Analysis: ANC’s campaign to save its branches belies years of neglect and incompetence

By Branko Brkic 21 May 2010

As Jacob Zuma, wearing his ANC president’s hat, launched the “Imvuselelo” campaign on Thursday, there was a sense of an admission of how profoundly the party has become a top-down organisation that may or may not represent its members' true ideals.

So what is an “Imvuselelo” campaign when it’s at home, away from the prying eyes of the public? It seems to be a push to “revitalise” the ANC? But why is it even necessary?

For a long time, ANC branches have been struggling. In a sense it’s a lot like club rugby in this country at the moment. The big teams may be doing well, winning World Cups and Super14 competitions, but small clubs (the lifeblood that feeds the big guys) are suffering. Similarly, while the ANC elite is running the country, the branches, the supposed lifeblood of the party, are actually dying.

Just two weeks ago, one of the ANC’s big six leaders, Baleka Mbete, told the Gauteng ANC’s conference that service delivery protests were “happening in communities with ANC branches, and they (the branches) didn’t know anything about it”. This shows the branches aren’t really part of the communities they need to serve.

Mind you, this is isn’t a post-Polokwane problem: In mid-2007, then ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe told the Financial Mail that branches were falling apart. He also went on a bit about tenderpreneurship and fraud, but that’s another story. Motlanthe’s point was that ANC branches weren’t representing members and weren’t directing their communities.

The ANC, lest we forget, is supposed to be a grass-roots organisation. Remember the xenophobic riots of 2008?  It was the ANC that eventually just took over from Thabo Mbeki’s hapless handling of the situation and spread its leaders out to all the hotspots. And, after Jacob Zuma took a full tongue lashing from an angry member, the violence subsided. The ANC leadership now has a new problem: If that happens again, it might not be able to repeat the feat.

The Imvuselelo campaign is about many things it seems. It is about growing the party and about strengthening its hold in a way, but it’s also about service-delivery protests. It must be scary for the Luthuli House people to realise that there are layers of society who are now ready to take up arms against an ANC government. That people are ready to be violent towards those who liberated them. They’re cunning enough to realise you can’t just crack down on them all the time. You need to cut off the protests before they start, and one way you can do that is to have a much better idea of what’s happening on the ground. Which expanding your branch network can do for you.

But a bigger ANC will have an impact on the organisation. It claims to have a membership of about 700,000 now, and is aiming for a million by 2012 – its centennial anniversary. Joining the ANC is cheap, R12 will get you a membership card. It’s so cheap, in fact, that whole branches leap into existence just before conferences to sway the results. It’s easy to get a 100 people inducted as members. Members are expected to attend branch meetings. And there are branches literally everywhere. Even Ventersdorp is rumoured to have one.

But by increasing the ANC’s membership by almost a third, two big things will happen. One, it will just become more ungainly. There’s a strange formula used to determine how many delegates get to go to conferences, Polokwane saw around 5,000 delegates, at around one-and-a-bit delegates from each branch. Don’t ask us how they sorted that out, but they did. Perhaps you could squeeze the numbers a bit, but without enlarging conferences, and probably the national executive committee, and so on down the organisation. Already the NEC went from 60 to 80 at Polokwane, and that’s proved to be very big. When it comes to making hard decisions, the party will be less decisive than it is now – if that is actually possible.

But the other big change will be in political direction. It strikes us that if you enlarge the ANC, and more people become members, those members will have a say in policy. Well, the ANC would say that so we’ll take them at face value for now. (Unless you believe ANC policy is actually made in a smoke-filled room where people call each other Matthews, Zweli and Blade, but that’s a piece for another time). And it seems those people are more likely to be lumpenproletariat than bourgeoisie. Which would mean policy could move to the left. But hey, does anyone really know how the ANC makes its policies? So perhaps we don’t need to worry too much about that.

The other big impact of a bigger ANC could be a slight change in its position regarding its alliance partners. It’s already the big daddy by far, but it could become a bigger daddy. Cosatu does have more members through its affiliated unions, but when it comes to importance, the ANC is what matters. And with a million members, it would matter just a little bit more.

But like club rugby, for most of us, it’s not the strength of the clubs that matters. It’s the way the national side performs. And if the ANC’s top brass doesn’t get it together, and doesn’t make decisions, it can have as many members as it wants, the ballot box will still be where it counts. The neglect of all the branches nationwide is only a symptom of a much larger ailment: The fact that the ANC leaders are really not very good managers. It is easily seen daily as you bounce over potholes or your electricity goes off, or every time you hear that the half of the country’s parastatals have no leadership, or as the rumours of xenophobic attacks surface yet again. The ANC branches are crumbling in the same way our government departments are and it is comes as no surprise.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is EWN reporter)

Photo: Reuters



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