South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), has undergone dramatic changes over the last thirty years. Historically a hotbed of political activism, Port Elizabeth is an illuminating site. In 2016, observers greeted with shock the ANC’s loss of the city, one of its crown jewels and a party stronghold. Yet, as this book shows through its analysis of power and politics in Port Elizabeth, the party’s political decline was authored by its own hand.
This book studies the ANC at a local level over a 28-year period and informs what is now playing out at a national level. The book traces four stages that characterise the party’s post-1990 life in Port Elizabeth: rebuilding; ascension to political office; political decline; and adaptation to new contexts where its power was lost or is under threat.
Ironically, the efforts to rebuild the ANC post-unbanning lie at the root of the decline, because they were misdirected. Buoyed to office by their party’s heroic stature, the book shows how some party leaders in Port Elizabeth abused power for financial gain. A generally weak regulatory environment allowed abuse to become endemic. Service delivery failed, and corrosion of moral leadership set in. As the party failed to stem the morass, internal democracy gave way to a strongman syndrome and the party deteriorated into an instrument that provided access to, and dispensed, patronage.
Stunningly, electoral loss did not trigger reforms. As the ANC battled to re-make itself outside of government, some leaders even recruited the underworld to settle contests and secure access to patronage. Port Elizabeth did not see a ’new dawn’.
This evidence-based book is an enthralling account of how the ANC rebuilt itself into a governing organisation, but failed to cohere into an institution of democracy, becoming instead an amalgam of competing factions for patronage. Readers will judge how much Port Elizabeth is a microcosm of the entire ANC.
Acronyms and abbreviations
- Rebuilding and path to power
- Adapting to political office
- ‘You keep your Standard House; I’ll keep my City Hall’
- The decline begins, 2006–2012
- Pseudo reforms: Concealment of malfeasance and interference at City Hall, 2013–2014
- Ukufa kusembhizeni – The enemy lies within!
- Latshon’ ilang’ emini – Sunset at midday
- From incumbency to opposition and back: A return to infamy
About the author