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Municipal elections in South Africa returned the poorest result for the ruling ANC party since coming to power at the end of minority white rule in 1994. But the ANC is not the only once-dynamic party in Africa that has been ruined by party leaders who get infected with a sense of entitlement after they have led their parties through successful struggles against white rule.

The word in Twi that comes closest to defining “hubris” for me is tirimudƐ.

For the benefit of readers who do not speak Twi, the word literally means “to entertain sweetness inside one's own head”!

The meaning becomes clearer when the word, a compound noun, is broken up into its three component words – tri (head) mu (inside) and dƐ. I don't think that the Greeks, who invented the concept of hubris, (as the progenitor of nemesis) would quarrel with that definition!

Why am I thinking about hubris? It's because news has come from South Africa that the African National Congress (ANC), the political party that fought tooth and nail for nearly one hundred years to wrest the country from the hands of the white racists who oppressed their black compatriots, and whose oppression reached its apogee in the inhuman system called apartheid, has been rejected, at the polls, by a large segment of the country's black voters.

What? Yes! The ANC which in April 1994 (only 22 years ago) won the first majority-rule election with a sweeping victory, taking 62 percent of the vote, and extending that figure to 70 percent in the 2004 election, has had its share of the vote reduced to 54% this year in municipal elections. That means that the ANC has lost 16% of voter support in 14 years.

The main architect of the ANC's loss of support is the president, Mr Jacob Zuma. This was a man who was rewarded with the top job in the ANC in 2007, not because he was particularly bright, but because he had served as the ANC's Chief of Intelligence at the time the party was engaged in a guerrilla campaign from exile in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola. Also when the ANC returned home around 1989, it was Zuma who helped it to defeat the evil plan mounted by an axis of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party and the apartheid regime, to carry out a ruthless campaign of so-called “black-on-black” massacres, aimed at dividing South Africa ethnically and getting the world to accept that blacks were “not ready” to rule the country without tearing it apart.

Out of gratitude Zuma became President in place of Thabo Mbeki. But now he has repaid the party in a particularly galling manner: with the ANC losing Tshwane [Pretoria] to the Democratic Alliance (DA ) and managing to hang on to Johannesburg (Gauteng) and environs (Ekurhuleni) only by a thin margin, which means the ANC needs to form a coalition in those areas before it can continue to rule.

Some ANC leaders are reported to have renewed their call for Mr Zuma to step down. These ANC leaders believe he is “the elephant in the room” that cost them the votes because of the corruption allegations and many scandals associated with his administration. They also accuse him of “messing up” their election campaign because of his “racially divisive” statements on the DA.

The Sunday Independent newspaper reported that there might be calls from within the ANC national executive committee for an early or special conference, where an “elegant exit” for Zuma could be arranged.

One Gauteng leader was quoted as accusing Zuma of being a dictator. He stated: “Dictators survive by weakening [their own] organisation. They attack the organisation where it is strong, and Gauteng is weaker because we are [now] divided....The Gauteng ANC campaign was based on taking mayoral candidates to the people, in terms of their performance. We had a provincial launch and cities launch to give exposure to the mayor candidates. But when they came with [Zuma] his campaign was negative, saying the DA is a white party and [that its leader] Mmusi Maimane [was] working with the whites. [So, Zuma] actually messed up our campaign because he made statements that were racially divisive.”

The ANC leaders further acknowledged that the formation of coalitions would by no means be an easy task. “It’s going to be a tough, tough decision to make,” said one.

Although some sections of the ANC have been pleading that President Zuma should not be “scape-goated” for the party's poor performance, others think he has become too arrogant for the party to continue to support him. When he incurred national opprobrium for financing his private residence at Nkandla with taxpayers' money to the tune of about $20 million, he dismissed the criticism as emanating from “the over-clever” intellectuals who inhabit the urban centres!

Commenting on this statement by Zuma, one South African political commentator, Justice Malala, wrote that the president was “well known for his antipathy towards urban black intellectuals....In 2014, [for instance] when he was asked about public concerns that he had used state funds to build himself a palace in his home village in rural KwaZulu Natal, he replied that only “very clever and bright people” cared about the issue. In a speech in November 2012, Zuma slammed urban blacks “who become too clever”, saying: “They become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions and everything.”

Malala added: “Last week, the “clever blacks” had their revenge on Zuma, delivering the heaviest electoral loss to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress since democracy dawned in 1994, while setting up a mighty contest for national elections in 2019.

Although the ANC retained massive support in rural South Africa, its losses in urban areas were shocking and comprehensive. In Nelson Mandela Bay, the coastal city renamed in honour of South Africa’s most famous son, voters rejected the ANC and gave their votes to the opposition Democratic Alliance. Just 10 years ago, the ANC got 66% of the vote in the city [formerly known as Port Elizabeth, that is] famous for its struggle against apartheid. The ANC] polled a disappointing 40% last week.”

According to Malala the election result marks “a major turning point for the ANC and for South Africa. Last October, ANC general secretary, Gwede Mantashe, warned a party policy conference that were its support to plunge below 60% this year it would mark a “psychological and political turning point”. That moment has now arrived”.

The ANC is not the only once-dynamic party in Africa that has been ruined by party leaders who get infected with a sense of entitlement after they have led their parties through successful struggles against white rulers. Imbued with hubris, the victors in such struggles tend to leave their followers living in poverty, while the leadership grabs as much of the nation's resources for themselves as possible. Some even enact repressive laws that prevent their own followers from criticising their performance.

This often leads to a feeling of alienation in their countries, which leads some to conclude that only force can change things for the better. However, regimes that come to power by force usually use public dissatisfaction merely as a ruse through which they can grab power. Once they get into power and consolidate their rule, they follow their own agendas. Which just happens to be eerily similar to the agenda of the party they had thrown out! That is what has left so many African countries in a state of “chasing their own tails” for years and years and years.

To choose only the worst examples: look at the hubris that enabled Mobutu Seseseko to steal half of the Congo's national treasury before he was eventually cast adrift by the decaying political machine he had built; think of Sani Abacha coolly stashing away nearly 800 million of Nigerian money in Switzerland alone (that's what the Swiss have so far returned; there's another $300m waiting to be returned to Nigeria say the Swiss. They allege that the British, whose banks were the conduit pipe for Abacha's loot, have returned nothing, so far); look at the unmentionable wealth said to have been accumulated by Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of Angola's President, José Eduardo dos Santos: she has been described by Forbes magazine as “Africa's first woman billionaire”.

And look also at the obscene exhibition of wealth with which Teodorin, son of President Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, insulted his fellow-residents in a posh quarter of Paris. His father rewarded him for giving his country such bad publicity, by making him – Vice-President! If that's not hubris, what is?

At least, in South Africa, Zuma's disregard for the restrictions to be placed on the expenditure of public funds by elected officials has fortunately been nipped in the bud. But there is no doubt whatsoever that he has repaid the trust of the ANC with behaviour that could put his once-gallant party in the doghouse of South African politics for quite some time to come. But will his successors learn from his public disgrace when he leaves the scene?

Don't count on it!

* Cameron Duodu is a veteran Ghanaian journalist and author.



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