South Africa

ANALYSIS

Nasrec Band-Aid, ripped: ANC’s election lists fiasco exposes the ruling party’s deep fissures

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule during a media briefing about his meeting with former president Jacob Zuma on September 11, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alon Skuy)

If there is anything the controversy over the ANC 2019 election lists has shown, it is that the claims about renewal are just that — rhetoric. Amid the factional divisions, it’s back to the disparaging language associated with the Jacob Zuma presidency. It’s now ‘patriarchal princesses’ and ‘agendas to undermine the revolutionary gains of the ANC’, a different way of saying the ‘regime change’ of the Zuma days.

The ANC 2019 election lists for Parliament and the nine provincial legislatures have gone through the hierarchy of ANC decision-making. The lists have received the stamp of approval not only of the National Working Committee (NWC), in charge of the day-to-day operations, but also the ANC’s highest decision-making structure between national conferences, the National Executive Committee (NEC).

And for this reason ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule can say as he did on eNCA on Thursday:

The list presented to the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) is the list presented to… the NWC where provinces were all present on the 11th (of March), before the 13th when we went to register the list”.

Whatever manipulations happened — the ANC denies there was any tampering — would have happened in 2018, before the lists came under the scrutiny of the ANC NEC from December 2018. At that stage presented with an unranked list of 800 names based on branch nominations, the NEC kicked for touch to an extended gathering in January 2019, just ahead of the ANC’s 107th birthday, January 8 statement and election manifesto launch. From that point on, the election lists would have been handled by the ANC NEC and NWC where, given the tightly balanced factions, manipulations would have been more difficult, if not impossible.

Whatever manipulation may have happened would have been at branch level by, for example, presenting a slate — a predetermined list of candidates to be approved — for endorsement. Or massaging nominations by changing branch membership in favour of one faction or another by signing up new members or disqualifying others. Or disestablishing branches. Regional and provincial secretaries would have played key roles in this.

Such strategy and tactics are well-honed in the ANC, dating back 15 years or so to the bruising run-up to the 2007 Polokwane national conference where Jacob Zuma was elected party president, clearing his way to the Union Buildings after the 2009 elections.

But there were other issues that arose, such as the apparent introduction of specialised skill as a further criterion, in addition to gender and generational balance and experience. As far back as October 2018 at least two ANC MPs raised their eyebrows about this.

The list nomination process also led to claims and counter-claims of political deal-making. This includes talk of divvying up who gets to make what appointment — Magashule to determine who the chairpersons of committees in Parliament are, while President Cyril Ramaphosa had a free hand in selecting his Cabinet.

One senior parliamentary insider has dismissed such an arrangement. But it’s a replay of tensions between Magashule and ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu after Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle of February 2018, when Magashule indicated he wanted those who lost their positions in the executive to head committees.

That was swatted away, although two former members of the executive, Hlengiwe Mkhize and Joe Maswaganyi, were indeed appointed committee chairpersons at a later stage.

Just because round one was lost, doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a round two.

Magashule consistently dismissed allegations of list tampering, as did Monday’s special ANC NEC meeting, although it did not come out to bat for its secretary-general.

The NEC meeting reaffirmed its confidence in the process that produced the ANC lists of candidates for national and provincial government. It dismissed the unfounded allegations that lists were tampered with,” it said in a statement.

The ANC on Monday also announced its lists of election candidates headed to Parliament, where benches are cleared for a significant number of new arrivals and the nine provincial legislatures would be submitted to the ANC Integrity Commission for scrutiny.

This matters little in terms of process. Now the 2019 election lists are with the IEC, changes by political parties themselves are limited by the submitted rankings and also limited to specific timeframes, effectively once a year after an initial five-day window period after the election results are announced.

And while the IEC has received objections to more than 20 names on the ANC list, it’s unlikely any would be sustained. Grounds for objection are limited in terms of the 1998 Electoral Act. Grounds for disqualification include a candidate’s missing acceptance form, a missing acceptance to abide by the electoral code or lack of qualification to stand. A criminal conviction of more than a year jail without the option of a fine, being an unrehabilitated insolvent or being declared unsound of mind by a court, according to Section 47 of the Constitution are other grounds to disqualify a candidate.

But the referral to the integrity commission is politically significant because it’s kicking for touch — and that’s a clear indication as any of the paralysis in the ANC where factions remain finely balanced post the 2017 Nasrec national conference. That approach comes even amid stinging criticism from within and without the governing party and its aligned structures such as the veterans and the South African Council of Churches (SACC).

Crucially, the ANC is on public record that integrity considerations were supposed to be part of the public representative nomination process — and those integrity checks should long have been done.

That the nomination criteria included “enhance the integrity of the ANC” and “no history of ill-discipline or corruption” was again confirmed when the ANC NEC met in January 2019.

The ANC is under no illusion that its list must enhance its integrity with a calibre of public representatives that are capable of advancing the electoral mandate of the ANC,” the governing party said in a statement afterwards.

But the ANC only did the vetting, a strict application of the letter of the law and Constitution. That was confirmed by acting ANC national spokesperson Dakota Legoete.

We are confident the lists we submitted to the IEC meets all the requirements,” he told Daily Maverick on Thursday, adding the integrity commission process was important to deal with issues raised by comrades and others.

The lists are not cast in stone. It’s not a given someone on the list can be in Cabinet… But it’s going to be important that we respect the rule of law and the Constitution.”

The integrity commission long has been hamstrung by this innocent until proven guilty refrain from within the ANC — with the 2019 twist that being named in a commission of inquiry does not mean guilt.

As far back as 2015, that’s been the attitude by the ANC to the integrity commission it established at the 2012 Mangaung national conference, keenly aware it needed to respond to increasing criticism. The commission was meant to protect the image of the ANC and enhance its standing in society by taking action against those in its ranks facing allegations of improper conduct.

It’s not how it worked out. Or as then secretary-general Gwede Mantashe put it in his report to the 2015 ANC National General Council:

The NEC has not implemented many of the recommendations of the integrity commission because comrades feared admitting guilt by stepping aside. The debate about the integrity commission processes and the legal principle of being innocent until proven otherwise has become the stumbling block for the implementation of the recommendations of the integrity commission.

The emphasis on ‘the ANC can no longer allow prolonged processes that damage its integrity’ has been put aside and leaders closed ranks in defence of individual leaders who have appeared before the integrity commission.”

Forward to 2019, and the emphasis remains on innocent until proven guilty as a legalistic default position of the ANC. It jars with the much-proclaimed renewal, New Dawn, or Thuma Mina.

(The ANC’s ‘innocent until proven guilty’ refrain over the years morphed into ‘innocent even if convicted until all avenues of appeal, including Constitutional Court, are exhausted’ – Ed)

Criticism of inclusion of several people accused of lying under oath and implicated in State Capture by the ANC veterans in late March was met with the scorn the ANC Women’s League is known for. In a statement, it described ANC veterans Cheryl Carolus and Barbara Hogan as “two rich patriarchal princesses” whose suggestion there were tsotsis on the ANC lists showed their “uncontrollable hatred to some of our comrades makes them degenerate into being divisive counter revolutionary element…”

Speaking at the second anniversary of the passing of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada in late March 2019, Carolus said, according to TimesLIVE:

We must take a clear stand to say that this thing of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is nonsense… When the list gets published, we as the foundation in our private capacities will try to shine a spotlight on those tsotsis, who tried to steal the soul of this country for their own narrow interests.”

On Monday the SACC called for the voluntary stepping down of those candidates, who “have been implicated in wrongdoing in the public service; some are actually fingered by the courts of the land including the apex Constitutional Court, while others are facing serious allegations of sexual assault and acts of racism”.

There is no legal way to enforce this call by the SACC, echoed by others in civil society, but also privately in some circles of the ANC, unless courts are approached.

The ANC election candidate lists are the outcome of political contestation in a faction-ridden ANC where the fine balance after the 2017 Nasrec national conference requires careful manoeuvring and massaging in the right place at the right time.

It’s a bit like two steps forward, one step back. But the ANC has decided to nail its colours to the mast by emphasising “innocent until proven guilty”, rather than ethical conduct and integrity. Whether this pays off, is up to voters. DM

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