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23 April 2017 10:07 (South Africa)
South Africa

Op-Ed: The ANC no longer welcomes open debate because of patronage and corruption

  • Raymond Suttner
    Raymond Suttner

    Professor Raymond Suttner, attached to Rhodes University and UNISA, is an analyst on current political questions and leadership issues. He writes a regular column and is interviewed weekly on Creamer Media’s Suttner is a former political prisoner and was in the leadership of the ANC-led alliance in the 1990s. He blogs at

  • South Africa
Photo of Raymond Suttner by Ivor Markman.

The ANC has since the 1950s operated on the basis of collective leadership and collective decision-making. This was sometimes necessitated in order to maintain organisational cohesion when it was under threat, as in the period of illegality. In the post-1994 period, collective decision-making has sometimes been used to stifle debate, as it is now in the aftermath of the disagreement of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize with the Cabinet reshuffle, unilaterally decided on by President Jacob Zuma. The ANC no longer welcomes open debate for it is now held together by patronage and corruption rather than common values. By RAYMOND SUTTNER.

First published by

The ANC under President Jacob Zuma is sinking ever more deeply into decadence, losing all semblance of the vibrancy and debate that many once saw as characterising the organisation. Not only is there a lack of concern for ideas, but freedom of expression is under threat as thuggery is deployed to break up meetings and to silence internal and external critics of Zuma’s leadership.

In this time the organisation continues to draw on emblematic features of the past, which were part of belonging to a liberatory organisation, however inappropriate they may now be. Thus, it depicts itself as the authoritative heir of the legacies of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani and others.

It also tries to justify what it does by resorting to notions that have been transmitted from previous generations, often in quite different conditions, of how ANC members are supposed to conduct themselves. One of these is the idea of collective decision-making and leadership. The notion of collective decision-making always bears a tension insofar as it requires individuals to sometimes bury their own deeply held views in order to abide by the decisions of the organisation. They do this because they join an organisation representing values with which they agree. They have understood that in subscribing to an organisation, with values that are their own, they abide by some decisions that they would not choose in order to maintain organisational integrity.

This is relevant to the recent Cabinet reshuffle. Three top ANC officials, Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize, publicly voiced their dissatisfaction with the way Zuma made the decision, saying they were not consulted, but presented with a list whose origin was not disclosed. In other words, Zuma did not operate collectively, as part of a leadership team, as prescribed by ANC conference resolutions.

The three officials lamented that they were not asked their opinion, but presented with Zuma’s decision, which he went on to announce publicly on national television. Interestingly, that is how most of the dismissed ministers appear to have learnt of their fate, not through a meeting with the President. It appears, however, from reports in the Sunday press that some of Zuma’s closest allies, including his son Edward, knew of the reshuffle beforehand, referring to it on a WhatsApp chat group before the reshuffle was made public. Some individuals who appear to have known of the imminent reshuffle appear to have made considerable gains on the stock exchange.

Such public disagreement between top ANC leaders may have been unprecedented. On the one hand it pointed to the level of discord over Zuma’s leadership. On the other, it evoked considerable backlash in the days that followed from various Zuma allies in the provinces, as well as from the two other senior officials who had not voiced disagreement with the reshuffle, Jessie Duarte and Baleka Mbete. The general trend of the criticism has been to appeal to ANC traditions. If there is a problem, it should be sorted out internally and behind closed doors. This is another facet of collective decision-making.

No matter what the level of support the three leading officials may have had outside the ANC, clearly when they attended a National Working Committee (NWC) meeting a few days later, they received an angry reception. Before their “self-criticism” was announced, through Mantashe’s report on the meeting to the media, there was a leak of the discussion implying that they had been reprimanded. That reprimand also covered an ANC Youth League rally in support of President Zuma where Nomvula Mokonyane, a minister, made some intemperate remarks about what they had done. Mokonyane is one of a number of ANC figures whose leadership position does not derive so much from popularity and support within the ranks of the organisation as from her link with and support for President Zuma. When such individuals speak, it is not so much the voice of the organisation as that of a person who is in a patronage bond in relation to the President and speaks in defence of that interest rather than any broad organisational base. That has a bearing on the question of collectivism and how its quality changes under different conditions.

The anger that was aroused could only be appeased through public humiliation. Mantashe announced in reporting on the meeting that he and the other two officials had been wrong to air their differences publicly and that it would not happen again.

The character of their disagreement with Zuma over the proposed Cabinet changes was, in this report after the National Working Committee (NWC), reduced to Zuma’s reliance on a dubious intelligence report to justify his recall of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas and the Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile from a series of meetings with investors in the UK and US. But Mantashe, in his reportback, said that Zuma had explained to the NWC that a further reason for dismissing Gordhan was in fact an irretrievable breakdown in his relationship with his finance minister. There is no explanation provided for why the relationship broke down.

The intelligence report had been an issue of disagreement, but the key question, mentioned initially on Radio 702 by Mantashe, was that they were presented with a list that came from “elsewhere”. Mkhize had put it this way: “Unlike previous consultations, which take place with senior officials of the ANC during such appointments and changes to the composition of the national executive‚ the briefing by the President left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre.”

The wording used immediately evoked the impression that it was a list emanating from the Gupta household, given the alleged proclivity, related in the Public Protector’s State of Capture Report in 2016, of that family to compile names of people to be made Cabinet ministers.

What we have is the application of “collective decision-making” being deployed to defend what was in fact not a collective decision, where the President, instead of the required consultations with his fellow leaders, bypassed them and imposed a reshuffled Cabinet.

This illustrates a wider problem in the understandings of the ANC. It is important to understand what decisions belong to or represent the ANC as an organisation. These are therefore properly and necessarily within the scope of collectivism, in order to preserve organisational integrity and what derives from serving a faction within the ANC that is loyal to President Zuma (or any other powerful individual). Many commentators refer to the notion of cadre deployment as decisions of Luthuli House. The recent Cabinet reshuffle points to the need for a distinction between decisions made to defend or advance patronage relationships and those decisions and deployments that may be made in order to advance the interests of the organisation as a whole.

Because the ANC fears losing the next election, it may appoint some very astute strategist as its campaign manager. In such a case that would not be an appointment related to patronage in that the person would not necessarily entail procurement or other patronage benefits. It would be a matter of urgency to have someone with the required skills in the light of the possibility of the ANC being defeated in 2019. The person would mainly be charged with ensuring that the ANC remains the ruling party and, although the ANC has often appointed people who are not well suited to such jobs, it is one of those jobs that now requires, even from a corrupt party, the appointment of someone with the requisite skills. The appointment cannot be part of a business deal.

If there are to be debates within the ANC over whether or not to field candidates in some places, the decisions are likely to legitimately relate to collective decision-making and to require keeping the internal debate private. On the other hand, selection in one or other place may relate to loyalties between individuals and not that of the organisation as a whole. There may not be an invariable pattern.

What is happening now is that the conditions that may have sustained collective decision-making and discipline before do not necessarily hold in the ANC today. When individuals associate with an organisation and accept its discipline they do so because of identification with common values represented by the organisation and accepted by themselves.

No organisation is immune from influences that undermine the foundation of its existence or the basis on which members were initially attracted and there may be other insidious ways of undermining its values.

What do those who are supposedly bound collectively by the decision of the organisation then do?

An elected leadership does not mean the same thing when electoral processes are subjected to influences other than the core values of the organisation, in particular where they are undermined by patronage or corruption or intimidation or violence. A leadership that is bought, a practice widely acknowledged in ANC organisational reports, is not a democratically elected leadership, at whatever level that occurs. The basis for respect for an elected leadership means something different when the electoral process is flawed by dishonesty or undue influence.

What has been happening within the ANC undermines the basis that led it to enjoy loyalty and its members to see the necessity of collective decisions being binding. The assumed organisational integrity has been undermined. This is symptomatic of a deeper disintegration of the ANC. DM

Photo of Raymond Suttner by Ivor Markman.

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. Currently he is a part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at UNISA. He served lengthy periods in prison and under house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison will be reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” and will be published by Jacana Media late in May. He blogs at and his Twitter handle is @raymondsuttner

  • Raymond Suttner
    Raymond Suttner

    Professor Raymond Suttner, attached to Rhodes University and UNISA, is an analyst on current political questions and leadership issues. He writes a regular column and is interviewed weekly on Creamer Media’s Suttner is a former political prisoner and was in the leadership of the ANC-led alliance in the 1990s. He blogs at

  • South Africa

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