South Africa, Politics

#OccupyLuthuliHouse: ANC set to eat itself as protesters prepare to descend on party HQ

By Greg Nicolson 4 September 2016

ANC supporters will attempt to occupy Luthuli House on Monday, while inside, the Youth League will try to convince party leaders to hold an early national elective conference. Factions are split on the way forward after the ANC’s election disaster, meaning the party will probably continue with its planned schedule on consultation and succession. Unless, that is, members and branches force a different route through attempts like #OccupyLuthuliHouse. By GREG NICOLSON.

Barbed wire, water cannon and hundreds of police officers are set to greet protesters at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters on Monday. Activists organising the attempt to shut down work at the party’s offices have called on those who love the ANC to support the demand to remove President Jacob Zuma as state and party president and for the national executive committee (NEC) to resign.

Tshwane Youth League leaders on Friday disrupted the activists’ press conference and questioned their ANC credentials, a sign of the potential confrontation to come on Monday.

Organisers of #OccupyLuhuliHouse on Sunday said their demonstration is going ahead. A statement from the group said:

Millions of South Africans saw how abnormal we have become. We are in a state of paralysis where ANC processes have been hijacked and manipulated and robust engagement oppressed.

We will never realise our generational mission of economic freedom in our lifetime if we sit and protect patronage, anarchy, and just watch the ANC die at the hands of parasitic conformists.”

Monday’s protest is a direct result of the fallout in the ANC over local government elections, which led to the Democratic Alliance (DA) taking over the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane metros as the ANC’s support significantly declined across the country. Now, ANC factions are fighting in public to determine the future of the party.

While protesters try to get to Luthuli House, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) on Monday will present its case for an early elective conference to the party’s national working committee (NWC). The ANCYL said an early elective conference, which shouldn’t be contested, could help the party discuss key issues and provide time to prepare ahead of the 2019 elections.

Critics, however, have said the Youth League wants an early elective conference to ensure that the ANC’s dominant Premier League faction can subvert its opposition, who want to assume power at the next elective conference, likely to be held in December 2017, and take top leadership positions before others have a chance to mobilise.

Support for an early elective conference seems to have fallen. The Sunday Times reported that key Premier League provinces such as North West, Free State, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal do not support the plan and want to dissuade the Youth League from pushing for early ANC elections.

In opposition to the Youth League’s plan, others are pushing the ANC to hold a nonelective, consultative conference ahead of the party’s election of national leaders. The South African Communist Party (SACP), which has recently been a vocal opponent to “state capture” and the Premier League, introduced the idea last week. In light of the election results, it said the ANC faces a paralysis of factionalism brought on by succession races and suggested that the only way forward would be for the party and its Alliance partners to discuss the issues at a conference, which would include party veterans and trusted civil society leaders. The ANC NEC can’t solve problems it’s a part of, it suggested.

An extended meeting of the Gauteng ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) this weekend supported the idea. A consultative conference could assess the state of the nation and ANC to agree on interventions to reunite, rebuild and renew the party, said the PEC. The Gauteng ANC PEC, which has been consistently hostile to Zuma and his allies’ leadership but has failed to get significant support in other provinces to back its views, said there should be extensive consultation before such a conference. It plans to meet regions, branches and alliance partners in the weeks ahead to discuss its position.

ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile went further than the ANC NEC in his view on the message sent by voters in the recent elections. He said the party mustn’t act as though it has won.

In one swoop the electorate have delivered a profound message. Now that we are gathered here as the leadership, it is opportune to ask a few hard questions regarding what does the electoral performance mean for the ANC. In attempting to interpret the voters’ message, it would be helpful if we snap from the denialism of the recent past in order that we appreciate the gravity of the situation that we have gradually but surely plunged ourselves into,” said Mashatile.

He continued: “The ANC is riddled with all the wrong and alien tendencies of institutionalised factionalism, crippling divisions, spiralling ill-discipline, despicable arrogance and inexplicable denialism. We have steered off-course and are not just heading but the ANC ship is in stormy waters! Simply put: we are in deep trouble! We are in disarray and unless we change course, we are headed for a calamity of unprecedented proportions.”

He described the current period as the ANC’s “Damascus” moment and said the PEC meeting needed to lead to a “watershed moment” in the country’s history. An ANC consultative conference, he said, needs to honestly reflect on the movement, leadership elections and the party’s constitution. The PEC discouraged members from protesting at Luthuli House.

After its leadership met this weekend, the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) said, “We don’t support any structure of the ANC that calls for an early elective conference.” It noted the concerning election results but said an early conference would take away from issues such as calling for tertiary education fees to fall and would reduced efforts to emancipate women “to nothing”.

The ANCWL’s decision is indicative of the ANC NEC’s likely position to shun both calls for a special national elective conference and a special, nonelective consultative conference. Both proposals either stem from or can be perceived as perpetuating the ANC’s factionalism complex.

Writing in the Sunday Times, ANC NEC member Mathole Motshekga on Sunday said, “The greatest threat to the ANC and the country is factionalism.” He decried how dominant party factions force their positions on broader leadership. An early elective or consultative conference, however, isn’t the answer, he said. Motshekga, paradoxically, suggested that the same leaders captured by factions should now turn back to the party’s constitution.

In City Press, former ANC KwaZulu-Natal leader Senzo Mchunu also dismissed the idea of an early conference. The former premier noted the two camps that split the party, but said instead of a special conference leaders must take a stand against decay and demand an extensive analysis of the organisation.

Also in the Sunday Times, Zuma’s political adviser Vuso Shabalala said calls for an early conference were opportunistic. “In June the ANC will hold its policy conference and the recommendations from that conference will be adopted at the party’s elective conference in December next year,” Shabalala wrote.

The ANC appears likely to adopt such an approach, holding its conferences as previously planned while committing to engaging on the challenges the elections have raised. An early elective conference might backfire on Zuma supporters and a consultative conference that involves party veterans and civil society could lead to them ousted being altogether. The risks are too high and deviating from the schedule will lead to even more claims of factionalism.

The future of the ANC will probably be determined over the long term, without any early conferences. The #OccupyLuthuliHouse protest and any others that might follow, however, are an attempt to jolt the party out of its ways. They assume that the ANC will only continue to decline if its current leadership are in charge of solving its problems. DM

Photo: The entrance to Luthuli House which will be occupied on Monday, or maybe not, depending on how the protests are met. (Picture Siphiwe Sibeko Reuters)

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