What Now for the Black Middle Class Supporters of the ANC?

By Russell Ally · 2 Oct 2008

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Picture: blackbiz.meetup.com
Picture: blackbiz.meetup.com

It's very difficult for anyone to make complete sense of what is presently happening in the ANC or to offer any definitive answers to what will happen in the future. All those who claim anything to the contrary, including the dominant group within the ANC, are either being foolhardy or disingenuous.

Everything is in flux, shifting before our eyes on an almost continuous basis, giving tangible meaning to that old adage, 'the only constant thing in life is change'. So while we may not be able to predict the next chapter in this ever-unfolding story, what we can be certain of is that the saga is far from over. In fact, it seems to be more the end of a beginning than the beginning of an end.

Historically, the ANC has always been the expression of the oppressed black middle classes in our country, which needed to be supported in pursuit of their aspirations by the downtrodden masses. As these middle classes found their interests more and more trampled upon by the former white rulers, they needed to immerse themselves deeper and deeper within the working masses. That many of them had their origins within these working masses, made this immersion seem almost 'natural', a seamless class transmogrification. For many of them, it was as if they had never left.

But this immersion didn’t mean the end of all class contradictions. If it did, the ANC would not have found within the ranks of the working masses other forms of political expression, such as trade unions, socialist movements and communist parties. Always, however, it was the interests of the middle classes that prevailed, sometimes for political expediency, other times in messy compromises.

These oppressed middle classes have since grown up and through the ascendancy to political power of the ANC have been able to secure important positions in government, the state, business, civil society, the universities and other places of influence. From being a class-in-the-making, they have become a class with a more clearly defined sense of their own destiny.

It is this 'relative' certainty that was first interrupted by developments in the ANC preceding Polokwane, rudely ruptured by the outcome of Polokwane and now seemingly overturned by the recall of Thabo Mbeki. If this was indeed what Moeletsi Mbeki said in a recent interview, then it reflects the panic that has now set in:

"…this is the end of an era. I don't know where the ANC is going, but it is not going to be the one that was there for the past 96 years. Gone is the old black elite, which guided black society for nearly 100 years. The Fort Hare graduates are nowhere to be seen. No legal minds like those of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. No more powerful individuals. Not nearly as much intellectual muscle.  Are there any lawyers in the group that's there now? How many economists are in the NEC? How many engineers? How many doctors? How many PhD holders? How many people with master's degrees? I haven't heard much about those. This is a totally different ANC. There is a new era now and anything is possible. It's unpredictable."

The big question, of course, on everyone’s minds is will this new era mean a split in the ANC? Will the old traditional leadership take sufficient fright at the apparent ascendancy of the working masses on which they have always relied for support to form a new political party? And have the working masses indeed asserted their will or is this just another section of the elite that has captured control of the party?

These are big and difficult questions. However much those sharing Moeletsi Mbeki’s fears may feel that they have been shouldered aside; forming a new ‘ANC’ is fraught with difficulties and dangers. It potentially means leaving behind the rich traditions of opposition, resistance and struggle. Who will claim the heroes and heroines of the past?

In a 'new ANC', the struggle for ownership of history will be as fierce (if not fiercer) than the struggle for victory at the polls.

But what is clear is that the ANC is no longer the secure home of the black middle classes that it once was. This poses the most interesting questions for our country as it struggles to make sense of the leadership changes that have disrupted the 'old ANC', transformed previous certainties and revived questions around class struggles that we naively believed we had escaped.

Ally writes  in his personal capacity.

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1 Oct

No Real Change...

Wrong, the ANC still is the home of the black middle class. The ANC is not in as much 'flux' as this author would like us to believe. For instance, as Zuma himself has assured everyone, there will be little or no change in ANC policies. Wait two years, you all will see.

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6 Oct

Black Middle Class

There is no doubt that the face of the ANC has changed and is now more leftist - how far left it swings will determine the real change of heart and mind and soul of the ANC - the budget of 2011 will reveal if it really has a deeper socialist spirit or will it be more of the same - elitists grabbing capitalist spoils.

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