The product of all of this is a great sea of obfuscation and an entire political lexicon dedicated to obscuring evidence, downplaying failure and redirecting attention towards process and rejuvenation.  The ANC itself is probably unaware of how prevalent it all is.  It has happened gradually, been entrenched through escalating mismanagement and has become the all-encompassing hegemonic world-view through which it understands the South African condition: a problem, not of its making, that it is constantly solving.

That it is, in fact, simultaneously exacerbating, if not adding to its many shortcomings, cannot be contemplated.  And its language is becoming so fundamentally tailored towards denial, you get the sense, even were the truth to one day strike it like a bolt of lighting, it would simply no longer know how to process it.  For the price it has paid, it forfeited the lessons.

The ANC’s language of denial: Gareth van Onselen’s latest column today in BDlive published by Business Day.

Further excerpts

“Denial” has thus become an increasingly common refrain, used to describe the ANC’s various responses to its trials and tribulations.  The problems it faces, fundamental and profound in their consequences, go through a filter, to emerge as no more than mere inconveniences, well in hand and generally under control.  Or so it would have South Africans believe.

In this way, those harsh words typically associated with acute disaster are rarely applied by the ANC to its own condition or any dire condition government is responsible for.  “Crisis”, “critical”, “chaos”, “emergency” or “dangerous” are by and large absent from formal communication.  Instead, “concern”, “ongoing concern”, “serious” and “worrying” are the euphemisms to which, at a push, it will revert.

And the same applies to how it describes the public’s response.  First and foremost they are “concerns” but they can also be labelled “discontent”, “unhappiness”, “unrest”, “dissatisfaction”, “disorder”, “disappointment” or, the perennial favourite, “frustration”.

You will notice many of them are the negative inversion of some positive sentiment: “content” becomes “discontent”; “satisfaction” becomes “dissatisfaction”.  This has the effect of controlling those potential connotations evoked in the public mind.

. . . . .

One of the problems the ANC faces is that many of the words used to describe out-of-control behaviour allude to revolution or the upturning of power.  Over the years, revolutionary thought produced its own repertoire.  The ANC should know, there was a time it drew heavily on it.  “Revolt”, “insurrection”, “insurgence”, “rebellion”, even “mutiny”.  But illegitimacy is inherent to such words, taking their lead from “revolution” itself.  To use them would be to suggest a crisis of authority and so the party generally steers well clear of these descriptions.

. . . . .

What enthusiasm there is for action is to be found in relation to the process, not the outcome.  One process or another is almost always being “established”, “set up”, “identified”, “requested”, “initiated” or “enacted”.  In turn, one or other process is always being “concluded”, “finalised”, “completed”, “making progress”, “deliberating” or “considering” events and circumstances.  In between there are “findings” and “recommendations”, “suggestions” and “conclusions” but they are written in obscurity and couched in deference, to ensure no hard edge.  The process itself is the final outcome.

Perhaps no word better illustrates the ANC’s aversion to a harsh reality than its attitude to “crisis” itself.  At all costs it must be avoided.  No political party wants to admit to a crisis, for obvious reasons.  Inherent to any such admission is a profound indictment of its own administration.  Nevertheless, outside of the ANC, the word is omnipresent and that tells you something.  Perhaps a response to denial; perhaps an accurate portrayal of reality, the ANC spends a great deal of its time denying crises.