynical.

In general they get away with whatever they can: consciousness of widespread government corruption has entirely undermined even ordinary civic-mindedness about one's duty to pay taxes. Recent election results suggest that such resistant attitudes towards ANC rule have become virtually unanimous among whites, with white support for the DA reaching dimensions hitherto seen only in the Eastern European People's Democracies. But the results also show both the Indian and Coloured communities consolidating around similar views and the DA breaking into the African vote, indicating that the ANC is retreating from hegemony, not advancing towards it.

Regretting the Late Bourgeois World

This situation is more or less inevitable given the obvious contrast between the DA-ruled Western Cape and the ANC-ruled provinces, and the similar contrast between DA-ruled Cape Town and the other ANC-ruled cities. In Johannesburg two weeks ago I realised how far the city has slipped towards the status of a Kinshasa. In a very large area of Joburg including the suburb in which I resided, there was an eighteen hour blackout - no apology, no explanation. We drove frantically for miles seeking an area where there was electricity and hot food. Dark shapes flitted in front of the car and there were no street lights.

Of the 25 traffic lights we went through, nineteen weren't working. Friends said "We live in an ungoverned city". Weeds grew rank on pavements and highways. It was dispiriting, a reminder of how far and fast one can fall. The idea that Joburg could be the main city of South Africa, or even of Africa, seemed ludicrous. For any resident of Cape Town such pretensions seem merely laughable.

Meanwhile more and more of Africa floods towards Cape Town, the fastest growing city. We are continually treated to foolish articles telling us Cape Town is still too white, is still not African enough. No one seems to stop and consider that since Cape Town is growing faster than anywhere else, this is clearly what is most valued and wanted.

Everyone is willing to have a bit of folklorique Africana provided the city runs properly, the police, the schools, the hospitals and the roads all work.

The problem is that anyone over the age of 35 remembers when all of South Africa used to be like that. That's when all the roads, railways and traffic lights got built: our much simpler job is merely to maintain them and that is clearly not happening. No one wants to be accused of nostalgia for apartheid - and in truth apartheid was ugly, irredeemable, un-regretted by anyone - but there is undoubtedly a deep nostalgia among all races for the way South Africa was once run, where jobs got done, where the cities were properly managed and so on. Looked at from this point of view ANC rule is merely an affliction, a national misfortune. This is not just a white or minority race perspective: in an article in the Sunday Independent (11 December 2011) the black journalist, Prince Mashele, asks "How can we save society from the degeneration of the ruling party?" Similar perspectives are to be found in the writings of other black journalists. And quite clearly, a party whose rule is viewed as an affliction or misfortune is in no position to establish, let alone strengthen, its hegemony. For the moment the ANC is paying scant attention to this situation for the life of the party lies in its factions and while the party enjoys national power each faction can dream of gaining the ascendancy which would enable it to make it "their turn to eat".

The ANC has responded to this problem by repeated attempts to unseat the DA from the city of Cape Town and the Western Cape - but the DA has entrenched itself still further. It has launched its own newspaper, The New Age, but the effect is miniscule, the paper loses money every day and even it has begun to voice criticisms of the ANC. And it has brought in the new Secrecy Bill - though this will clearly alienate the press even further. So none of these steps work and, indeed, they are likely to be counter-productive. The re-election of Jacob Zuma as president - still the most likely outcome - will almost certainly deepen public cynicism still more.

Meanwhile the SACP has clearly become agitated at the situation: they inveigh frequently against "neoliberalism" and against liberal-minded NGOs like the SA Institute of Race Relations and speak of their determination to win "the battle of ideas". This has no popular echo and is important only as evidence that they are aware that the game is slipping away from them.

What next?

So what next? It is tempting to predict a much tougher crack-down against the liberal-spirited (with black journalists in the front row) as the full seriousness of this loss of hegemony dawns on the regime. But history is rather against that. We have, after all, had three waves of nationalism. The first was a British jingo wave. It felt supreme confidence in its hegemony at the conclusion of the Anglo-Boer War but this was rapidly disappointed when it became clear both that Afrikaner resistance had not died away and also that the voting solidarity of the Anglo-bloc was a lot weaker than Milner and Churchill had hoped. Faced with these realities by 1907 they realised that they could only prevail through another armed conflict, for which they had no appetite at all.

Accordingly the Jingoes had to retreat towards a "common South Africanism" of Boer and Briton, an ideology which became the central theme of Botha, Smuts and the United Party. But even so, this hegemony was always contested by Afrikaner nationalists on the Right and African nationalists on the Left. This "common (white) South Africanism" was the nearest thing to a hegemonic ideology in the 1910-1948 period but its hold was always a little tenuous, even before it was completely overthrown by Malan's Nationalists in 1948.

This second wave of Afrikaner nationalism proceeded to build a hegemony which was intended to last indefinitely. The rule of the NP was strongly supported by the DRC, by a network of Afrikaans newspapers, by hugely strengthened Afrikaans schools and universities and by a rising Afrikaner business class. Together these institutions fused to form a class "historic bloc" of formidable proportions, reinforced by an Afrikaner-led police and armed forces of great strength. Yet even so, this hegemony was never uncontested - by the English-speaking press and Opposition, by the English-speaking universities, by African nationalism and by Liberals and the far Left.

Gradually this hegemony weakened - by the 1970s there were clear splits in the ruling Afrikaner bloc and by the 1980s the National Party had largely lost confidence in its mission, had ceased to believe very much in itself and the vision it had so long preached. Thus once the crucial crack in the edifice came in 1990, the party swiftly fell apart and vanished altogether.

African nationalism came to power with more mass support than either of these two earlier waves but it has been losing that support at a prodigal rate: if one measures its support not as a proportion of the electorate but as a fraction of the eligible adult population, one gets a true picture of how deeply abstention and even a refusal to register at all, have eaten into the great voting wave of 1994.

But perhaps even more important, African nationalism entirely lacks the institution-building skills of the earlier waves. English-speaking whites bequeathed the country its major liberal universities, a network of private schools, key public corporations and a series of Anglo-churches. Afrikaners left behind them Afrikaans financial institutions, the DRC, the Afrikaans universities and hoerskools. African nationalism has built no distinctive institutions of its own outside the party itself.

It is, in that sense, very much less well equipped to defend its hegemony. History suggests that as that slips away the party will be left increasingly bereft, increasingly unsure of itself and vulnerable to internal collapse.

There may, in other words, never come a moment when the ANC attempts to erect a coercive regime to shore up its faltering hegemony. Either way, that moment is still some way off. For the moment its factions can continue to bat around the notion of the national democratic revolution and can continue to believe in such impossibilities as the NHI or 11 million jobs by 2030. But the time will come when they look back and realise that the battle for hegemony was irrevocably lost long before and with it any chance that their dreams could prevail.

RW Johnson

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