South Africa

Demobilising the veterans: Can the ANC contain the anti-Zuma sentiment?

By Ranjeni Munusamy 2 December 2016

After two intense meetings with veterans and a heated three-day national executive committee (NEC) meeting that debated the call for President Jacob Zuma to step down, the ANC does not appear to have a clear way forward to deal with its internal turmoil. The issue has been left to the top six officials (who include the person central to the problem) to figure it out. The NEC acceded to a call from the veterans to hold a consultative conference, but decided it would be an extension of the mid-year national policy conference. In that format, it is possible that the Zuma defence squad will treat the veterans as the villains and Zuma as the hero. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

A perennial problem at ANC conferences is the issue of the credentials of the delegates attending, thus causing contestation over who has the right to participate and vote. This is bound to be an issue in 2017 with the ANC holding two major conferences – a national policy conference beginning on June 30 and its 54th national conference in mid December.

In President Jacob Zuma’s speech at last year’s ANC national general council (NGC), during which he fumbled the party’s membership numbers thus producing a viral internet sensation, he was making the point that there had been a dramatic drop between 2012 and 2015. ANC membership went from 1.220,057 to 769,870 – a drop of 450,187 members. Zuma told the NGC that ANC branches were facing difficulties such as manipulation, gatekeeping and the bulk buying of membership.

He said people who want to join the ANC are unable to do so, while those who has joined “find themselves being used as voting fodder or to rubber stamp decisions of those who control the affected branches”. “Another phenomenon that has been identified as a problem is that of members who belong to other members. Their actions are determined by the people they look up to or who ‘own’ them,” Zuma said.

Both Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe warned about factionalism further exacerbating problems with the membership. With branch delegates having to determine ANC policy and then elect a new top leadership and NEC at the two conferences, the stakes will be even higher. There is no indication that the contamination of branches and inflation of membership has been dealt with. Therefore who gets to attend and vote at the conferences will still be a major issue in ANC structures.

When ANC veterans raised concerns about the state of the ANC, it was not only about Zuma, although he is a focal point due to his poor leadership and questionable conduct. While Zuma did massive damage to the ANC’s image and reputation, there has been an erosion of the ANC culture and traditions from top to bottom. The people who have come to represent the ANC, from the president to government leaders to councillors, have caused anger and disappointment amongst ordinary people, which was evident in the results of the August local government elections.

While the ANC’s colours and flag have remained the same, the organisation is hardly identifiable with what it was and what it stood for. The spirit of selflessness and comradeship that defined the ANC during the liberation struggle has completely dissipated and people are now driven by power, status and wealth. Alien conduct and tendencies have infested the organisation, turning it into a different creature.

One only has to consider the announcement by the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in KwaZulu-Natal that they will support a move to have the SABC multipurpose boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng elected onto the NEC next year to realise how deep the ANC’s problems are. Motsoeneng has used his political connections to construct a fiefdom at the public broadcaster, misspending funds, amassing wealth and interfering with editorial independence. Yet the ANCYL in KwaZulu-Natal believes he is worthy of serving in the ANC’s highest decision-making body.

News24 reported that the ANCYL secretary general in the eThekwini region Thinta Cibane said the provincial structure would support Motsoeneng’s elevation to the NEC.

“We want to give you a five-year term as the member of the NEC so that you can be deployed to an even more strategic position in the Cabinet as a minister,” Cibane told Motsoeneng, who was a guest speaker at an ANCYL event in Durban.

While some people believe Zuma’s exit from the ANC leadership next December will solve many of the organisation’s problems, one can only imagine what the introduction of Motsoeneng into the ANC’s top structure would bring and how he would use his elevated post to sew more chaos.

The over 100 ANC veterans who have now remobilised and staged an intervention want a broad dialogue about the state of the ANC. After two meetings with the ANC leadership, their call for a consultative conference was acceded to. The NEC decided that the policy conference should be extended, beginning with the consultative meeting before issues of policy are dealt with.

On the face of it, it looks like the ANC is being magnanimous by accommodating the request of the veterans. However this format of the conferences sets off alarm bells.

If delegates representing manipulated and inflated branches attend the policy conference, would their participation in the consultative conference not defeat the purpose of having it? There would be no telling what proportion of the conference would be made up of people who joined the ANC simply to boost their own status or to influence policy the election outcomes. Therefore the very people are contaminating the structures of the ANC would be the ones engaging on what has gone wrong with the ANC at the consultative conference.

When asked about this at a media briefing on Tuesday, Mantashe was clearly annoyed saying that just because the ANC had identified problems with the membership did not mean that delegates should not be allowed to participate in discussions at the consultative conference. He said ANC structures would invite other people, such as the veterans, to attend the consultative conference.

But how would the discussion go if a delegation of veterans had to stand up in front of about 4,000 people and tell them that the entire ANC from the president to branch members had brought shame onto their organisation. How would their concerns about Nkandla, state capture, the bad leadership at some state-owned companies and the political agendas at play in state institutions be entertained?

Considering how leaders of the ANCYL and Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Associations (MKMVA) have insulted and disrespected some the ANC’s distinguished elders who have been critical of Zuma, how much worse would it be when the veterans try to open a candid dialogue about what has gone wrong in the ANC?

If delegations at the conference are skewed to favour one or other faction, how would they engage honestly the factional battles over leadership succession and control of the state’s resources. It is difficult to see how people who are vested in the status quo would engage in a discussion that could threaten their political and financial interests.

If the weekend’s NEC is anything to go by, with Zuma’s allies rallying to fend off the attempt to get him to step down, what would they do when they have the ability to mobilise hundreds, or thousands, of delegates against the president’s critics?

Several of the veterans are now worried about the NEC decisions, particularly the joining together of the consultative and policy conferences. They had wanted the consultative conference to confront the ANC’s problems first in order to work towards restoring the integrity of the ANC leadership and credibility of ANC structures.

As it stands, the veterans’ aims for the consultative conference have little chance of succeeding. Instead of a mature, solution-seeking dialogue, it is possible they could be shouted down and outnumbered by those who believe their concerns are invalid. Already, Zuma and his allies have expressed annoyance with the veterans speaking publicly against him and the ANC, saying they were causing disunity and public opposition to the organisation. 

Another decision of the weekend NEC read: “We further agreed that the veterans would form part of the process that will culminate in the Veterans League’s Conference; and working with MKMVA, convene an assembly of all ex-combatants.”

This means that the veterans would be absorbed into these two structures and would have to conform to their agenda. There is no possible way there would be a meeting of the minds between the current MKMVA leader Kebby Maphatsoe and someone like the former Umkhonto we Sizwe Chief of Staff, General Siphiwe Nyanda, let alone other struggle luminaries, including the three surviving Rivonia trialists Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg.

The veterans met on Thursday to discuss the outcome of the NEC and their response to the decisions taken. Many of them are aware there are efforts to contain them and neutralise their impact. For as long as they keep speaking as an organised group of respected elders, the pressure remains on the ANC and Zuma. But there are clearly people in the ANC leadership who would rather have them muzzled and despatched back into retirement.

If the veterans surrender their leverage, it might be the last we hear of their much-needed voices speaking truth to power and counteracting the mob. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma speaks at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rogan Ward


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