WHAT can we learn from the way the ruling party holds its leadership contests? Over the past week, the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) version of primary elections has reportedly included an assassination attempt, large-scale fraud, the deliberate disruption of meetings, forced delays and outright bullying. Where democratic practice appeared inconvenient, it was simply cast aside. This is the atmosphere in which President Jacob Zuma is likely to return triumphant as head of the ANC. Those who argue that the ANC will "self-correct" are appealing to an organisation that no longer exists.
Given the Zuma-at-all-costs conduct of the dominant faction, you can forget about a "Lula moment". We are heading for a series of "Mursi moments". The Egyptian president last month decided to "defend the revolution" (sound familiar?) by assuming autocratic powers. You can almost feel the envy in the "security cluster" here.
Where does all of this leave the rest of us? Perhaps, shorn of illusions, in a better place. Mentally, there will be less agonising about the state of the party as we get on with life and work. SA functions despite ANC poor leadership. There is food in the markets and fuel at petrol stations; the trains and taxis run; our democracy is vibrant and noisy. We have a wealth of talented people who contribute to building the country.
Politically, more of us can accept that the ANC is dead as a force for democratic change and will challenge corruption and rot wherever it is observed.
There are three broad generations that make up the ANC. The Rivonia veterans are tired. We should let them rest. The 1976 generation is depressed by its immersion in the ANC. It dominates the national executive committee. When was the last time you saw happy faces at that meeting? This leaves the kwaito generation and the "born-frees". Their time has arrived. The recent exchange between Kay Sexwale and ANC veterans brought this home.
This generation appreciates the opportunities created by the advent of democracy. Their parents were loyal to the party of liberation. Yet they are deciding not to reward a rotten leadership.
A friend who is an engineering graduate has just returned from working in the US. His story illustrates how SA’s middle class has transformed over two decades. He grew up in a village and is the first in his family with a university degree. He was a direct recipient of the ANC government’s earlier programme to incentivise parastatals who mentored promising youngsters in maths and science.
Now he is an IT entrepreneur with international contacts. He thanks former president Thabo Mbeki for the opportunities that were given to him. But he is emphatic that this ANC will never get his vote, and plans to convince many in his village that the ANC of old is long gone. Like many successful blacks who retain a rural connection, his opinion on the state of the nation matters. Speaking out against the rot, he says, will be his contribution to civic education.
There is also a relatively youngish group emerging from within the broad ANC tent to find its voice. People in this group have a history of progressive, nonracial politics. They tend to hold professional jobs, that do not rely on ANC patronage. They are horrified by what the party has become.
While a handful still hold on to the impossible hope that the party will self-correct, others have instead taken to making their voices heard. They write. They tweet. They rally against the "secrecy bill" and similar perversions.
Then there are millions of ordinary people — from Marikana to the farms — who are demonstrating to demand better living and working conditions.
There is also an army of born-frees — jobless and angered by the profligacy of many officials and the bureaucratic indifference of others — who have no attachment to the past. Many of them will look for alternatives, which will include the siren song of populist demagogues.
So the future looks interesting. Yes, it is likely that we will be saddled with another seven years of Zuma. But we will learn to walk like Egyptians — the ones filling up Tahrir Square.