The ANC announced after its weekend national executive committee meeting that it wants to review its internal electoral system “as part of dealing decisively with slate politics and the corrosive impact of money in the election of leaders of the movement”. Stopping the practice of slate politics is a monumental task considering how factional battles have become so deep-rooted in the ANC. Fights in the ANC are not for singular positions, they are about dominance and control. As was evident with the appointment of the new Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane this week, power is about having your people in the right places. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
It seems the ANC is a little troubled by how slate politics and block voting has now become ingrained in its election processes. The ANC would still like to keep up the pretence that it has selfless and unambitious people in its ranks who respond only to nominations from branches to rise to leadership positions. Apart from former president Kgalema Motlanthe, it is difficult to spot anyone who really plays by those rules.
Since ANC’s 52nd national conference in Polokwane, the election game has changed. The Polokwane battle was not just about the face-off between President Jacob Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki. It was one half of the ANC wanting to defeat the other half and root it out of power. As a result, each camp put up a slate of candidates for the top six positions in the party. All the candidates on the Zuma slate won. This showed the balance of forces amongst the delegates and the elections for the national executive committee (NEC) went much the same way in favour of the Zuma camp.
One year before the next ANC conference in Mangaung, then ANC deputy president Motlanthe warned his party members against voting according to slates, which he said “deformed” the character of the ANC.
“The emergence of slates within our organisational culture and the processes represent the worst form of corruption of the spirit, character and vision of the organisation,” Motlanthe told delegates at a Limpopo elective conference. “The time has come for all of us in the ANC to condemn the slate culture to the dustbin of history.”
Motlanthe said members must stand up and speak against “this demon” that seems to destabilise, demoralise and emasculate the ANC of all its historical achievements. “Stealing away the voice of members through slates, buying of votes and treating the ordinary membership as voting fodder… serves no other purpose than to corrupt the organisation.”
Of course Motlanthe was a voice in the wilderness then and already rubbing the Zuma camp up the wrong way. A year later, he lost the ANC presidency to Zuma in a haphazard campaign in which he tried to repel factional and slate politics. Block voting was most evident in the election of the NEC, with all those who ran the “Anything But Zuma” campaign shunned.
While the 2012 conference was in progress, the ANC slapped down former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi for criticising the election slates. Vavi said the prevalence of slate politics was cause for concern as people on the losing slate would be sidelined and their talents ignored.
“That will be a tragedy. The winner-takes-all mentality is a recipe for disaster in terms of unity,” Vavi said at the time. This drew the ire of the ANC, which condemned Vavi for speaking publicly on the affairs of an alliance partner and being negative about the conference.
But it was an open secret that a list of pro-Zuma members was circulated amongst delegates and the outcome of the elections showed this was a successful strategy.
Since then, slates have filtered into provincial elections and the ANC leagues. Elections at the recent ANC Youth League (ANCYL) conference was a virtual walkover with the group endorsed by the “premier league” lobby taking all positions in the top six and dominating the NEC.
In KwaZulu-Natal, factional divisions have turned ugly with camps aligned to the provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu and the secretary Sihle Zikalala locked in deadly battle ahead of their elective conference in November. Slates for the top five positions have been circulating openly and City Press reported this week that the KwaZulu-Natal ANCYL wants to recall Mchunu as premier if he loses the election. Mchunu’s term in office is only supposed to end in 2019.
While the outcome of the KwaZulu-Natal election is not easy to predict and the ANCYL plan might not succeed, there could still be instability in the provincial government with tensions running so deep. As has been the case in other provinces rocked by divisions, it is difficult to get people working together across factional lines because tensions do not dissipate once elective conferences are over.
Ahead of the ANC national general council (NGC) next month, the party’s leaders could no longer ignore the factional divisions. The influence of the powerful “premier league”, led by the premiers of the North West, Mpumalanga and Free State, is also quite glaring. The ANC has been at pains to stress the NGC is a midterm review of the resolutions adopted at its 2012 conference and nothing to do with elections.
The Luthuli House barons cannot be comfortable with the fact that the premier league appears to be pulling the strings in its structures and that its biggest province, KwaZulu-Natal, is coming to the NGC as a divided group. This means there is a danger that the conference can go the way of the previous NGCs in 2005 and 2010 when some delegates rebelled against the leadership and introduced issues that were not on the agenda.
The statement by the NEC was therefore an attempt for the leadership to take control and exercise discipline. The NEC said it wanted to “commission a review of the ANC’s internal electoral system as part of dealing decisively with slate politics and the corrosive impact of money in the election of leaders of the movement”.
But commissioning a review of the electoral system can hardly deal with the divisions and stop people voting in camps. That is now a full-blown monster that has developed a life of its own, and of course worked for the dominant camp in the ANC.
The start of the 2017 succession debate and rise of the premier league has now made some people in the ANC leadership nervous about how the demon might turn around to bite them. With the premier league punting a woman president and floating the idea of Zuma staying on in 2017, they are already setting the agenda.
At least two leaders of the premier league, David Mabuza and Ace Magashule, have their sights set on top six positions. That limits the space for others with ambitions to contest positions. Rather than shy away from slate politics, those opposing the premier league will try to solidify their own camps.
This is more than contestation for positions in the ANC. It is about factions taking control and having complete dominance over ANC and government structures as well as access to resources. It is about the ability to appoint who they want in positions of influence, and being able to control government contracts and tenders.
The appointment this week of the new Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and redeployment of Ngoako Ramathlodi to Public Service and Administration stunned the country. But within hours, Zwane’s links to the influential Gupta family and Magashule became apparent. The Mail & Guardian reported that two days before the appointment was made, a presidential motorcade was present at the Gupta family compound in Saxonwold.
Whether the president was influenced to appoint Zwane or not will probably never be proven, and presidential prerogative over Cabinet appointments means Zuma cannot be challenged on the move.
The next two years will be about those who hold political and economic power now making sure that they get elected people who will preserve these power networks. Those elected on a leadership slate will have to dance to the tune of those who got them there. And those who try to repel the system will probably find themselves in the political wilderness.
Anyone trying to slay the demon now will probably find themselves being devoured by it. And those riding the demon might end up with the power to control the future of our country. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma is seen during a visit to the Kwanyamazane township with the ANC’s 102nd birthday celebrations in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, Wednesday, 8 January 2014. Picture: SAPA stringer