South Africa

Road to Mangaung – highway to the danger zone

By Ranjeni Munusamy 4 December 2012

A massive security operation is already being rolled out for the ANC’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung that starts in 12 days. Besides the security nightmare of having the entire Cabinet and leadership of the ANC at national, provincial and local government level in one confined area, it is also anticipated that there could be outbreaks of violence between rival factions battling for power. Several high-profile leaders including Kgalema Motlanthe and Zwelinzima Vavi have been sounding alarm bells about the parlous state of the ANC, but these are seemingly going unheeded. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

It was quite telling that as word spread last Friday morning that the ANC’s provincial secretary in the North West, Kabelo Mataboge, had been shot at, nobody in the party was really shocked by the news. Anyone abreast of developments in that province knows it was merely a matter of time before the ANC’s internal battles there turned deadly. 

The national leadership has been unable to rein in the feuding despite numerous attempts to intervene. At the ANC’s June policy conference, two separate delegations from the province arrived, each claiming to be the legitimate structure. Over the weekend, North West chairman Supra Mahumapelo and Mataboge attempted to hold parallel conferences to nominate their candidates for the national leadership. As happened at the policy conference, ANC headquarters forced the two factions into an uneasy truce in order for the nominations process to take place, but the truce did not hold.

Similarly, in the Western Cape, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, nominations conferences were marred by infighting and factional feuds. As a result, Limpopo and the Western Cape have not been able to make nominations at all, and the ANC is to announce on Tuesday whether the two provinces will still be allowed to submit names for the “Top Six” and the national executive committee (NEC). 

But all of these battles are symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the party which the ANC leadership, particularly President Jacob Zuma, is unwilling to confront now. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has been ringing the alarm bells for years about the rebellion brewing on the ground while the country’s political leaders are preoccupied with their top-end factional battles.

Speaking at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering 2.0 recently, Vavi reiterated that the “cocktail of socio-economic problems has created ticking time bombs, some of which are starting to explode in the waves of spontaneous strikes among mine and farm workers, now spreading into other sectors, and continuing community protests.

“How I wish every song, every poem, every discussion in every political party and civil society formation would be about this unfolding tragedy. How I wish that the ANC delegates to its 53rd national conference in Mangaung would be preoccupied with answering the central question of today: what is to be done and how can the ‘second phase of the transition’, as they have called it, become a reality?” Vavi said. 

And now in an interview with New Agenda, the journal edited by veteran ANC MP Ben Turok, Vavi warns that battles over leadership could leave the ANC so fragmented that it would be too weak to fight the 2014 national and provincial elections. If sanity did not prevail, more than mere positions could be lost, Vavi said.

He went on to say that one of Cosatu’s biggest fears was that the ANC’s Mangaung conference “might just become the place where we kill ourselves as a movement.” 

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has also been expressing similar concerns and warning that the ANC is heading into a danger zone. In an interview with the Financial Times, Motlanthe said the Mangaung conference represented a tipping point for the ANC. He said that if the many expectations of the ANC conference were not met, “the levels of despondency and so on will rise and the negative outlook will be strengthened.”

This was the only way the ruling party would be able to lead “all of South Africa out of this rut”. 

“There is no doubt about it that we need renewal or we’re going south,” he said.

Motlanthe has now gone further, stating in an interview with the BBC that if the ANC fails to listen to the people of South Africa, it does not deserve to be in a position of power. 

“If ordinary South Africans don’t see in the ANC a natural political home, an instrument which addresses their own concerns, they will shift to other parties… If we fail to stay on our toes because of the cries of our people, then we don’t deserve to hold these positions of responsibility,” Motlanthe said. 

He said the ANC’s critics had a right to judge the party “for what it is and not what it was.” 

Perhaps Motlanthe has now thrown caution to the wind to make such statements because he has resigned himself to the fact that the ANC presidency is now beyond his reach in Mangaung. What Motlanthe and Vavi have articulated is often expressed by other veterans and activists, and is a common concern for the older generation of ANC members who lament the change of character and focus of the ANC. 

But Zuma, among others, feels that the criticisms of the ANC and warnings about contestation chewing the soul of the party were exaggerations. He stated on Sunday that reports of infighting within the ruling party ahead of the Mangaung conference came from people who did not understand the ANC.

Zuma said whatever decisions were made on party leadership at the ANC conference would be accepted by all ANC members. He said those who wanted change should explain what was wrong within the organisation and what was better to come. Leadership should be nominated according to what it can achieve, Zuma said. 

The party’s president is obviously trying to defend his own leadership and therefore playing down the grim state in which the party finds itself. But the violence and delays of the provincial conferences due to clashes between factions betrays Zuma’s disconnect from reality and his inability to recognise the dire situation in the ANC. When ANC members resort to assassination attempts, the problem then is not outside world’s failure to understand the ANC, but the insiders’ power battle that has gone horribly wrong. 

Unless Zuma and others in the ANC leadership confront the crisis and work towards a complete reorientation of the party, Vavi’s warning about the ANC weakening at the polls will become a reality. Many people believe this will be healthy for democracy and that the ANC needs to be put to the test in the elections in order for it to see the error of its ways. 

But the turmoil in the ANC is not just confined to the party. It is causing paralysis in the state and is permeating all aspects of life in South Africa. When the security and image of the country is compromised, the ANC cannot be left to its own devices to resolve its internal battles.  

Mangaung is perhaps the last chance the ANC has to confront the mafia-like culture that has consumed the party. It might retain its godfather, but the self-interest, thuggery and factional warfare does not belong in a 100-year-old liberation movement. To save its soul in Mangaung, the ANC has to stand up and, once again, remember that its primary mission is to serve South Africa, not itself. DM

Photo by SFAntti 

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