South Africa, Politics

Analysis: The ANC’s Top Nine proposal will not address real issues

By Stephen Grootes 25 June 2017

As the ANC heads into its policy conference that starts, sort of, on Friday and really on Sunday, the new theme appears to be one of compromise. Reports are beginning to emerge of provinces and factions trying to merge slates, or create some kind of solution to the mess that the party is now in. One of the key indicators of this is the move to create larger structures at the top, with suggestions that what is now the “Top Six” national officials structure should become a “Top Nine”. On the evidence before us so far, this would not solve any of the problems of the ANC. But it does indicate that at least one faction is getting worried it could actually lose. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Sunday the City Press splashed its report that several provinces and groups within the ANC were looking at using the party’s December conference to change its constitution. The idea would be that instead of having the current six National Officials who are the focus of so much this year, this would be expanded to nine. Among the possible combinations are suggestions that there be two deputy secretaries-general, or even two deputy presidents of the ANC.

The first body to officially make such a suggestion was the Kebby Maphatsoe-“led” Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association. It was not surprising when they were followed, literally two days later, by the ANC Youth League.

There are several interesting aspects to this, including whether this would solve any of the party’s problems, and what the real agenda behind such a move could be.

It is actually the agenda that is the most interesting. To have more people within the top national leadership of the ANC obviously creates more space in which horse trading can occur. It also helps a group of people to broaden their coalition – more groups can have representation if there are more leaders to represent them. This could suggest that those who are making the suggestions are battling to manage their slates, they need to get more people in the national leadership because they are unable to maneuver with just six positions to play with. This could be another indication of the problems that the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma faction are having with their slate. Apart from her nomination as leader, there is very little clarity about who else would be with her. And while someone like Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza may be very keen on the deputy leader position, it still remains unexplained how someone with his lack of national name-recognition (and long-running claims, although for now unproven, of corruption) could help the party win a national election.

To sum this up then, it may be that this group simply is not certain of who they actually are, and who will occupy which position.

Then there is the other aspect to this move, which may suggest that the Dlamini-Zuma faction believe they do not have momentum, and thus have to initiate a move towards a compromise, which is always easier to do if you have more positions, and patronage that comes with them, to trade away.

On Friday, President Jacob Zuma pitched up at the KwaZulu/Natal ANC’s provincial general council, although he was not on the official programme. This may sound like a small issue, but consider it for a moment. Zuma is the biggest person in the ANC, he does not go to each and every event, even for a body as important as the KZN ANC. But if he is going to go, it’s for the most important part of that event. If it was planned, he would be on the programme, he would be the political headliner of the weekend concert. Instead, ANC Treasurer Zweli Mkhize was due to play that role. In the end, he had to announce that Zuma was there.

Why would Zuma do that? And why would this be the second time that this has happened this year? The previous time was also at an event where Mkhize was speaking. For those of us with suspicious minds, it could suggest that Zuma is slightly worried about Mkhize. And when we hear more and more reports that the KZN ANC is not united on a single choice, it all starts to make sense. Zuma is going because he feels he has to. That could indicate some real concern about the perceived lack of momentum his chosen successor is experiencing. Especially if you consider that both he and Dlamini-Zuma have only recently been to KZN and hardly anywhere else on their campaign trail(s).

On the other side, it seems that people like Gwede Mantashe, the secretary general, are speaking with increasing levels of confidence. On Friday night, in Gauteng, he told delegates that four ANC leaders have now confirmed that the #GuptaLeaks are genuine. We already knew that Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo had confirmed part of them, but we don’t yet know who the other three are. Just the fact they’ve come forward suggests that they are are now beginning to have a big political impact. And Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa himself also appears to be gaining confidence, giving the Sunday Times an exclusive interview. He didn’t reveal very much, but that’s not the point, he’s giving interviews. Imagine what would happen were Zuma or Dlamini-Zuma to give an interview to the Sunday Times right now (so, Mr President, Dr Dlamini-Zuma…if we could just start with Duduzane… and then over to Atul…).

Now, we also need to consider what would happen to the ANC, should this new, nine-people top structure be adopted.

It is certainly unlikely to result in better governance of the party. It would immediately lead to questions about what would happen to the national working committee, which only has eleven more members than the new “top nine” would have (technically, it also includes the national leaders, in other words, right now it’s 26 people, with this change it would be 29). And then there is the historical evidence of what happens to the ANC (since it started governing) when structures are enlarged. In 2007, possibly for exactly the same reasons to do with managing constituencies, the party elected to enlarge its national executive committee from 60 to 80. It would be hard to suggest any examples of where its internal governance has improved as a result of that decision. Instead, all that has happened is that it has been harder for the ANC to make really hard, or fast, decisions.

Of course, there will be those who will suggest, understandably, that the new top structure may be a small price to pay to keep the ANC together, to avoid the split that could be on the cards should the two main factions go head to head in December. But that avoids how difficult it is to actually not have this direct elective shoot-out. To over-simplify, the Dlamini-Zuma faction has to try to keep the two Zumas (Jacob and Duduzane) out of jail, others too. And the other side has to, on their version, save the soul of the ANC. It is probably hard to manage to achieve both ends.

In the end, the suggestions and themes of compromise and moves to increase the number of top leaders are incredibly unlikely to increase the sum of human happiness. Rather, they are simply attempts to delay what may turn out to be the inevitable. The problems with the ANC are, for the moment, more structural than anything else. It’s about managing the divisions of interests of class and diversity of class. To manage that requires real leadership, and the ability to get people to act against their own narrow interests for the greater good. And it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen that kind of real leadership in the party. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma at Siyanqoba Rally in Soweto, 8 January 2017. (Greg Nicolson)



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