South Africa

Salvage Mission: ANC’s search for a rescue plan in its year of reckoning

By Ranjeni Munusamy 6 February 2017

Aside from President Jacob Zuma, there are not many people who will claim that all is well in the ANC. The results of last year’s local government elections forced the ANC to confront the possibility that it might lose power in 2019. There has since been an array of interventions to deal with the crisis. From holding a national consultative conference (NCC), asking the ANC national executive committee (NEC) to step down, forcing Zuma to leave office and giving greater powers to ANC branches, there are plenty of proposals on the table. For the ANC to survive, one or more of these strategies needs to work before the year is out. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

“It may be possible at some point to salvage the ANC from this race to the bottom. But it is also equally possible that the ANC may so thoroughly discredit itself that there may be nothing to salvage.”

These were the words of former President Kgalema Motlanthe in an interview published in City Press last year. He also said those in the higher echelons of the party only wanted to adhere to the ANC constitution selectively.

“In the absence of a countervailing, rigorous internal democracy, power and the system of governance have simply gobbled up many of the leaders of the ANC. The body of ANC leaders involved in government is overwhelmingly large. They no longer rely on reason. In the past, the ANC always prided itself on relying on a superior argument. Now, it’s numbers they rely on,” said Motlanthe.

The comments, published a few days before the local government elections, caused much irritation in the ANC leadership as some people felt that the scathing remarks were ill-timed. Motlanthe is no ordinary ANC leader. He served as secretary-general of the organisation for two terms and then as deputy president. He contested the presidency and lost to Zuma in 2012. Therefore, it is devastating for someone with intimate knowledge of the ANC to say:

“As a governing party, it increasingly lost its ability to be representative of ordinary people.”

While many people in the ANC were in denial about the state of the organisation back then, it is remarkable how the prospect of losing power can clear the fog. While Motlanthe had stuck his neck out all on his own, now there is a legion of people speaking out about the crisis. There is growing acceptance that Zuma’s presidency has been disastrous for the ANC and increasing realisation that if the organisation elects another set of bad leaders at its national conference in December, the factionalism and corruption besetting the party now will destroy it completely.

In an effort to restore the dignity and values of the ANC, a group of over 100 stalwarts has come together to put together a recovery plan. Their main proposal is to hold an NCC to allow open discussion about the state of crisis and help the ANC “self-correct”. In a document titled “For the sake of our future”, the veterans said the purpose of the conference would be to “reflect on all aspects of the state of the organisation and prepare for the 2017 national conference. The conference will also need to discuss the selection and election of credible leaders – free of blemishes, factionalism and corruption based on the precepts expounded in the ANC document ‘Through the eye of the Needle’. The deliberations and resolutions of the conference should contribute to the leadership that leads the ANC to the next national election.”

While the ANC NEC has agreed to the consultative conference, the stalwarts are objecting to the decision to attach it to the national policy conference, to be held mid year. In a statement last week, the stalwarts said they would seek another meeting with the ANC officials as a matter of urgency.

“The stalwarts restated that they have no intention of usurping the role of elected structures and officials of the ANC but seek to influence the processes to maximise the impact of the agreed introspection in the interests of rebuilding unity within the movement. The NCC is part of a longer process of introspection and correction to restore confidence and trust in the ANC in the eyes of its membership, supporters and the country.”

Now another lobby is speaking up and presenting a different set of demands. In December, an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) national council was convened in Johannesburg, attended by over 1,000 former members of the ANC’s military wing. The group wants to distinguish themselves from Kebby Maphatsoe’s Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, which the council said was “distorting both the history and values of MK”.

Writing in City Press on Sunday, MK’s last chief of staff, Siphiwe Nyanda, said they met with the ANC’s top six officials last week to inform them of their resolutions.

“The resolutions are now public and perhaps, as expected, the one that has taken the media (including social media) by storm is one that has been wrongly interpreted as a council resolution calling on the NEC to disband. A more careful reading of this resolution in fact reveals that a strong feeling was expressed at council that the NEC should step down at the national consultative conference, followed by all structures of the ANC,” Nyanda said.

Apparently the proposal for all structures of the ANC to step down was not warmly welcomed by the officials. “The officials’ view was that dissolving structures when the ANC was facing such severe challenges would weaken the organisation, not strengthen it,” Nyanda wrote.

“There is a long way to go, but we are not discouraged. On the contrary, we are encouraged by the welcoming spirit with which we were received this week. We are mindful of the hard work, but are determined to not walk into a mass grave with anyone who seeks to bury the ANC. We are here as former MK cadres not to bury the ANC, but to help save it.”

All these proposals are being presented to the ANC at a time when they are preparing for a national policy conference and national elective conference. Both are likely to be high-stakes events that will determine the future course of the country. Because of the prevalence of factions and voting by slates, the ANC NEC has decided on a new nominations process to prevent regions and provinces interfering with the will of the branches.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe announced last week after an NEC lekgotla that instead of branch nominations for the top six positions and the NEC being channelled through higher structures for consolidation, these will be sealed and sent directly to the electoral commission. Other than opening the elections to the full membership of the ANC, this appears to be the only way for there to be a true reflection of the branches. But this will not solve the problem of conference delegates voting in blocs according to slates and along factional lines.

While the nominations process might be more democratic, the voting process would still be open to manipulation.

While some of the ANC interest groups are looking for broad solutions to salvage the party, others believe the answer to their problems is to get their preferred candidates elected to serve their interests. They are not interested in a recovery process that restores the values of the ANC but want the keys to power.

The ANC is trying to keep a lid on the succession battle until after the policy conference but one contender seems determined to press ahead with her campaign. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has been formally backed by the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), addressed congregants at a West Rand church on Sunday. Accompanied to the event by ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini, Dlamini-Zuma told worshippers that Africa needed more women presidents. So obvious was the campaign pitch that she giggled several times while speaking about the potential of a woman president in South Africa, according to News24.

There is clearly no likeness of mind on how to deal with the ANC’s deep-seated problems or a quick fix to them. The multi-competitor succession battle is likely to overshadow everything else going on in the party. Every process and event this year will be viewed through the prism of the leadership race and how it impacts on the contenders’ odds. 

If the ANC is unable to deal decisively with its crises, it will go to its elective conference in a highly fractured state with the possibility of it breaking down. This could herald a period of unprecedented turbulence and uncertainty in the country.

Motlanthe’s words about there being “nothing to salvage” might just prove to be prophetic. In the interview last year, he added: “If we reach that moment, it would be a moment of realignment of political forces in South Africa. That may mean new formations would come into being that, in terms of policy and practice, would capture the real aspirations of South Africans.

“So, what I’m saying is, it has to get worse first,” Motlanthe said.

It certainly is heading that way. DM

Photo: The ANC’s top six leaders Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma, Baleka Mbete, Gwede Mantashe and Jessie Duarte celebrate at the party’s 105 th birthday celebrations at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. (Greg Nicolson)



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