ANC NEC’s major indecision and authority problem

By Stephen Grootes 5 November 2018

The ANC top six is announced at the ANC Elective Conference, Johannesburg, 18 December 2018. From Left: Jessie Duarte, Ace Magashule, Gwede Mantashe, Cyril Ramaphosa, DD Mabuza and Paul Mashatile Photo: Leila Dougan

On Saturday the ANC’s national executive committee met, and once again was confronted with a number of issues that threaten the balance of power in the party. And once again it appears that hard, tough decisions – decisions that could mark a turning point in the party’s modern history – were postponed for some point in the future. This is not that surprising; some might suggest it has been a hallmark of the movement since the days of Thabo Mbeki. But it may now be fair to start asking if in fact the differences are so great that postponing tough decisions can actually work for much longer.

It was fairly obvious before this last meeting started that, should something happen, it would mark a major turning point in the ANC. For years, arguably since Tony Yengeni’s conviction, and the Arms Deal, and everything that followed, the major problem facing the ANC has been dealing with corruption.

Simply put, significant political support in the party appears to buy the shielding of the accused from any criminal, or inter-party, action. No matter what the politics outside of the ANC may be and how voters may judge this inaction.

The case of VBS appears to be no different. Except that, this time, the National Integrity Commission of the ANC put the NEC in a difficult position by recommending that those who are implicated in the VBS scandal be removed from their party leadership positions until the situation is cleared up. For those interested in the minutiae of ANC procedure (which at times may be all of us) this raises interesting issues. The ANC already has a National Disciplinary Committee that is supposed to deal with disciplinary issues. The Integrity Commission was brought in during the Zuma years in a bid to depoliticise discipline, made out of the ANC elders, who are supposedly neutral on internal issues, who can then make decisions about what should happen.

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All of this can become important because those who are considered “implicated” by this commission could claim in front of the Disciplinary Committee that their case has been prejudged. Especially if they haven’t had a hearing in front of the Integrity Commission. This goes back to the original problem; in political parties, it appears, almost all disciplinary actions are inherently political in nature, they are about tests of political strength, and not the rights and wrongs of their case. Then, of course, there is the problem of the precedent; everyone will be well aware of how important this issue is, and how important this decision could be. Already the Gauteng ANC has said it will wait to see how the national ANC deals with this issue, before deciding on what to do about former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and now-former Chief Whip Brian Hlongwa.

However, in this case, there is a much bigger complication. The ANC itself, itseems, cannot decide if it actually benefited from VBS or not, and whether it received money or not. The former Treasurer, Zweli Mkhize, says they didn’t.The current Treasurer, Paul Mashatile, says they did. The only thing more ridiculous would be for the ANC to march against itselfon e-tolls.

The NEC also appears to make strong decisions about what could be called “secret meetings”. This is of course a reference to the gathering that saw Secretary-General Ace Magashule being caught out while meeting with former president Jacob Zuma, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and others who made up the Zuma faction ahead of Nasrec. The NEC statement says that “no Officials or member of the National Executive Committee, Provincial and Regional Executive Committees or general members of the ANC may participate in any meetings aligned to any pre or post NASREC factions. No meeting about the ANC or its operations may be held without knowledge and reports to the structures of the movement”.

But, what exactly “pre- or post-Nasrec faction” is, may be hard to define. What if President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC Chair Gwede Mantashe need to have a quick coffee? What if Magashule and ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte bump into each other? They are in the same floor of the same building after all. And yet, both those examples could, by their critics, be seen as examples of “factions” meeting each other.

As for the ban on secrecy, that is also hard to police. The ANC, like many organisations in this country, has dozens of WhatsApp groups. They’re used for organisation, discussions, and no doubt simply to share jokes and memes. Is belonging to one of these now wrong? Can you only belong to one if it has representatives of both “factions” as members? And how would you police that?

What may be more entertaining for the general public to watch is whether a resolution about the use of social media has an impact. The NEC says that “… noting the impact of social media, reiterated the importance of enforcing the ANC Communications Protocol as affirmed by the 54th National Conference.”

In other words, people should not tweet in a way that would harm the unity of the movement. One wonders if Tony Yengeni will continue to retweet Black First Land First, or focus on “WMC”, when Ramaphosa himself has said that treating “white monopoly capital” as an enemy “must end”.

The possible divisions in the NEC are also further illustrated by, once again, the lack of a hard decision around Andile Lungisa. Lungisa is currently a member of the Mayoral Committee in the city cabinet appointed by the UDM mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Mongameli Bobani. There is a standing ANC resolution that someone who is convicted of a crime must step down from their position. Lungisa has refused to do this, despite being convicted of assault for breaking a glass jar on the head of a DA councillor in the council chamber. The NEC has instructed him to step down, and he has refused. Now the NEC has resolved that “the Officials (the Top Six) will further engage the Provincial Executive Committee of the Eastern Cape around the organisational challenges in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro”.

In other words, the Top Six now have to deal with this issue. But this is an incredibly clear cut case, the resolution is there, and the NEC is supposed to implement these resolutions. And yet, there is no clear public instruction that Lungisa must resign. It could be that the NEC simply cannot make a decision on this issue. Or, perhaps, it may be that there is a concern that Lungisa will simply refuse. And Bobani, being from the UDM, cannot be forced to fire him.

It may sound far-fetched to say that an ANC member would actually refuse to obey an edict from the NEC. But there is evidence that the real problem is not just the divisions in the NEC, but the fact that people do not accept the authority of the ANC as a whole any more. Two weeks ago ANC councillors in both the Sol Plaatje Municipality (around Kimberley) and in Matlosana in North West, defied instructions and voted for someone other than the person they had been ordered to install as mayor.

All of this suggests that the ANC’s ability to manage itself is slowly coming under threat. The NEC is supposed to be the final decision-making body in the party between conferences. But, in these cases, and in others, it appears unable to make decisions, or abrogates them to other structures. This in turn may continue to degrade its authority still further. It would seem difficult, from this point, to see how the NEC will be able to regain the initiative from this point on. DM


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