ANC shoots from its branches as party structures called into line

By Carien Du Plessis 23 August 2011

No bladdie agent was kicked out of the sometimes-heated press briefing on Tuesday on the ANC’s national executive committee meeting, where leaders were asked to remember their oft-neglected humble followers as the party’s elective conference approaches. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

When the elephants fight, it’s the branches that suffer – or at least this seems to be the case as our ruling party leaders plan to take the war over policy and leadership to the ANC’s lowest structures.

The jumbo and greying revolutionary organisation had a marathon four-day national executive committee meeting (NEC) which ended at Pretoria’s St George’s Hotel on Monday.

In a briefing in the Luthuli House foyer (which accommodates eNews’s outside broadcast van more easily than the revolutionary house’s 11th floor), ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe agitated hacks by repeatedly refusing to answer questions on you-know-who’s you-know-what, because the NEC supposedly did not discuss this at all.

But he did say task teams would be established to strengthen the organisation’s branches ahead of the ANC’s centenary celebrations next year to enable them to “play a direct role” in the year-long party (and we’re not just talking the political type).

This branch talk all sounds very unglamorous. But the war cry by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema that the youngsters must flood ANC branches ahead of the ANC’s elective conference next year – obviously as cannon fodder that can nominate and eventually vote for the leaders the League wants to see at the ANC’s top – must still have been ringing in the ears of the party’s esteemed leaders.

So Mantashe said: “The NEC reminded all of us that the basic organisation of the ANC is the branch. Therefore the branches of the ANC must be empowered and given space to participate in policy formation and all the work in national conference, and therefore rescue the ANC from being redirected by small circles that are vocal and loud … and moneyed.”

It doesn’t take much to figure what he meant.

He later also said branches should not be given “slates” of names by “a narrow, well-resourced sect within the ANC”, but they should be allowed to think for themselves who they want to elect.

Mantashe should know. He was part of just such a slate in 2007.

The NEC meeting was, in fact, a soul-searching session with nothing on the agenda except the discussion of a political overview of the organisation – and unlimited speaking times.

See, when the ANC turns 100 years old in January 2012, it wants to have a year-long bash, and a million members – and it still wants to look good.

There are also some who want the ANC to act with gravitas in its wise, old age, while there are others who want to see the organisation look younger (“generational mix” is the keyword).

The old-versus-new came up for discussion (in fact, at its infamous June conference the League resolved to call for an open succession debate – not exactly something the ANC wants to see among its traditions, yet), but it seems the old lot won this round.

There will be no discussion on succession yet, or rather, “so-called” succession (seeing that the ANC isn’t a line of chiefs with natural ascension rights, rather a democratic organisation that elects its leaders, Mantashe explained to giggles).

With the ANC elective conference being 16 months away still, the ANC’s NEC asked members and structures not to throw around names for nomination, and not to assess the performance of leaders outside of leadership structures like the NEC. (Malema’s been doing an awful lot of assessment of President Jacob Zuma’s presidency, while Cosatu, at its June central executive committee, proclaimed they want something a bit more decisive.)

The NEC “emphasised the traditions of the ANC because any province (or Youth League) that goes into that debate is seen to have contravened the policies of the ANC.

“There is a temptation in many structures of the ANC to jump the gun and start nominations. Any attempt to do so is seen as transgressing the standing policy of the ANC,” Mantashe said.

This is more or less a repeat of what the ANC said just over a year ago when Malema and his League nominated his predecessor, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, to take over from Mantashe as SG.

In June the League flagrantly disregarded the call and resolved that Mbalula be nominated for SG. So is this a final warning? we asked Mantashe.

Again the wise one chose the long answer: “Running an organisation is not like running a unit in a company where there is a warning, a final written warning and then a dismissal. A political organisation doesn’t work like that, we work with political discipline.

“The way we discipline, you increase the understanding of the values of the organisation,” he said.

So discipline isn’t a hearing, rather an instilling of the organisation’s values in the individual so that even when they’re alone (and there’s no risk of getting caught), they would want to act in line with the political values of the organisation.

This reasoning gives a bit of insight into how the ANC will be approaching the disciplinary against Malema and League spokesman Floyd Shivambu, who are due to face the party’s disciplinary committee on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. The ANC will meet with the Youth League before that for discussions, Mantashe said

There were also some mea culpas from the party’s top dogs who got elected following a turbulent campaign before the party’s 2007 conference in Polokwane.

“One of the things we acknowledged is that the run-up to Polokwane was a serious disaster. We can’t repeat it,” Mantashe said, referring to the general mayhem and ill-discipline that accompanied the ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki.

Only people interested in the demise of the ANC would repeat this, he said.

Of course we all know Mbalula, as ANC Youth League leader, was one of the generals who spearheaded the onslaught against Mbeki, so he should heed this as a warning in disguise.

“You (should) appreciate that election in 2012 for individuals is not a life or death issue. Whether you are hated or not, the organisation cannot be collapsed because you want to be popular or you want to be re-elected,” he said (the re-elected bit was meant for Zuma, whom Mantashe said was not asking for an extension of his five-year term, but was not not asking either).

Mantashe also warned against conflating policy debates and succession – the League has threatened to shun anyone who doesn’t support their version of nationalisation.

We wanted more information on Malema’s charges, who will represent him and the processes followed, but Mantashe ignored the questions as if they were a succession debate.

He did cryptically say if the League’s members wanted to “get adventurous” and disrupt Malema’s hearing, “we will confirm that adventure at that point”.

And he explained how processes (in this case policy and leadership debates) in the ANC work: “It is an elephant. It goes very slow, but when it starts moving, it is very decisive.”

This is very likely to apply to whatshisname’s whatchamacallit. DM

Read more:

  • Julius, countryman, lend us your ears, in Daily Maverick;
  • Malema’s disciplinary: not everyone in the League standing by their man in Daily Maverick;
  • Malema and the disciplinary committee: A rough guide in Daily Maverick.

Photo: Reuters.


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