South Africa

South Africa

The curious case of the missing ANC members – and the crisis plan to win them back

The curious case of the missing ANC members – and the crisis plan to win them back

Remember when President Jacob Zuma got booed at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service? The ANC claimed those were not ANC members. Could it be that they were among the 37% of ANC members who did not renew their membership? Whatever spin the ANC puts on it, system glitches cannot account for 450,187 members falling off in three years. The commission reports of the ANC national general council (NGC) show the ANC is desperate to win members back, with even a gap opened on e-tolls. And there’s no more “innocent until proven guilty” to protect compromised ANC leaders. But is it too little too late? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

In all the explanations given by the ANC for the decline in membership from 1.220,057 in 2012 to 769,870 now, there were three obvious omissions. The first is the abnormal spike in the figures before the 2012 Mangaung conference, in all provinces except the Northern Cape and Western Cape. From 2010 to 2012, KwaZulu-Natal, for example, went from 192,618 to 331,820, Free State from 41,627 to 121,074 and Mpumalanga from 46,405 to 132,729.

The size of provincial delegations to national conferences is proportional to membership numbers per province. You do not need extraordinary powers of perception to decipher what happened. People were obviously signed up en masse to pump up membership figures and by extension the size of delegations to the Mangaung conference. So over the past three years, many of the people who were signed up couldn’t be bothered to renew their membership and pay the annual R20 fee.

The second omission in the ANC’s explanations is the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The EFF formed itself out of the ANC in mid 2013, and many disgruntled ANC members followed Julius Malema and his friends into the new party. Although the ANC officials like to classify EFF members as radicals and rebels, the fact remains that they were their radicals and rebels a few years ago.

ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte’s interpretation that membership had in fact increased as their database reflected over 1.3 million names is therefore perhaps wishful thinking. How can they count on all lapsed members returning to the ANC? Is it possible that some of these members have joined the Democratic Alliance or EFF, as reflected in their voting figures in the 2014 elections?

The third issue the ANC did not mention is the prevalence of scandal fatigue and disillusionment. The past three years have been eventful in South Africa – the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, the never-ending scandal over the Nkandla security upgrades, the rise and rise of the Gupta family and the spread of their tentacles in the state, the electricity crisis and the impact of loadshedding, the introduction of e-tolls and the split in Cosatu.

And then there are the long-term problems of unemployment, poverty, crime, service delivery failures and economic exclusion.

Is it not possible that ANC members would have been affected by these issues and therefore made conscious decisions not to renew their membership? The ANC’s system does not have a mechanism to reflect whether membership lapsed through a slow renewal process or because of disillusionment and disappointment. Therefore to assume that improving the system will bring back members is somewhat optimistic.

In his opening address at the NGC, President Jacob Zuma did identify what he called “negative tendencies” which he said undermined the ANC’s credibility, including ill-discipline, hooliganism and violence”. But he referred to them in broad strokes, without giving examples or referring to major scandals that plagued the country.

However, by admitting some of the ANC’s weaknesses, Zuma opened the space for candid discussions, which does not always happen in ANC conferences. So instead of the usual lines such as “we have a good story to tell” and “the national democratic revolution is on track”, the NGC outcomes were comprehensive.

A seven-page report by the commission on organisational renewal and elections reveals delegates definitely not taking its drop in membership lightly – or viewed it simply as a system glitch. From corruption, factionalism, poor performance and problems with cadre deployment, the ANC has adopted a range of measures to halt the decline.

The NGC adopted a proposal by the ANC in Gauteng for a monitoring and evaluation system located in the secretary general’s office to track implementation of ANC decisions and resolutions. It was also decided that there should be “a more scientific deployment system” that records expertise, qualifications and training needs for cadres deployed to public service or as public representatives. The ANC said its deployment strategy was weak and “cadres who have failed in one deployment should not be awarded higher or other positions”.

With regard to the membership system, the ANC decided that gatekeeping should be made a disciplinary offence and that provisional members should get cards and be informed of when their six-month probation expired.

The report said some commissions felt that the minimum number of 100 members per branch was too much, particularly in “minority areas”. This could see the formation of smaller branches in non-traditional constituencies as part of a new recruitment drive. The NGC said the ANC should “seriously engage white, coloured and Indian voters and organisations from those communities, with a view to increasing our support and winning over key opinion-makers”.

Under a section titled “Dealing with Negative Practices”, the NGC report said: “The growing perception that the ANC is soft on its own members and that this has serious implications and reputational damage for the ANC”. Therefore it was decided the integrity commission made up of ANC veterans should be given powers to make determinations in the ANC’s best interests about the fate of members facing accusations and charges.

Free State ANC chairperson and premier Ace Magashule, backed by his North West counterpart Supra Mahumapelo and ANC Youth president Collen Maine, tried to argue against the integrity commission being given powers to act against members facing charges. They argued that the “innocent until proven guilty” principle should apply. They were roundly defeated, with Gauteng leading the campaign for the ANC not to be compromised by leaders facing long drawn out court cases and disciplinary processes.

It seems the “premier league” may have overestimated their power and influence over ANC delegates.

The NGC took a hard line against lobby groups such as this. It proposed a ban on the formalisation of lobby groups and the promotion of slates, and those involved in such practices should face disciplinary processes. It was also proposed that separate elections be held for each official position to do away with slates and to allow for “losers” to be accommodated at deputy level as an act of unifying the ANC.

The ANC in Gauteng is celebrating the NGC decision on e-tolls, although the system is not being scrapped. The report of the economic transformation commission reads as follows on e-tolls: “The ANC supports the user-pay principle. The NGC notes the concerns raised about the current e-toll system in Gauteng. Accordingly, the NGC urges government to continue to move with speed to explore means to address the socio-economic impact on our people, including alternative means of funding road and other infrastructure”.

This is apparently the first national ANC conference to discuss and adopt a resolution on e-tolls. The ANC in Gauteng has dug in its heels saying they did not support the system “in its current form”. This came even after the compromise package announced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

ANC leaders in the province say the resolution on e-tolls calling on government to “explore means to address the socio-economic impact on our people” and to seek “alternative means of funding road and other infrastructure” opened space to manoeuvre. What this means exactly is not yet known but it is possible that to prevent a further decline in member numbers and to avert a major beating in the metros in the local government elections next year, there could be further compromises in the e-tolling system.

The question is whether all these measures will be enough to repair the ANC’s damaged image and reputation. The ANC has ignored the bad publicity and warnings about the erosion of its credibility for years, claiming its support base was unaffected by scandal and bad leadership. Now it has jumped into crisis mode because its popularity and electoral dominance is under threat.

The most jarring indication that ANC members were angry and unhappy was when Zuma was booed at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in December 2013. The ANC waved that away, claiming those were not ANC members and it was just a small section of the crowd at FNB stadium causing a commotion.

If the ANC had bothered to go to its grass roots structures then, it probably would not have been perturbed by its losses in last year’s elections or by the massive decline in membership now. But the ANC had buried its head in the sand for far too long and treated its own constituency with disdain, from the mineworkers at Marikana to road users in Gauteng. It refused to accept that the cover up campaign it ran to protect the president and justify the massive spending at Nkandla would come back to bite the party.

ANC members, just like all other South Africans, were watching the assault on accountability, the rule of law and the Constitution.

Can all this be undone or is a large chunk of the ANC’s support base lost forever?

In less than a year, when South Africa has its fifth local government elections, we will have a pretty good indication. DM

Photo: ANC supporters celebrate during victory celebrations at Nasrec in Johannesburg, April 24, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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