Attitudes of political parties often determine how they fare in the political arena. In South Africa, it will always be held that the African National Congress (ANC) is in this current downward slope because of the corruption its officials have immersed themselves. However, a deeper look into the organisation will reveal that it is, in fact, the narcissistic behaviour that has been costly for ANC, giving rise to the damaging effect that is today called corruption. It is somewhat difficult to find any explanation to what has become of the ANC, other than in terms of narcissism.
The word comes to us by way of Greek mythology. A young hunter called Narcissus was so mesmerised by his own beauty that he could not divorce himself from his own reflection in a pond. It follows that even a ripple in the water made him sullen. That this connects with the Zulu story of uThekwane (uzibuka emanzini – looks at himself in the water!) remains a mystery of how the human race connects.
Narcissist behaviour, or narcissism, can be defined by an excessive love of self to the degree that everyone else does not matter. Accordingly, a person who suffers from narcissistic behaviour is self-serving or puts self-interest before anything else, and usually exhibits a self-referential traits. Psychologists conclude that narcissism manifests itself in four general ways, namely, Grandiose behaviour and fantasies; Arrogance and entitlement; Low or no empathy; and A need for admiration and attention.
All these characteristics — and perhaps more — are present in the ANC. Historically, the ANC is known to have put itself on a pedestal of African politics in South Africa. Of course, it is known as the oldest African political organisation. Which thing tended to make the organisation want to be adored, leading it to lose its reason for its existence. That is, in some ways it tended to forget what it was established for. Its leadership had gone everywhere in search of a quick fix to the African question in South Africa, even when it was known that only Africanism was central as a liberating credo. So that they saw it not as a problem to accede to liberal infiltration which forever compromised its standing in the liberation struggle. But that did not seem to be a problem, as long as its self-interest as an organisation was satisfied, even if it was at the expense of the majority of the people in whose name it existed. That is why even when other members raised concerns about their now shaky self-esteem, the organisation insisted that the 1955 Kliptown decision was the right one.
Because it wanted to be the only organisation to be preeminent, the ANC did not receive the news of the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) open-heartedly. In a true narcissist way, the ANC demonstrated their own dim show of burning of dompasses following the Anti-Pass Campaign led by the PAC. Being narcissist, the ANC took the Campaign as competition, as being outshined by a newly-founded organisation. So, they had to do something to appear to have been planning to do the same thing.
It was in exile that the behaviour worsened. Whereas the PAC wanted to work together with the ANC, the latter worked hard to discredit the former. Whereas initially the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) hesitated in accepting the ANC, it was the PAC that argued for its acceptance. But when the PAC was experiencing internal problems and faced de-recognition by the OAU, the ANC was encouraging the OAU to effect its decision. It became clear what the motive was. In fact, such action laid the basis for the lie which the ANC was to tell – the beginning of many lies which were to follow. Again, showing that it is characteristic of narcissists to lie. Another example of this narcissistic trait was that it (the ANC) was the only liberation movement doing the real fighting inside South Africa. Of course, it was only those who gave in to this manipulation. This, in some cases, was meant to acquire funding from unsuspecting benevolent people. But it was mainly for showing off the ‘power’ the organisation had in comparison to other liberation organisations. Hence, the ANC was reluctant to have any united front with them. Indeed, it was building a gamut of lies and falsehoods. It was forever trying to appear better than the others, than forge good working relations with them in order to be effective in the fight against a common enemy.
The ANC has had a self-satisfied existence that it did not need any other party to change the Constitution when it had the opportunity to do so. It was this self–satisfaction, as well as the self-promotion that led to its short-sightedness – it feared losing the glory of being the primal political party led by a world icon. ANC’s isolating of other African political parties has made it to turn into an isolated and lonely African political party. Declining meaningful unity with these parties, it courted and went into a Government of National Unity of wit the National Party (NP), the erstwhile leader of the oppressive apartheid government. The NP, which suddenly morphed into a New National Party (NNP) in the changed government, soon showed it has not changed, after all, and pulled out of the union. It also could not stand the ANC constantly looking itself in the mirror. It is no secret that in rewriting history of this country, the ANC has been trying to blot out other people. It has always sought to have a history where it is the only actor. Throughout the so-called new dispensation, the ANC has tried to uplift only heroes who are associated with the party, and no other person from other liberation movements. Only when these parties started to expose this one-sided narrative of the struggle for freedom, had the ANC retreated from that narrative.
This self-absorption of the ANC has led it to commit blunders. Gao Nododa relates an experience on Robben Island where ANC had established its “hegemony”. Writes Nododa: “…history centered exclusively around ANC prisoners… No mention of prisoners from other components of the liberation movement, namely, Black Consciousness Movement (BCM),/AZAPO; PAC; Unity Movement/APDUSA (African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa) and SWAPO from Namibia, etc…” The tour guide, according to Nododa, “…provided us with a skewed historical account in favour of the ANC…It was as if only the ANC cadres were incarcerated on Robben Island.” Because it wants to be seen as the messiah that liberated people – as it often reminds everyone it brought freedom to them – the ANC engages in “suffocating heroic stories of other components of the liberation movements”. This ploy has not worked. What happened next is ANC began recognising the role of Mangaliso Sobukwe, Steven Bantu Biko, and we are yet to see if other will follow. It must be pointed out that this followed what others saw as a blunder of the last order when an ANC alliance leader Solly Mapaila spoke ill about Sobukwe, that even ANC stalwart Pallo Jordan intervened and gave Mapaila a history lesson, forcing Mapaila to retract and apologise. It stand to be seen whether the ANC will give a balanced account of history.
Indeed, to feed their fantasies and to appear noble and good — that is, better than everyone else — the ANC continued lying. Even upon the unbanning of political organisations and return from exile, the organisation pretended to be the most influential of all. It constructed an image in the minds of the masses that it is its sole efforts that brought them freedom. Freedom is a very big thing to bring people. This means that the organisation carried freedom from wherever and presented it to people. Well, maybe that may not be the meaning; maybe they mean they fought to attain freedom for people. There is a problem with this approach, too. It means that the rest of the people were passive and did not participate in fighting for their freedom. Since the abolition of apartheid this fantasy about bringing freedom became a rallying factor at elections. This narcissist supply tended to give an impression that the ANC was getting its self-esteem back. The noise from the unsuspecting masses and the newspaper headlines propped by manipulating funders and connections, had for the ANC fed the fantasy of power.
It is obvious that the ANC has not turned out to be the strongly principled organisation it has always prided itself to be. There can be no principle where there is no truth. But that is part of the nature of narcissistic characters. For them pretence is the name of the game. They never care whether the lies hurt and disadvantage those who receive them. As long as the lies achieve the objective of serving their self-interest, the narcissist will be contented. The victims of the lies are “kept on their toes.”
It is no secret that the ANC continued to pretend the PAC did not exist, and had worked toward its destruction. And the rest of the organisations, as I pointed out, have fielded arrogance and scorn from the ANC, because this organisation is distrustful of them. They are deemed worthless or despicable, to a point that they are considered ridiculous to exist. In parliament, ANC has used its majority to bully these organisations. For instance, to wipe them out of existence, and be the only organisation alive. To perpetuate the lie about being the sole organisation to make change possible, the ANC used its majority to rename commemorative days like Sharpeville Massacre and Soweto Uprisings, calling them Human Rights Day and Youth Day, respectively. This undermines not only the leadership of the organisations associated with these historical days, but the participation of African people as a whole. It is the thrill brought about by the psychological entitlement – the desire to be above others in status and for the better treatment than the organisation gives to others. It believes that the way it sees things should be the only way. Should the organisation fail to get this excitement it gets frantic.
We have witnessed this during some parliamentary sessions, whereby ANC backbenchers will scream at the opposition. Even where it is on the wrong, it is rare for the ANC, for its narcissism, to admit it is wrong, because it just cannot have its ego bruised. This has been viewed by others as ANC displaying its arrogance.
Indeed, there is a particular moral disengagement of the ANC whereby the action of its officials is not only arrogant, but also fails to consider general moral implications in life. One such example is of an official who publicly pronounced that he “did not join the struggle to be poor.” In a different situation, under a different and truly principled organisation, such utterances would be ruthlessly met with consequence. In this case, the ANC rewarded that official with an ambassadorial post, instead. It is known that ANC’s cadre deployment policy has not been the best policy; it has made it possible for non-delivering officials to be protected and moved about either from one department to the next, or from the home base to a post abroad. This has also created shelter for unqualified people to be placed in highly strategic positions. Failure of these officials to deliver has not been an issue. Had it been an issue at all, the non-performing individuals could have been replaced with people who are qualified and have the wherewithal to contribute meaningfully to the development of communities and the country as a whole.
The ANC’s narcissism continues to destroy the country. Unfortunately, the ANC cannot see it has bred distrust. It is common cause that this narcissism has degenerated to the corruption that has plagued the country, and has for years now become a matter of concern. We know as a matter of fact, that a minister once boasted of picking the Rand at the time that the country’s economy was regressing. She said this not even caring about the psychological and emotional effects on the masses the politicians call “our people”. It is such irresponsible utterances that go unpunished which tempted many to engage in even greater misbehaviour, stealing from the public purse. The abuse of state funds has become the order of the day — for there is no consequence. The responses for the irresponsible behaviour has been predictable in many cases. Nothing is done about it, except to talk about it, and then forgotten in an instant.
Such disturbing tendencies, which are exploitative and predatory have become abusive to the population that is constantly complaining about their poor state of life. A whole lot of money has disappeared and no one takes responsibility, for the narcissist ANC government does not see anything wrong with this sadistic behaviour. For, the narcissistic behaviour has convinced them that they are untouchable. The ANC seems to be telling the public that it is compensating itself for having brought them freedom. Indeed, it is the power disparity that also fuels this attitude. The party can do as it pleases because in its mind, there is nothing that can be done to it.
But the ‘freedom’ honeymoon is coming to an abrupt end, something that the organisation hardly anticipated. What with utterances from former President Jacob Zuma that “the ANC will rule until Jesus comes” again! A multiplicity of reasons account for this reality. For one, the organisation seems to have looted even from itself. The idea that it claims bankruptcy and cannot pay its operatives at Luthuli House is reflective of this end result. Contrary to what we are made to believe, the July 2021 rioting and looting of businesses that rocked the country, especially Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, signalled the anger against the narcissism of the ANC. The internal organisational differences are also telling of the dismay against the insistent corruption. But what is more of a direct consequence is the fact that people are challenging the ANC’s narcissist behaviour and sense of entitlement by not allowing their volunteers to campaign in their communities. In one community ANC volunteers were pelted with stones, making campaigning in the area difficult, if not impossible. The ANC responds by saying it is sorry, and asks the public to forgive it, and promises to do better if it is elected. Communities are tired, and seem to be asking: what have you done for us in the past 27 years when you had the opportunity to fulfil your promises? And what have you done for us, lately?
Of late ANC’s behaviour has been of one displaying multiple personalities. One leader asks for apology; another says it is better the organisation loses the power; another yet repeats the same mantra of ANC having brought the people freedom. At some point, it won’t be surprising if people asked: where and what is this freedom you are talking about?
Narcissism destroys society; it breeds mistrust. Psychoanalysts see more than just “selfishness and self-indulgence” in narcissist people. They also point out that their “inner preoccupations interfere with their social bonding.” It is not surprising that some political leaders can hardly hide their disgust when confronted with realities exposing their party. For instance, at one point ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told a gathering of the South African Communist Party (SACP) to “put the country ahead of the ANC is a problematic concept.” How can what he said make sense? This shows that a narcissist party will always have an “unstable bonding” with people it claims to lead. For it is only concerned with itself. Why should it withdraw from political responsibility? What happens when it is the ANC ahead of the country?
Narcissism does not provide the ANC with a renewed sensibility. Rather, it has steeped it into chaos and disintegration. Hence, it has a false sense of social reality. Heinz Kohut revealed that narcissistic people lack “inward recess to themselves.” In terms of what we are talking about, therefore, we can conclude that this is why, no matter how much the ANC tells people it has changed, or would change, it does not and will not. Because it does not have the ability to self-reflect – it cannot engage in any soul-searching exercise. That very soul may not be there, having been sold for selfish interests. All it does tell people is that it has been engaged in “robust” discussion each time the executive re-emerges from a meeting. But nothing tangible in terms of changing behaviour.
The ANC does not care; it has been given too much time – just enough – to seek itself, but even to itself it is lost, wrapped in the confusion it has caused. Next it will be asking why people do not want to be cared for by it, whereas it knows it never cared for them but itself only. And they (people) would be having all the proof.
It is hard to place the ANC under a particular form of narcissism. At the general level it seems the party moves from one type to the next depending on its mood. From self-interest, to psychological entitlement, to sadism, to psychopathy, to communal narcissism — the ANC fits the bill. The self-interest of the ANC is well-known. Officials are well-positioned for financial gain both in the party and government. No one takes responsibility or faces consequences because they feel entitled. They shield one another from facing the law. They are like psychopaths who do not feel any remorse or empathy or shame for their victims (the public) or over their recklessness. Their actions inflict emotional and sometimes physical hurt on others for their own fulfilment. They use others to promote themselves – like stealing public funds. They pretend they are superhumanly generous, yet they do not have the ability to listen to daily troubles of people. If they do, they still do not ameliorate their situation. Yet, continually, the ANC lies about its achievements.
The ANC can no longer claim it has and follows strong principles. The party is exposed to a point that even its stalwarts do not have confidence in it anymore – they would prefer it loses power. That would perhaps help because it will save the country, especially the poor, from abuse, indignity, disrespect and humiliation – being told lies continually and made fools, and be promised “a better life for all” for years on end; being turned into slaves to hope; being made to witness their demise while the governing party systematically destroys the country – and their lives — through corruption. By using power disparity, the ANC continues doing what it does because there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it!
The emotional pain that the narcissistic ANC and its government have inflicted in people, for its own pleasure, is beginning to have negative outcomes. It is now that the ANC seems to be feeling, even pretending to be, remorseful. However, it also seems too late. When the ANC now says it apologises, it fears that it might lose the self-importance it has imposed on everyone. There is a deep-seated fear of rejection and insecurity that the masses have begun to see them as phonies. Many people are beginning to see that the ANC has used them to feed its ego than to advance the country. The masses must be forgiven if they feel let down, disappointed, betrayed, deceived, disrespected, swindled, undermined, manipulated, demeaned, humiliated and violated. They will not even wait for the coming of Jacob Zuma’s Jesus to see the self-perception and self-worshipping ANC follow him. When finally the spotlight will not be solely on the ANC. When the day comes, Narcissus, or uThekwane will not have the time to watch his shadow in the water.
What will remain a mystery though, is that many people will still be drawn to narcissists, though it may not be for long. In the meantime, we must learn to survive them.
By Vusumzi Moyo✋🏾