The collapse of the OR Tambo regional conference in the Eastern Cape could be a harbinger of things to come as factional battles intensify on the road to Mangaung. Those who attend the ANC national conference as branch delegates ultimately decide who gets elected. The battle is now on for who gets to decide who should attend. It’s a messy business. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Few people remember that the ANC’s 52nd conference at Polokwane almost collapsed midway due to a dispute over credentials. With all the dramatic events that occurred over those five days in December 2007, particularly the defeat of Thabo Mbeki by Jacob Zuma, not many recall now that the conference proceedings were suspended for several hours as the credentials committee battled to reach agreement over its report.
The credentials report at political conferences contains the consolidated numbers of who exactly is attending and who is allowed to vote. With the shambles at the Polokwane conference over accreditation of delegates and guests, and disputes between factions over the composition of provincial delegations, committee members battled to agree on the composite number of delegates who could vote. The conference could not proceed with electing its leadership until they did.
More than 120 delegates from three provinces were eventually disqualified, leaving about 3,900 delegates with the credentials to vote for the top six positions of the ANC and the national executive committee (NEC). Their votes were counted manually after Zuma supporters, led by the ANC Youth League, fiercely opposed the electronic voting system, fearing that those loyal to Mbeki would rig the results.
The accredited delegates also participated in the commissions which debated and resolved on the policy positions of the ANC.
Disputes over credentials and the integrity of branches at ANC regional, provincial and Youth League conferences have occurred sporadically since. Now, as ANC structures gear for the 53rd national conference in Mangaung, tensions are building over the legitimacy of members and branches and over who will make up the provincial delegations that attend the conference.
The ANC now has a membership in excess of 1-million members. There will only be about 4,000 seats for voting delegates at the Mangaung conference (another 1,000 people will attend as guests and journalists). Those 4,000 men and women will be the chosen few who get to decide on the leadership core that will run South Africa for the next five years, who the president of the country will be in 2014 and the future policy trajectory. The 4,000 Mangaung voting delegates will therefore hold the future of the country in their hands.
Prior to the conference, branches will have to make nominations for the six senior leadership positions in the ANC—president, deputy president, national chairman, secretary general, deputy secretary general and national treasurer—and the 60-member NEC. They would then decide on the delegations to the national conference.
Auditing of ANC branches is now underway to verify their legitimacy. Disputes have arisen in several parts of the country over parallel and fake branches in the same ward, and “ghost” members. Regions and provincial structures then have to decide which of the branches are legitimate. Only branches in “good standing” can send delegates to regional, provincial and the national conferences.
With factional battles raging in the ANC, disputes are even arising over who gets to adjudicate the legitimacy of members and branches amid a general air of distrust that numbers will be tampered with according to preferred leadership allegiances. The factional battles are largely between those who support a second term for Zuma and those advocating for leadership change.
The ultimate arbiter is ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, who is firmly embedded in the second-term camp and whose political future is also tied to the delegate numbers game. Considering the power of the voting delegate, the process leading up to the finalisation of provincial delegations could become highly disputed and heated affairs.
A bizarre situation arose at the ANC’s recent policy conference where two delegations from the North West province arrived. Warring leadership factions in the province presented different delegate lists to the conference—one approved by Provincial Secretary Kabelo Mataboge and the other by Provincial Chairman Supra Mahumapelo. The situation had to be resolved through intervention by national leaders.
On 6 August the ANC’s OR Tambo regional conference in the Eastern Cape became a fiasco after three days of wrangling over credentials. The conference, which began three days earlier, was meant to end on the afternoon of 5 August. However, voting for the region’s new leadership only got underway on the 6th due to protracted factional battles and heated squabbles over parallel structures in branches.
The OR Tambo region is the second biggest in the country (after the eThekwini region in KwaZulu-Natal) and the composition of its leadership will have a great impact on dynamics in the Eastern Cape, which is split between pro and anti-Zuma forces. This region, as well as Amathole, the other big region in the Eastern Cape, had their regional conferences postponed several times due to disputes in branches.
Late on 6 August, results of the OR Tambo region’s election were shelved just as they were due to be announced. According to an SMS which circulated among delegates, regional chair Thandekile Sabisa, allegedly in the faction opposed to Zuma’s second term, defeated William Ngozi, said to be in the camp wanting to retain the current national leaders, by an uncanny 296 votes to 295.
The results were disputed amid claims of fraud after the electoral commission at the conference discovered that votes were cast by 591 delegates, instead of the 587 accredited to vote. The conference was therefore abandoned without a new leadership being elected. The ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) takes charge of the region until the conference is reconvened.
The ANC Youth League in the Eastern Cape is now accusing the PEC of dissolving the conference because they did not like the outcome favouring forces opposed to Zuma. It is not known how the matter will be resolved as both factions are not prepared to let go of the region due to its influence on other parts of the Eastern Cape.
The Eastern Cape will have the second largest delegation to the Mangaung conference after KwaZulu-Natal and could tip the scales for or against Zuma. The voting patterns between now and December would also empower party powerbrokers as they make deals and trade-offs over leadership slates.
But the chaotic outcome of the OR Tambo conference could also escalate a dangerous trend of ANC meetings turning into pandemonium over difficult issues and election outcomes being rejected by losing factions.
To Mbeki’s eternal credit, he and his supporters, though bitter and angry, accepted the outcome of the Polokwane conference. Had they questioned the results, the conference could have had an ugly end.
With the stakes so high ahead of the Mangaung conference and incidents of violence and political killings now prevalent in ANC structures, electoral rigging and rejection of results could become commonplace. Accusations and suspicions of inflated member numbers and ghost delegates will mount, particularly in areas where there will be neck-and-neck battles between factions.
At the end of all this wrangling, around 4,000 delegates must vote in Mangaung to decide South Africa’s future. And about 50-million citizens need to accept the outcome. It is almost funny. In a disturbing kind of way. DM
Photo: ANC Polokwane conference, 16 December 2007 (Daily Maverick)