What happens when a former liberation movement turned political party loses its dominance but survives because no opposition party is able to succeed it? The trends are established: South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) is in decline. Its hegemony has been weakened, its legitimacy diluted. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment suspended the ANC’s electoral decline, but it also heightened internal organisational tensions between those who would deepen its corrupt and captured status, and those who would redeem it. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened its fragility, and the state’s inability to manage the socio-economic devastation has aggravated prior faultlines. These are the undeniable knowns of South African politics; what will evolve from this is less certain.
In her latest book Precarious Power Susan Booyen delves deep into this political terrain and its trajectory for South Africa’s future. She covers an expansive range of topics, from contradictory party politics and dissent that is veiled in order to retain electoral following, to populist policy-making and the use of soft law enforcement to ensure that angry citizens do not become further alienated. Booysen’s analysis reveals Ramaphosa to be a president who is weak and walking a tightrope between serving the needs of the organisation and those of the nation. While he rose to the challenge of being a national leader during the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has highlighted existing inequalities in South Africa and discontent has grown. The ANC’s power has indeed become exceedingly precarious, and this seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
This incisive analysis of ANC power — as party, as government, as state — will appeal not only to political scientists but to all who take a keen interest in current affairs.