South Africa

A tale of two Mangaungs

By Greg Nicolson 5 December 2012

In a briefing on the special meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee, secretary general Gwede Mantashe dismissed claims the lead-up to the party’s elective conference has been marred by violence and vote-rigging. His prediction that the conference will be concluded without “rowdiness” came amid growing fears that it will merely entrench factionalism and its mutant sibling, cronyism. By GREG NICOLSON.

Amid a profusion of views on what we’ll see at the conference, the media got a glimpse of the expected programme on Tuesday. 

Media can attend the opening session as ANC president Jacob Zuma delivers his political report and Gwede Mantashe offers his organisational report.

“We would rather open it for journalists to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I don’t suggest that I’m a horse,” joked Mantashe.

The secretary general’s joke was in line with his optimism heading into Mangaung. Despite provinces being hamstrung by factionalism and continued allegations of vote rigging, Mantashe said it would go smoothly. “My prediction is that the Mangaung conference is going to be stable. There is not going to be rowdiness.” He blamed the stories of chaos on members who are unhappy that their candidates have not been nominated. 

The purpose of the special NEC meeting was to discuss the ANC’s readiness for Mangaung. First on the agenda were the provincial conferences in the North West, Limpopo and the Western Cape. Mantashe could not comment on the disputed conference of the North West, held in two different locations by rival factions until they were both brought to the Rustenburg Civic Centre to complete the nomination process. “I don’t know about that chaos. I was not running that conference,” he said, adding that it has now been completed.

Limpopo and the Western Cape will hold their provincial nomination meeting on Wednesday. If they fail to do so, their last chance to nominate leaders will be on the Mangaung conference floor, where they will need the support of 25% of the delegates. Mantashe condemned the Limpopo members who disrupted the meeting because they suspected wrongdoing. He also said in the Western Cape the provincial leaders must take responsibility for their conference’s failure. Six NEC members will be deployed to both Limpopo and the Western Cape on Wednesday to monitor the conferences; Mantashe would not name them.

Not everyone shares the secretary general’s rosy outlook. Okay, that’s an understatement – Mangaung is viewed as a pivotal moment in the party’s 100 years and democratic South Africa’s 18 years. Either it will capitalise on the ANC’s positives and try to address the negatives or it will entrench factionalism and the corrupt cronyism that naturally follows.

Outside Luthuli House, Bongani Mvala, ANC branch secretary from Tswaing, North West, disagreed with Mantashe’s claims there have been no ghost voters. Mvala said his branch nominated him as its delegate to Mangaung but later the votes were changed so a pro-Zuma delegate could attend. He said he has lodged a dispute with Luthuli House, which has not yet responded to his complaint.

Mantashe’s version of the process leading up to Mangaung was markedly different from that of some other ANC and alliance members. ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe has billed the event as a pivotal moment in the party’s history. “There is no doubt about it that we need renewal or we are going south,” he recently told the Financial Times, claiming the public will respond harshly to the ANC if expectations are not met. 

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has also been looking into his crystal ball. He fears that the factionalism in the ANC will have immense consequences for the party. Speaking at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering 2.0, he expressed concern that ANC members are preoccupied with the leadership battle at the expense of policy matters that could address South Africa’s triangle of ills – unemployment, inequality and poverty.

A more immediate sign that the Mangaung conference bodes dark days ahead is the attempted assassination of North West ANC provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge. Mantashe condemned “such dastardly acts” and called for the police to solve the matter. But, unlike many outside observers, he didn’t draw the conclusion that the murder attempt is just another turn towards violence as the factions of the ANC travel the road to Mangaung.

In the first few days of the conference there will be closed discussions on the political and organisational reports, as well as commissions and plenaries focusing on organisational renewal and policy matters. The elections, run by the ANC’s electoral commission and an independent election agency, will be conducted openly. The closing session, which will include a reading of conference declaration and the party president’s closing address, will be open to the media.

We will know in two weeks whether Mantashe’s Mangaung dream comes true. What we know already is that in 2012 the ANC has seen meetings disrupted, a factional game of chess, and even assassinations. And although the secretary general is confident of a smooth conference, the lead-up has been everything but. DM

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