South Africa

Failure to lead: The ANC’s missed opportunity for a reality check

By Ranjeni Munusamy 25 November 2014

The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) met over the weekend at a time of great political strain. Parliament is in disarray due to tensions between the ANC and opposition parties, Cosatu is self-combusting, and the Nkandla scandal continues to drag the ruling party through the mud. You would think that when the top decision-making structure of the ANC meets, it would recognise the level of turmoil and take the opportunity to provide firm leadership. But ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said he did not know how to answer a question about the broken fence around the presidential estate at Nkandla, let alone acknowledge that it was bringing the 103-year-old organisation to its knees. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy, speech in Indianapolis, 12 April 1959

The one thing South Africa, and ANC leaders in particular, have become distinguished for across the globe are their mediation skills to resolve conflict situations. South Africa’s relatively peaceful transition from Apartheid to democracy was largely credited to the multiparty negotiations and the strong leadership skills displayed by the ANC. It was an extremely difficult task for the National Party to negotiate away their powers, but the proficiency of the ANC negotiators allowed for a smooth handover of power and the institutions of democracy being established.

Since the negotiations in the early ‘90s, ANC leaders have been involved in various conflict resolution efforts, from Northern Ireland to the Middle East and various mediation roles on the African continent. The ANC’s number one and two, Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those highly respected for their skills in conflict resolution.

Zuma is recognised for his lead role in achieving peace in KwaZulu-Natal, where a low-intensity war continued long into the lifespan of the democratic government, as well as mediating the complicated conflict situation in Burundi while he was Deputy President. Ramaphosa was a key figure in the Codesa talks, the Constitution-drafting negotiations and is currently assigned to mediate in Sudan and Lesotho.

And yet it beggars belief why the two senior-most leaders in the state and the ANC, when it is desperately needed, cannot use these inherent skills in South Africa right now. Zuma has allowed factional battles to rage in the ANC and the alliance, manifesting in the current disintegration in Cosatu. While Zuma was deputy president, it was among his duties to manage relations with the opposition, and he did so quite ably. However, during his presidency, relations with opposition parties have deteriorated so badly that it led to a dysfunctional Parliament.

As Leader of Government Business in Parliament, it is now Ramaphosa’s role to interact with opposition parties and manage relations with them. The truce he brokered with the parties in Parliament last week collapsed after a day as the tensions and resentment on both sides of the House are too deep-seated to be dealt with in one meeting. There obviously needs to be commitment from all sides as well as a series of compromises in order to establish a functional working relationship in Parliament.

The ANC is claiming that the Democratic Alliance (DA) breached the multiparty agreement and acted in bad faith by pursuing a motion to censure the president in Parliament. The DA says they will not compromise on fundamentals, such as president and the executive accounting to Parliament, in order to make the agreement work. The impasse was confirmed at a meeting between the ANC and opposition parties in Johannesburg on Monday.

What has emerged over the past few days is that Ramaphosa was under pressure from his caucus and the ANC leadership not to capitulate to the opposition. That has impaired his negotiating ability, as he clearly cannot offer a give and take. DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane says Ramaphosa cannot commit to a date of Zuma’s return to Parliament to answer questions. It is likely that Ramaphosa cannot give a date because he is not privy to when the president intends going back to Parliament for oral questions.

Another sticking point is the Powers and Privileges Committee report on the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) disciplinary matter. The report was put on ice last week following the multiparty meeting, but is now back on the agenda following the breakdown of the truce. A special sitting of the National Assembly has been called for Thursday and the report, which recommends the suspension of EFF MPs including their leader Julius Malema, is likely to be tabled then.

Malema said on Thursday that the EFF was also not prepared to bargain over holding Zuma accountable to make the truce stand, and would rather be suspended from Parliament.

Such a stalemate situation can only be resolved through strong, responsible leadership. The 80-member ANC NEC met over the weekend and one of the items on the agenda was “developments in the National Assembly”. The language used by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe in the statement released at a media briefing on Monday was indicative that the NEC was not interested in being diplomatic to aid Ramaphosa’s negotiations with the opposition parties.

“The actions of some opposition parties undermine democracy and the Constitution. The ANC therefore understands the responsibility it has to defend democracy…”

Mantashe said there was a “race to the bottom” by opposition parties to see who was the rowdiest.

While stating that the NEC supported Ramaphosa’s intervention, the statement went on to say: “The ANC must remain vigilant and weary of any attempts to use this legitimate process to undermine parliamentary structures and procedures.”

When questioned as to what this meant, Mantashe said the Powers and Privileges Committee report on the EFF should not be part of the multiparty negotiations. “That report is a report of a committee of Parliament. It is not an issue for negotiation somewhere else outside that process. It is a report of a parliamentary committee,” Mantashe said.

What this means is that Ramaphosa’s hands have been tied further by the NEC, which limits his ability to negotiate with the opposition. It means he is only able to make demands and not offer anything in return – a formula for disaster in any negotiations process.

Why would the ANC take such a position, when the work and programme of Parliament is now in serious jeopardy? Clearly the senior most leadership of the party believes that shielding the president from scrutiny and accountability takes precedence over establishing a functional Parliament. It is also clear that the ANC NEC is trying to block out other related issues.

It was reported in the Mail & Guardian last week that ANC veterans Sandi Sejake, Ben Turok and Mavuso Msimang had called on Zuma to pay back the money for undue benefits at Nkandla, as recommended by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

When Daily Maverick asked Mantashe to comment on this and enquired whether there was any such sentiment expressed in the NEC meeting, the secretary general’s response was that these were individuals expressing a view and they did not speak from any structure. Sejake, who was president of the ANC Veterans League, had not attended meetings for a year, Mantashe said. “These are private citizens expressing a view,” Mantashe said, disregarding the political weight these veterans carry individually and collectively. He did not respond as to whether anybody in the NEC held similar views.

From March, when the Public Protector’s report was released, the ANC has been carrying the Nkandla baggage, particularly the issue of whether the president should pay back the money. It is inconceivable that amongst 80 people charged with the looking after the welfare and image of the 103-year-old organisation, not a single one would raise the prospect of the money being paid back to release the ANC from this burden.

It is also difficult to understand how Zuma could deliver a “political overview” to the NEC without this issue coming up. “The report (presented by Zuma) was a frank and honest analysis about contemporary issues and the challenges facing the movement and the country as a whole,” the ANC statement said. What could these possibly be if it was not how the ANC and Parliament are being brought to their knees because of the Nkandla matter?

Mantashe was also asked to comment on a Sunday Times report that the multimillion rand perimeter fence at Nkandla was broken, with pictures providing clear evidence of a security breach. Mantashe responded that he did not know how to answer the question and that he had not been to Nkandla in a long time. He also said he did not know whether the ANC’s integrity committee had assessed the impact of the Nkandla matter on the party, saying they worked independently from the leadership.

It is difficult to imagine any other issue that has compromised the integrity of the ANC more than the Nkandla scandal has, and if the committee has not considered the matter, surely the party’s NEC should have asked it to.

If the NEC statement is to be believed, the ANC took a similar blasé view of the breakdown in Cosatu. The statement merely urged a continuance of the work of the ANC task team “for unity and cohesion in Cosatu”. Surely the top leaders would have tried to examine the underlying political reasons for the fracturing in Cosatu, following the expulsion of metalworkers’ union Numsa. If the ANC were genuinely interested in patching Cosatu up, it would also have to offer compromises, given that it has been blamed for fanning the flames in the federation.

But the ANC appears to be offering no such thing. Mantashe said, as the biggest affiliate in Cosatu, Numsa had the responsibility to keep other unions together. He said if Numsa accepted such responsibility, it would be possible to bring Cosatu together, as it was not in  “the interests of society” for it to be divided.

Where is the strong leadership and mediation skills in a time of great need, and particularly when the ANC is feeling the pain of these conflict situations?

The quote from Kennedy about how the Chinese write the word “crisis” suggests that such situations, while carrying inherent dangers, also provide opportunities.

The ANC NEC had the opportunity to rise to the occasion this weekend and give direction on a number of fronts. They did not.

They will meet again in the first week of next year to prepare for the ANC’s 103rd anniversary celebrations in Cape Town. Apparently they find no contradiction in celebrating the organisation’s glorious past while failing to make sure it has a future. DM

Photo: ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe addresses media at Luthuli House on Monday. (Greg Nicolson)

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