A video clip of President Jacob Zuma reading the ANC’s membership figures at last year’s national general council was a YouTube hit and even tickled Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. Zuma’s penchant for fumbling big numbers is a source of endless hilarity but many people overlooked the message being relayed in the clip. The ANC is bleeding membership and will continue to do so as factional battles and disillusionment plague the party. Why is the ANC leadership allowing so many people, like the entire losing faction in KwaZulu-Natal, to be flushed out? It has to do with a little event called the ANC 54th national conference, next December. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The ANC national conference in 1942, which was also the year two future presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, were born, set an ambitious target. At the age of 30, the ANC decided that by the time of its centenary, it should have one million members. This was achieved. On the 100th anniversary of the ANC in January 2012, it had 1,027,389 members. By December that year, when the ANC held its 52nd national conference in Mangaung, the party had 1,220,057 members. While this was a source of celebration for the ANC, there were drawbacks to having such a huge membership base.
Addressing the ANC’s 2002 policy conference, the party’s then president Mbeki cautioned that a rapidly expanding membership was not necessarily a good thing. He also defined the calibre of people the ANC needed in its ranks.
“This is a cadre who strives at all times to raise his or her political consciousness. This is a cadre who works continuously to improve his or her skills to enhance his or her capacity to serve the people of South Africa. This is a cadre who is loyal to the movement, dedicated to its cause and respects the discipline of a movement she or he would have joined voluntarily, with no compulsion by anybody.
“It may be that not everybody accepts what some may consider to be burdensome obligations of membership of the ANC. We are permanently interested in increasing the size and strength of our movement. Nevertheless I am convinced that we must also pay particular attention to the principle – better fewer, but better!”
This was a controversial statement at the time because it was alleged that Mbeki wanted to purge the ANC of what he referred to as “ultra left factions”. The South African Communist Party and Cosatu were fierce critics of Mbeki at the time. So when he said, “The issue of the offensive of the ultra-left against our movement is also important because this ultra-left works to implant itself within our ranks”, there was no guessing who that bullet was aimed at.
But nobody could challenge Mbeki on the fact that the ANC needed to attract and cultivate higher quality members. Perhaps there was also acceptance that membership would plateau and inevitably drop under varying political conditions.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe spoke on this matter in his organisational report at the party’s 2012 Mangaung conference. “There is an ongoing debate as to whether the ANC needs a big membership instead of the focus being on quality of membership. Quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive,” Mantashe said.
Political education remained weak, he said, and the majority of branches did not even make new members take the ANC membership oath. “This is reflected in the quality of membership, and the ease with which this membership gets manipulated,” Mantashe said.
Mantashe had a different story to tell in his organisational report to the ANC 2015 national general council. The report revealed massive drops in membership figures in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga since 2012, leading the national membership to drop by 450,187 people. Mantashe said ANC branches were “polluted by factional politics, which are fast becoming the norm”. Factions were not about ideology but about spoils, Mantashe said.
Bemoaning the drop from 1.2-million to 769,870 members, which produced the much-watched video clip of him fumbling the numbers, Zuma slammed the existence of factions and the phenomenon of some members owning other members. “As a result such members defect when the people they followed into the ANC are expelled or become unhappy and leave,” Zuma said.
There are other reasons too why people decide to leave the ANC, with apathy and disappointment with the current leadership ranking being among them. In recent months, after the axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and particularly after the Constitutional Court judgment finding that Zuma had violated the Constitution, many ANC members, veterans and commanders of the military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe publicly expressed their disillusionment.
Instead of the ANC leadership taking active measures to address their concerns, they have been written off and, in some cases, driven away. Those who now speak for the ANC have attacked and tried to discredit the president’s detractors, showing intolerance for open engagement and diverse views.
This phenomenon of cutting people loose is also evident in factional battles in ANC structures, such as the one currently playing out in KwaZulu-Natal. It seemed like a deadly move for the ANC to fire the former premier Senzo Mchunu so close to the local government elections, when the party needs to show a united front to maintain its electoral dominance.
Last year’s NGC figures showed that KwaZulu-Natal recorded the biggest drop in membership: 331,820 to 158,199. It therefore appears reckless for the national leadership to endorse the provincial executive committee’s decision to recall Mchunu and alienate the entire faction loyal to him.
The provincial elective conference in November showed that faction behind Mchunu was not insignificant. While the chairman Sihle Zikalala’s faction made a clean sweep, a fightback still raged months after the conference with Mchunu’s supporters rejecting the results. His removal as premier will have repercussions for ANC structures throughout the province, with his supporters likely to continue their rebellion.
There are already indications that Mchunu’s supporters are being penalised in the selection process for election candidates and that some of them might stand as independent candidates against the ANC. Why would the ANC’s national leadership allow this and risk losing seats in councils in different parts of the province?
It is no secret that Zikalala’s faction is firmly ensconced in what is popularly known as the “premier league” faction. With Mchunu and his faction out of the way, KwaZulu-Natal joins North West, Free State and Mpumalanga, along with the ANC Women’s League and ANC Youth League, as firmly behind Zuma. With the Gauteng ANC also falling in line after Zuma supporters forced a retreat on their position on the Constitutional Court judgment at the recent provincial general council, there is now no significant opposition to the premier league.
The ANC is shrinking in Zuma’s favour, with people who are disillusioned or in opposing factions becoming inactive or turning against the party. Those loyal to Zuma dominate party structures and are also the dominant voices speaking for the party.
What purpose does this serve?
The ANC might feel the pain at the elections but knows it will not lose enough votes to threaten its overall majority. Those holding power in the ANC are more focused on the party’s 54th national conference next December and their ability to influence the election of the top six leadership and the national executive committee. With the organisation being flushed out of their detractors, a compliant membership will elect whomever they are told to vote for.
While it might appear that the ANC is being reckless by not dealing with high levels of discontent in its ranks, what it is actually doing is preparing the ground to elect a new president and leadership that the premier league wants. Those in the ANC leadership who oppose these moves are outgunned and outnumbered. They are forced to go with the flow.
Ultimately, every ANC president wants the membership to reflect their own beliefs and values.
Oliver Tambo wanted an ANC defined by selfless struggle.
Nelson Mandela wanted the party to reflect reconciliation and nation building.
Thabo Mbeki wanted ANC members who were highly skilled and politically conscious, and who were not leftists.
Jacob Zuma’s ANC is made up of people who can sacrifice their integrity to cover up his failings and consent to his friends and family fleecing the state. In Zuma’s ANC, the discourse can be dominated by nonsense such as that emanating from the likes of Collen Maine, Bathabile Dlamini and Kebby Maphatsoe, while compromised people like Humphrey Mmemezi sit on the highest decision-making body, the NEC. Under this ANC, state institutions can be abused for political agendas, Parliament can be turned into a circus and the Constitution can be trampled on.
The purpose of hounding detractors out of the party is to ensure that Zuma’s ANC lives on even when he is no longer president. They want the next ANC president to be a flag bearer of the Zuma project so that the political and business networks thriving now can continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
They have gambled that the process of losing votes will be slower and less damaging than the potential of losing control of the ANC.
With so many people being flattened by the comrade-crushing machine, there will be little or no opposition left in the ANC by next year. Unless a massive fightback is mounted to reclaim the ANC, a whole new nightmare will begin in December 2017. DM
Photo: Mangaung, Free State, South Africa, 18 December, 2012. Delegates at the ANC’s national elective conference celebrate the re-election of President Jacob Zuma, over Kgalema Motlanthe (centre). Photo Greg Nicolson/NewsFire
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