South Africa

Party Power

Ace boosts ANC membership to 1.4-million – highest ever

Illustrative image | Source: ANC flag (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Under his hand, Ace Magashule has grown the ANC to its largest ever paid-up membership. What does it mean?

Since Ace Magashule was elected secretary-general of the ANC in 2017, the party has grown by almost 25%, new details on audited membership figures reveal. The party now has 1.4-million members, up from 989,000 in December 2017.

The performance of those in Magashule’s position in the ANC is weighed up against paid-up membership figures; this being a tangible indication of support. Former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe doubled the party’s membership to over 1.2-million in his term. It was the first time the ANC crossed the million mark.

After dipping to under a million as the party cleaned up its membership database, Magashule spent his first term growing the paid-up membership.

The powerhouse provinces of the governing party are KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. However, Daily Maverick was unable to get details on which provinces were growing in terms of membership. One official said the major growth is in the cities, which is important since the ANC was losing support in the metros and urban centres. 

Analysts said the 2016 local government elections – when the ANC lost Johannesburg (which it has since clawed back) and Tshwane – raised the spectre of the ANC becoming a predominantly rural party. However, the new membership gains showed the party was growing in the cities and urban centres, said an official.

Former president Jacob Zuma cost the ANC considerable support in the cities and metropolitan centres where voters were alienated by his administration’s association with corruption. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa is more popular with urban voters than his predecessor, polls have shown in the 1,000 days he has been in office. 

This may account for some of the membership spurt.

But Magashule also understands power, and specifically how power functions in South Africa’s political system. 

ANC membership and branches are the keys to the country when the party is in government. This is because of South Africa’s party-based electoral system and also because of the ANC’s constitution, which makes branches the primary unit of the party. 

Election to powerful offices begins in the branches. To build branches, you need members. It’s through this process that deputy president David Mabuza occupies the office he does now. 

As provincial chairperson of the ANC in Mpumalanga, Mabuza grew membership from 54,000 to 132,000, and then to 158,000, through the party’s most recent national conferences. This growth made him a kingmaker at the Nasrec conference and assured him the role of deputy president, both in the party and then of the country.

Ace Magashule may now be deploying the same strategy to ensure that he remains safe in his post and furthers his ambitions. Magashule faces serious corruption charges but the ANC is unlikely to force him to step aside. One of the reasons is because he has taken membership to its highest level in the party’s post-apartheid history.

Former ANC president Thabo Mbeki did not support mass membership and instead favoured a smaller ANC – using the Leninist phrase, “Better fewer, but better”, to mean that having a smaller number of higher quality members was better for party and country.

The ANC has had many years of problems with its membership lists, including issues of ‘ghost’ members whose ID numbers are used by rent-seekers to buy membership in order to create branches to buy votes and secure executive positions for themselves.

Executive positions in district, regional and provincial structures allow these networks to influence how tenders are distributed, and so membership has become a unit of currency rather than a mechanism of political association. 

Under the party’s general manager Febe Potgieter, the worst abuses of the system have been cleaned up, but it is still open to manipulation given the high rates of unemployment and the value placed on the organisation’s leadership positions from branch executives upward. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options