ANC’s Eye of the Needle document up for review as party bemoans ‘capture’ by career opportunists

By Carien Du Plessis 20 November 2020
Party supporters fly the ANC flag high during the ANC’s 108th birthday celebration in Kimberley, Northern Cape, 11 January 2020. (Photo: Ayanda Mthethwa)

Two decades after publishing a document outlining the kind of leaders it wants, the ANC admits its guidelines have failed and need to be reviewed because it didn’t quite anticipate the speed at which morality in the party would decline.

The pursuit of money has changed the internal election of ANC leaders to such an extent that the guidelines for choosing leaders have to be reviewed.

The ANC’s national executive council, at its meeting in July, decided it was time the party revisit its two-decades-old Through the eye of a needle – choosing the best cadres to lead transformation document again, which was supposed to have guided the election of its leaders and public representatives since 2001.

A discussion document to lead such a review was published with 11 others this week ahead of the party’s national general council, which has been postponed from mid-year to April or May 2021, due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The document says the party is in a crisis and has two choices: “Either let the downward spiral continue, or work towards a new beginning”.

As part of the review, the party aims to learn from the Communist Party of China (CPC), which places a strong emphasis on the training of its members in a political school. 

For the CPC “the struggle against corruption is not just a moral question but also a major political task that acquired a systematic and programmatic approach within the party (from the highest to lowest levels of the structures), the state and society as a whole”, the document reads.

The CPC’s fight against corruption includes “punishing senior cadres of the party” where necessary. The party also closely monitors mega investment and construction projects.

The discussion document suggests it could be a good time to re-align Through the eye of a needle with the Constitution to avoid litigation when it is implemented. It also asks whether it’s perhaps necessary to update the document to make it possible to get rid of “rogue members and counter-revolutionaries that have infested the organisation”. 

We need to go into this with sober minds, without the ra-ra-ra of factionalism and with the opinionated perspectives.

The document should also make use of lifestyle audits for leaders and “clear guidelines to how leaders and members in conflict with the law should conduct themselves in relation to organisational structures” – a suggestion also been contained in previous conference resolutions without having been applied thus far.

The ANC has recently again been grappling with how to handle leaders who have been implicated in corruption and criminal wrongdoing and who refuse to step aside, despite recommendations to that effect by the party’s integrity commission, and it has asked a senior silk for guidance on this. At the end of August, President Cyril Ramaphosa, after a meeting by the party’s national executive committee, declared that corruption would not be tolerated by the party.

Some leaders charged with wrongdoing, like ANC MP Bongani Bongo, have, however, refused to step aside from public office thus far. ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who was last week charged with corruption linked to a R255 million asbestos roof tender, has thus far also not indicated any intention to step aside.

ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte at a press conference on Friday morning admitted the NEC will grapple with this problem next month. 

“It will be a big discussion, it will be a difficult discussion but based on very good, very senior silk advice in the country. We have asked advice from the best,” she said.

The ANC constitution dictates that leaders should make the decision to step aside voluntarily “based on your conscience”, she said. The NEC meeting in August, however, decided that “those who are charged, must step aside, full stop”, based on the number of cases presently being heard in the country, she said.

She also added that the courts could rule otherwise or the case could be dropped, which would leave a leader in the lurch should they have decided to step aside.

“So we are stuck here with political morality and natural justice, and the justice of the country, and the Constitution of the country.”

The party has asked a senior counsel “to give us an opinion on how we should go forward with this matter of the step aside perspective so that we take into account the rights of the people of the country in the Constitution of South Africa, we take into account the weight of an accusation and we also take into account the unfortunate reality that a number of people are accused so that they can be removed from the positions that they hold by others who want to fill that positions,” she said. “It’s become a little game that is played particularly at local government level.”

People are criminally liable for their actions but remain innocent until proven guilty, she said.

She asked for restraint from the media when reporting on the matter, and said she would not respond to journalists’ questions before it’s discussed by the party. “We need to go into this with sober minds, without the ra-ra-ra of factionalism and with the opinionated perspectives. We need to go with the purity of thought that only a good silk can give you in this country.”

According to the discussion document, the 2001 document needs to be reviewed because of “the manifest lack of revolutionary morality and disrespect of the movement’s values and particularly its character” which “has led to the loosening of the glue that binds its members and consequently compromising unity and cohesion of the movement”.

The document bemoans the fact that “the ANC has grown in membership and yet the quality of its cadres are fast diminishing”. One of the stated aims of the party under former president Jacob Zuma at its centenary celebration in 2012 was to grow the ANC membership to over a million. Some have warned that this could dilute the quality of the membership in favour of quantity.

It says in recent times most ANC members “began to have a sense of entitlement to leadership”, and it became “easy” to be an ANC member. “Experience, talent and longevity in the movement began to count for little.” It added that the ANC was “captured by political careerists”.

This “new era” saw a “clear shift from adherence to the values and norms of the ANC to personality politics akin to cults and loyalties to factions (rather) than movement”, it says. It warns that political activism has become a career for many and that people have used ANC membership to gain power to get “access to resources for their own individual gratification”. The discussion document says Through the eye of a needle was supposed to have addressed this problem, but two decades on, it persists.

Questions about how ANC leaders and representatives are elected, should be asked, the document says. For example, it asks: “Is the profound cultural practice within the ANC that individuals do not promote or canvass for themselves, still a sustainable mechanism for selecting leaders?” This practice dates from the time when the party was a banned organisation and leadership had to be discussed in secret.

It also suggests tackling the issue of using money to campaign for internal leadership positions head-on, rather than suppressing talk of it. “The movement must openly discuss the issue of campaigning for leadership positions in the organisation and the use of money that accompanies this phenomenon,” it says. 

Ramaphosa has been accused by his detractors of flouting ANC rules by paying people to canvas for him ahead of his 2017 election.

It also suggests a more careful vetting of members and a process of getting each ANC member to re-apply for their membership over a suggested period of two years so that they could be registered on the new digital membership system. DM


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All Comments 9

  • Nothing has changed or will change in the ANC, it’s all about control for self enrichment (albeit with a heavy dose of nepotism).
    Throw in a larney house or three, luxurious cars, public displays of wealth plus a blue light cavalcade of hangers-on and security (just who are their mortal threats?).

  • Its a patronage Mafia (ANC) designed to keep milking the taxpayers on the basis of race based legislation , that make connected millionaires and perpetuates poverty for the masses. Oh!, and the ANC couldn’t run a spaza shop!

  • If this is a honest and revealing moment of acknowledgment of the extreme degradation of morality and competence within the ANC and there is a genuine will and universal wish in it’s ranks to reform-then it should only be a good thing.

    Sadly for the nation and it’s people-those very factors will mitigate against any such changes.

    In an organisation with a moral compass this should not be a “big or difficult discussion” nor need the input of senior counsel. The keys are recurring poor leadership (and how leaders are elected) and attempted governance by committee-both of which go to the very core of the structure of the party

    Ideology aside-the CCP is (and has been for a long time) guided from the top by technically, economically and administratively competent people-with strict coded of conduct-ruthlessly enforced.

    Whatever economic path SA takes (and writers definition of “RET” is small government-public service/rapid privatisation of all SOE’s/ free the private sector from the dead and corruptive hand of bureaucracy to create wealth and jobs and pay taxes-quite the opposite to what others have in mind) the ANC simply does not (and never has) have it within them to succeed.

    To only now (after 26 years) think there is any chance of reform is a pipe-dream. Too many vested interests/too much for the cadres to lose.

    Unless the ANC can change (impossible) or are voted out of power(not going to happen) the party and SA will continue to slide into abject failure-plan accordingly!

  • Fascinating !….” as a part of the review, the party aims to learn from the Communist Party of China (CPC)…” !
    What … how to follow the disastrous American Dream (or is it nightmare?) of unabashed consumerism and destruction of natural resources, with great attention to militarisation ? e.g. Arms Deal/s ? How sadly misguided and devoid of any intellectual curiosity or integrity.

  • There is only one reason why people are active in politics, they wish to have the opportunity to exercise social power. It is in the exercise of that social power, once it is attained, that problems arise.

    If the individual is essentially self-serving rather than other serving then the social power will be used to serve the individual rather than the community. If the individual is other-serving rather than self-serving then the social power will be exercised for the benefit of the community. This is the human reality which all political parties have to deal with when enrolling or rejecting applicants for membership. The ANC clearly does not deal adequately with the membership issue. Once someone has been accepted into membership it is too late to address the issue.


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