South Africa

Reporter’s Notebook: ANC NEC’s lekgotla – sorry, are you the State or the Party?

By Sipho Hlongwane 31 July 2012

The national executive committee of the ANC meets once a year to hold a lekgotla, a sort of Very Important Meeting. It is an opportunity for the NEC to take stock and perhaps give direction. Except, some of the recommendations ought to be coming from Cabinet, not the ruling party. Did someone forget to read the rulebook? By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Despite ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe giving a reporter uphill for questioning the party’s understanding of the separation of party and state, it is a valid concern after the release of a statement by the NEC following its lekgotla in Pretoria last week. Some of the directives given are an offence to the notion of the separation of party and state.

The big one is the Limpopo textbook crisis. It’s big enough to potentially sink the careers of a swathe of ANC bigwigs, including basic education minister Angie Motshekga, Limpopo MEC for education Dickson Masemola and Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale. Everyone is running to the province with promises of big fixes, yet nobody seems to have a handle on the problem or what to do about it. The presidency, the department of basic education and the province of Limpopo are all adding to the confusion by refusing to pick out any responsible person – either for cleaning up or for getting the chop for messing up in the first place.

The NEC delivered two sucker-punches to Motshekga after she first refused to accept that a “crisis” was under way in Limpopo, and then said that she couldn’t have known last year that things were going to get this bad. “The fact that by December 2011 no books were ordered and no budget for purchasing books was the first sign that there was a crisis. The slow response to this crisis, including waiting for the next financial year bordered on being reckless,” the statement said. 

The presidency appointed a task team to investigate. Section 27 and the department of basic education reached an out-of-court settlement on this particular matter – another one rages over the now-nearly forgotten education debacle in the Eastern Cape. In that case the department appointed an independent person to audit the delivery of textbooks. Not to be outdone, Mathale promised to anoint his own team of investigators. The NEC stepped in and ordered Mathale’s people to report to the presidency. 

So we’re not accused of misquoting the ANC, this is the statement in full: “All the task teams that were set up to deal with the current book debacle must reconcile their reports and the presidential task team must be the channel of reporting to the presidency. Having received the preliminary report the presidency has been asked to push for the final report. That final report should be the basis for any action to be taken, including action against any person found guilty of any misdemeanour.”

Er, can they do that? Can the presidency just order a provincial government to surrender its activities to it? A few days ago, at another briefing, Collins Chabane, the minister for monitoring and evaluation in the presidency (no less), said that it was very difficult for national government to impose itself upon local and provincial government because the law doesn’t allow that, save for extraordinary cases. 

So why does the NEC believe that it can steamroll Mathale on this one, no matter how wrong or incompetent he may be, without first checking that the letter of the law has been followed to a tee? In other words, the NEC ought to first prove that things have got so bad in Limpopo that the law allows national government to unilaterally intervene. This has not been mentioned in the statement at all.

What makes this particular move even more incongruous is that in the rest of the statement the NEC decides to take a step back and not impede on the territory of Cabinet by ordering it around. For example, here’s its take on the national development plan of the National Planning Commission: “The NEC committed itself to continue engaging with the national development plan and the commission is working hard to develop the national vision that the nation can converge around. The ANC pledged its support for this noble effort.”

When probed a bit more on this particular point, Mantashe said: “The plan belongs to government. It is not a plan of the ANC. The ANC is but one of the many players.” Precisely. Render unto Cassel, and all that.

Of course, what is actually happening is that the NEC is merely taking its cadre deployment policy to its logical ends, in which the NEC informs Cabinet on party policy, and Cabinet then implements it after consultation with the other stakeholders. Let’s not forget that most Cabinet members are NEC members. So when the NEC says that this or that should happen in public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba is sitting right there to hear it, first-hand. The same goes for the basic education ministry, the treasury, the planning ministry and so on. 

And you know what, it is a bit absurd. None of us seriously believe that Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, takes instruction from Jacob Zuma, the ANC president. Really, it is the same bunch of people wearing different hats under different circumstances. The Cabinet is going to be holding its own lekgotla in August. Guess who will be chairing that meeting, and who the senior ministers will be? Yes – the Luthuli House bunch. So perhaps the note about the education crisis is nothing more than a reminder (in bold and underlined) for the August meeting, where everyone will turn up in their business suits instead of ANC leather jackets. 

Still, it makes it very awkward for Mantashe when he has to explain to the public what’s going on. It is also just bad for the ruling party to be ordering the presidency around like this.

When the NEC members meet as the members of the Cabinet, they had better be prepared to offer up something substantial, because the textbook saga is rolling on in a way that is very visible for the public and very damaging to the party. If Motshekga were to be tossed under the bus, and an official or two fired in Limpopo, it would go a long way to appeasing the wrath of ANC supporters who are livid about the situation in the north. If they allow this situation to fester, who knows how ugly it will get? Zuma ought to be well aware of how damaging such a thing can be – his predecessor was toppled by a snowball that started as a very small thing indeed. DM

Read more:

  • ANC NEC annual lekgotla statement in the ANC website 

Photo: Jessie Duarte, Gwede Mantashe and Mathole Motshekga at Luthuli House. DAILY MAVERICK/Sipho Hlongwane