South Africa

Operation Clean Up and Attack: ANC NGC’s new survival strategy

By Ranjeni Munusamy 12 October 2015

What the ANC needs to do to show it means business is to wield the hatchet against one of its own. Otherwise three days of big talk and introspection at its national general council (NGC) will come to naught. President Jacob Zuma hit the panic button on Friday – the ANC had lost over a third of its members in three years, traditional supporters were turning away and corruption had severely damaged the party’s image. The NGC’s comeback strategy includes giving a group of veterans the mammoth responsibility of doing what the current leadership cannot do – clean out the rot. And from the ICC to the media, the ANC is on the attack. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

There were several big takeaways from this weekend’s ANC NGC:

  • The decision that South Africa should withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC)
  • Parliament should investigate the “feasibility and desirability” of a media appeals tribunal
  • Government should explore the feasibility of a “wealth tax”
  • The decisions of the ANC integrity commission must be binding
  • E-tolls are staying and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s compromise package must be implemented
  • The formalisation of lobby groups and the promotion of slates should be disciplinary offences
  • The number of municipalities are likely to drop from 278 to 260 in 2016
  • A presidential commission must be established and fast tracked to assess and possibly reduce the number of provinces
  • A “national interests” policy is to be fast tracked through Parliament that will dictate international relations

And thanks to a doorstop question by a Mail & Guardian reporter, we know that President Jacob Zuma said he will “never ever” stand for a third term as ANC leader. “Even if they beg me I won’t stand,” Zuma said.

But before you think this is set in stone, consider these comments Zuma made in 2011 when reminded that, three years before then, he said: “I would prefer to leave after one term.

“I never said I would serve one term and I have never said that I would want two terms. I said a second term is a decision of the ANC but people twist it now. I have never defied the ANC. If the ANC said serve one term, that will be fine. I am a cadre of the ANC,” Zuma said a year before he ran for a second term.

Whether he is preparing for retirement or will change his mind if some ANC structures decide to nominate him for a third term in 2017 remains to be seen. But what Zuma has done is hand over responsibility for much of what has gone wrong under his presidency of the ANC and government to the membership of the party.

In his opening address, Zuma said the NGC needed to undertake a frank assessment of the state of the organisation and identify those issues that make its traditional support base unhappy. He raised the issue of negative perceptions of the party, lack of discipline, the prevalence of factions, corruption and identified “kingmakers” as being alien to the ANC.

Zuma seemed to see no irony in raising all these issues without considering his own role and contribution to all these perceptions.

One could argue that as leader of the party, it was Zuma’s responsibility, together with the national executive committee (NEC) elected in 2012, to deal with all these problems. As a midterm review, the NGC was assessing the implementation of policy since 2012, so any failures should be attributed to the elected leadership.

The overwhelming assessment of the NGC commissions was that things have gone horribly wrong both in the ANC and government. From the 37% drop in membership from over 1.2 million in 2012 to 769,870 now, to the slow implementation of the National Development Plan, lack of capacity in the state, instability in state owned enterprises and high levels of crime and corruption, there are clearly serious problems.

Strangely though, nobody is being held responsible.

With regard to the corruption and moral degradation infesting the ANC, the buck has been passed to an integrity commission announced by the NEC in March 2013. The establishment of the integrity commission is another resolution of the 2012 Mangaung conference that never quite got off the ground.

The ANC now wants the integrity commission to clean up its image by investigating people who bring the party into disrepute and make binding recommendations about actions against them. This includes getting people accused of criminal activity to step down from positions in the ANC. In recent years, a number of ANC leaders accused of corruption, including the president, have hung onto their positions by claiming they were innocent until proven otherwise.

ANC NEC member Nomvula Mokonyane said at an NGC media briefing that the integrity commission would make decisions in the interests of the party, irrespective of court decisions. What this means is that even if a person is found not guilty, the commission could still recommend they step down because of the damage they cause to the ANC.

Mokonyane said the integrity commission was made up of people whose record was not questionable and therefore they should be given the authority to make binding decisions.

To say their credentials are unquestionable is somewhat of an understatement.

The commission is made up of some the ANC’s oldest surviving veterans. It is chaired by former Rivonia trialist Andrew Mlangeni, who is 90 years old, and includes fellow trialists Ahmed Kathrada (86) and Dennis Goldberg (82) and ANC stalwarts Getrude Shope (90) and Frene Ginwala (83). One of the younger members of the commission, Nelson Diale died at the age of 79 in January this year. (The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has brought it to our attention that Kathrada has since written to the ANC secretary general declining to serve on the integrity commission. – Ed)

Despite their long histories of service to the ANC and the country, and the fact that most of the members are well into their retirement, the ANC now wants this commission to do investigations into criminal activity and misconduct of its members, and make decisions on their fate. While the ANC definitely needs moral guidance, it speaks volumes that it has to rely on its golden generation of leaders to step forward to help rescue the party.

Mokonyane did not answer whether the integrity commission could act retrospectively against people who had already brought the party into disrepute.

The image clean up mission includes better communications and more positive media coverage. But the method of achieving this is somewhat absurd.

The NGC decided to reintroduce the idea of a media appeals tribunal by getting Parliament to investigate its “feasibility and desirability” as part of a package to ensure transformation and accountability in the media. But ANC NEC member Lindiwe Zulu also revealed the underlying justification for the media appeals tribunal. She told an NGC media briefing “a lot of what is reported is on the side of the negative”.

The logic therefore seems to be that the media appeals tribunal can be used as a weapon against a critical media to ensure a more positive orientation rather than to ensure accuracy and penalties for false reporting. The fact that the introduction of the tribunal would provoke greater negative perceptions of the country with curbs on a free press were apparently not taken into account.

In the same way, the ANC’s decision for South Africa to withdraw from the ICC could feed negative perception that the country was abandoning its human rights principles in foreign policy. The ANC’s international relations chairperson Obed Bapela told the media that the ICC had lost its direction. “The principles that led us to be members remain valid and relevant. However the ICC has lost its direction unfortunately and is no longer pursuing that principle of an instrument that is fair for everybody.”

However, it is difficult to escape from the fact that South Africa’s legal quandary with the ICC was brought on by the fact that it allowed Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to enter and then leave the country, flouting a warrant for his arrest for war crimes. If the decision to withdraw from the ICC were made in principle without the Al-Bashir fiasco having taken place, perhaps perception would have been different.

The NGC took place in the context of the ANC being under siege from inside and out. A battle for its soul is raging internally, which is why it is clamping down on factionalism and lobby groups with a decision to make these disciplinary offences. It remains to be seen whether this will have any effect on dismantling factions, including the much-talked-about (and now much-denied) “premier league”.

After years of ignoring warnings that its image is taking a battering by protecting people accused of corruption and inappropriate conduct, the ANC is now counting the costs. And that cost is evident in actual numbers of members and votes lost.

The ANC also realises that it is in serious danger of further losses in next year’s local government elections, and is therefore making strategy changes. This includes unveiling its mayoral candidates in contested metros beforehand to be the face of their election campaigns.

Of course all these big decisions could fall down on implementation, as so many have in the past. By its own admission, the ANC is extremely weak in implementation in party and government policies.

The best way to demonstrate a turnaround is through decisive action. Instead of continuous talk about cleaning up its ranks of corrupt elements, the ANC needs to make an example of somebody – preferably a big fish.

Zuma said in his closing address that the ANC hoped to win back its lost members and that all 1.3 million names in its database should be confirmed as members in good standing by 2017.

What he did not say was that this is the last chance the ANC has to arrest the decline. If the decisions taken at this weekend’s NGC do not work, the 103-year-old ANC could lose its grip on power in the near future. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma dances at the victory rally of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in Johannesburg May 10, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.

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