South Africa

Dispatches from Alternate Reality: Zuma and ANCYL lead the way to ANC 2017 conference

By Ranjeni Munusamy 19 August 2016

A shift in power is now unfolding in the country with Democratic Alliance (DA) mayors being elected in former African National Congress (ANC) strongholds. The DA’s multiparty pact with other parties and the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) decision to vote for opposition party mayors has delivered a second deadly blow to the ANC after the local government elections thrashing. While the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) emerged with an insipid statement about the elections outcome, behind the scenes, President Jacob Zuma showed he is unruffled by the crisis facing the party. And the ANC Youth League is now leading the charge to purge Zuma’s detractors and choose his successor. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

At the ANC’s 2012 policy conference, there was a protracted battle over a discussion document that spoke about the need for a “second transition” in the country. The document said that after the first transition to democracy, South Africa now needed a new radical transition to transform the country. After much heated debate, it was decided to call it the “second phase of the transition”. Delegates argued that South Africa was still transforming from apartheid and colonialism but now a new phase of radical policies and renewal of the ANC was needed.

The ANC has not done much in the way of implementing these and other policies it adopted that year. But on 3 August, South Africans voted to activate a process of change. A transition the ANC never planned for, a shift in power away from the party, is now taking place. Opposition parties have now opted to work together, either through a multiparty pact led by the DA, a reciprocal agreement by the Inkatha Freedom Party and DA to vote for each other’s mayoral candidates, and the EFF’s backing for anyone but the ANC. This has left the ANC largely isolated, with its councillors struggling to contain their anger and humiliation as they watch opposition leaders being elected as mayors in councils they previously governed.   

While the ANC is not taking its defeat well, President Jacob Zuma appears to be in splendid denial about the magnitude of the losses his party has suffered – much of which are due to the damage he has caused to the party. At an NEC meeting at the weekend to assess the election results, some of the ANC’s problems that turned off voters were identified. This included the candidate selection process and factionalism. But the Zuma issue was avoided and the NEC statement declared that they had unanimously agreed to take “collective responsibility for the poor performance of the ANC”.

Before the statement was released to the media on Sunday night, Zuma delivered an extended closing address, giving his assessment of the elections and the deliberations during the four-day meeting. While NEC members had expressed their disappointment and concern about the results and losses of some key municipalities, including major metros, Zuma was of the view that the ANC was still a powerhouse. He told the NEC that the ANC’s 53.9% of the vote should not be perceived as a defeat as it was double what the closest contender, the DA, had achieved.

Zuma also said that too much was being made about the instability at state-owned companies. He apparently told the NEC that he did not see what the fuss was about the SABC. Many in the room sat astounded as Zuma’s speech contradicted much of the discussions and seemed to bypass the obvious messages the electorate had sent the ANC. The NEC statement was already confirmed by then, so it was released as is, including a section calling on government to take “urgent steps to bring stability and policy certainty in state owned companies such as SAA, SABC and Eskom”.

Although the NEC was meant to provide direction to the ANC after the elections, it seems the party is in more disarray than ever. While ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said they were “psychologically prepared” to occupy opposition seats in councils, the conduct of ANC councillors in Nelson Mandela Bay showed they were flustered in their new role as the official opposition. Some ANC councillors walked out while others remained behind trying to obstruct the election of the city’s new leaders.

But the surest sign of confusion and inconsistency with the NEC’s positions came from the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). A statement from the ANCYL national working committee came out in defence of Zuma but took aim at Mantashe and the ANC Gauteng leadership.

“There are those who are opportunistic and lack thinking capacity who say the bad performance on elections is because of President Zuma. We would like to categorically put it clear that attributing the poor performance to a single person is opportunistic and lacks honesty. President Zuma is the president of the ANC and will remain so till the next national conference of the ANC.” [sic]

The ANCYL, which is firmly ensconced in the Zuma-aligned “premier league” faction of the ANC, said they did not support a call made by Mantashe for people to resign and that if he wanted to, “he must do so alone”. It is not clear which leaders Mantashe had called on to resign.

The ANCYL also said the manipulation of processes, presumably the candidate selection processes, had created disunity in the ANC.

“The culprits who manipulated processes must be dealt thoroughly, especially in Gauteng. They must be expelled, they do not respect the organisation, they misled the organisation, they are selfish. This overhaul must start from the bottom right to the highest office dealing with the lists.” [sic]

So much for “collective responsibility”.

But it is bizarre that the ANCYL would blame the Gauteng ANC leadership for manipulating processes when problems over candidate lists were countrywide, with killings in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. But the Gauteng ANC is a clear target of the premier league faction, which wants to crush the province before it can begin mobilising for an alternate leadership core. The faction also sees Mantashe as an impediment and a leading force in the camp opposed to Zuma and his supporters. As secretary-general, Mantashe was ultimately responsible for the candidate lists and therefore the ANCYL wants him to be the fall guy.

The ANCYL has also called for the ANC’s national elective conference to be called earlier than the scheduled December 2017.

“The early conference must not be contested and there is a need to introduce young leaders to the officials and the overall leadership contingent of the ANC,” the ANCYL said.

They are floating the idea of an early elective conference after the ANC NEC discussed the matter and decided it was not advisable to move the date earlier. But it is clear that a section of the ANC wants to strike now while their opponents in the party, such as the Gauteng province, are still reeling from the election results. The call for an early conference shifts the attention away from Zuma and gives his supporters the opportunity to get a head start to campaign for their preferred candidates for president and the top slate. As long as they get the leaders they want in the top six and NEC, Zuma will be safe in his position as state president until 2019.

The most astounding aspect of the ANCYL statement was that the conference “must not be contested”. Presumably this means that they do not want contestation over the top six positions in the ANC. The ANCYL has not provided any explanation or justification for suspending democratic processes to appoint new leaders, saying only that younger leaders should be in the leadership. By saying there should be no contestation, the ANCYL seems to be proposing that a slate of leaders be agreed on before the conference. How this would come about is not clear but it can be deduced that these leaders would be anointed by Zuma and the premier league.   

The ANCYL is hardly an influential body in the ANC but the key players in their faction might use them as a proxy to plant ideas and fight opponents. There are those who want to maximise on the disorientation in the ANC to further capture control of the organisation. The ANC might be under attack from the opposition but the greatest enemy still lies within.

There is growing recognition of that fact now, as evidence of the ANC’s unravelling sweeps over the country. But the time to have acted was years ago, before the rot ate into the ANC’s core and culture. For now, all the ANC can do is watch the “second transition” unfold knowing that they are not leading it but being left behind by it. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma ANC Youth League National Conference 26 November 2013 (Greg Nicolson) 


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