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Hanging over all this is the virtual dissolution of the ANC leadership and its descent into squabbling factionalism. The party’s heroic period is well and truly over. The myths and slogans of the liberation struggle are less and less able to hold the party together. Everyone is familiar with the life cycle of African nationalist parties. They enjoy mushrooming growth amid the euphoria of the successful anti-colonial struggle. In office they quickly become corrupt and their incompetence becomes increasingly visible. The party begins to atrophy and depends more and more on its control of patronage and the media. Electorally, it falls back into reliance on the chiefs in the countryside as urban dwellers become increasingly oppositional. Then if (as has so often occurred) a coup takes place the soldiers are welcomed by cheering crowds in the streets and the ruling party simply evaporates like a bad dream. Its life cycle is thus often quite short. 

It is clear that the ANC is well along this cycle. It is losing in the cities, is ever more reliant on the chiefs, indeed on the Bantustans, and it is irredeemably corrupt. The leftish Mail & Guardian talks hopefully of the next ANC generation taking over and instances the young ministers Fikile Mbalula and Malusi Gigaba. Yet Mbalula is merely a figure of fun,  and Gigaba is the man who ordered a halt to all maintenance by the Eskom electricity utility during the World Cup (causing terrible power cuts thereafter) and then brought in the visa restrictions which crippled the tourist industry. If they are the ANC’s best young Turks, the party is in terrible trouble.

There will be no coup in South Africa: the civic culture is too strong and the army, like most other state institutions, exists only in shreds and patches. Under apartheid it was ranked the world’s 10th strongest, just ahead of Israel. Now it probably doesn’t make the top 100.

But the notion of the ANC as a party able to hold the country together is just about gone. We have reached a point where simple continuity from what has gone before is no longer possible.
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