Twilight for a liberation party: It may be too late for the ANC to save itself

By Siphiwe Nyanda 19 July 2021
Former president Jacob Zuma addresses the media at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal on Sunday, 4 July 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Renewal in SA and the ANC will remain elusive as long as the ANC fails to come to terms with the fact that much of the recent violence in the country arises from its own doing. This, in fact, is an optimistic view. A strong possibility is that the ANC is unlikely to be saved from its self-inflicted wounds.

Siphiwe Nyanda


General Siphiwe Nyanda is a former South African military commander and politician. He served as Chief of the South African National Defence Force from 1998 to 2005 and Minister of Communications from 2009 to 2010.

The ANC does not seem to be acknowledging its past mistakes and accepting some culpability for the recent mayhem in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

All previous conferences of the ANC since the Mbeki leadership have been alerted to the growing political weaknesses of its general membership and the prevalence of careerists within its ranks. It has, however, done very little to address the problem. In fact, it exacerbated the problem by significantly growing its membership, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, after the Polokwane conference in 2007. In so doing it attracted undesirable elements, which most probably resulted in the internecine violence and killings within its ranks which have been manifested since the Mangaung conference of December 2012 when Jacob Zuma consolidated his position at the helm; the murder of ANC councillors and other activists in many parts of KZN subsequently became commonplace in the jostle for positions.

These elements are now most likely part of the rebellion against the current KZN ANC leadership, which has been at pains to rein in a wayward membership within its ranks to conform to positions taken at the national level, such as the step-aside rule. We have seen this in the booing of the KZN provincial chairman and the provincial secretary when they appeared at events in which there were large numbers of supporters of the former president Jacob Zuma.

The main reason why there was a flood or influx into the ANC ranks was due to the fact that the ANC was the ruling party and the spoils of incumbency were there for the picking by opportunists and corrupt individuals and groupings. The gates were opened for them because there were both short-term gains for some myopic considerations of bolstering the KZN influence within the ANC structures and long-term diabolical strategies by others that have now come to the fore. 

The organisational weakness of the ANC, due in large measure to its politically weak membership, was bound to result in increased corruption and careerism. When the cadre is weak, leaders at all levels tend to manipulate internal processes without much challenge; big-man syndromes and the cult of the personality set in and take hold. The egos of those strong men grow with every success and they end up being unchallengeable. So, such a situation was allowed to remain. It suited the interest of those who wanted to maintain a stranglehold of the organisation to keep it weak. This is still the case.

We have seen this happen in the ANC over time: This did not only happen at the national level of leadership. In some provinces, strongmen emerged and even organised their factional grouping as provincial strongmen. It also suited the strongman at the helm, Zuma, to have these provincial strongmen as allies. In that way, he increased his stranglehold on the movement and held it to ransom while he and the Gupta family plundered the state. All along, those minions on the ground remained in awe; they were mesmerised by his charm and rhetoric while some had the opportunity as well to feed at the trough. 

Military veterans under the auspices of the MKMVA were organised as praise singers and as a paramilitary structure in the service of a political faction. They were allowed to recruit in spite of the fact that MK had long disbanded; under the guise of caring for MK military veterans, they became part of the feeding frenzy on the state institutions, allowing only crumbs to fall into the hands of those they purported to lead – who are still in dire straits.

… These RET forces encouraged Zuma to disrespect the rule of law as well as judicial decisions and urged him to use his influence to bring down the citadel while they instigated the phoney uprising which has brought such devastation to KZN and Gauteng.

This was obviously not right from an organisation that had historically prided itself on political morality. 

Many ANC members, particularly the Stalwarts and Veterans (S&V) of the ANC in the past and now the ANC Veterans League as well as the erstwhile MK National Council, decried the state of the ANC and the pernicious influence of the Gupta family on Zuma; they even called on him to step down following his attempt to raid the Treasury by appointing the MKMVA treasurer Des van Rooyen as minister of finance. Most of the ANC leadership stood firmly behind Zuma and would not entertain a motion of no confidence in him even though it was clear in the elections of August 2016 that the ANC was on a slippery slope. Voters were deserting the movement. 

Concerned veterans met with the ANC leadership on several occasions to try to persuade them to agree to a programme of cleansing and renewal of the organisation. They proposed the holding of a National Consultative Conference to plan for this. This request met with resistance or excuses of lack of time and money. 

When the Constitutional Court ruled that the president had violated the Constitution and his oath of office, Isithwalandwe Ahmed Kathrada penned a letter calling on Zuma to resign in the interest of the ANC and the country. Both the S&V and the MKNC joined in the call. We argued that there could be no graver offence than that; we felt that it was a disgrace that he could stand before the nation unabashed to play down the ignominy with a hollow apology, because this did not bode well for the future – wouldn’t a mere apology mean that future presidents must also be forgiven in advance for such serious trespasses? 

Many ANC leaders, however, did not support the call although they admitted the gravity of the offence. Then-secretary-general of the ANC Gwede Mantashe even suggested publicly that to ask or push Zuma to resign would cause the movement to disintegrate.

That in itself was indicative of a huge problem: if it was not pandering to a strongman syndrome then it is difficult to know what was; this was showing the man to be bigger than the ANC; this was indicative of the fear of the power and influence of Zuma on the ANC.  Why would Zuma’s resignation cause the movement to break up if he left voluntarily? Why was he threatening to go to Nkandla as he did? Is that not his home? But that was the effect of the personality cult on the ANC. Yet, that was an opportune moment to have acted because Zuma was clearly in the wrong and the ANC would have been justified in acting against him then. 

If Zuma had resigned then and accepted his mistakes then and left office voluntarily he would have garnered sympathy in some quarters, there were even suggestions that there could be some sort of forgiveness or pardon. The man, however, had made a Faustian pact and his axis of wrongdoers urged him to stay on, perhaps because the looting of the state was not yet done, some were afraid that his exit would weaken their grip on the ANC and perhaps soon swing open the prison gates for them. 

When Zuma was finally forced to leave after the Nasrec conference, they continued to use the power they had in the ANC through the strong position of Secretary-General Ace Magashule until he was forced to step aside. The realisation that their reckoning was close only increased the stridency of these forces who falsely appropriated a conference resolution enjoining for the accelerated economic transformation of the country to attack investigations probing the looting of the Zuma incumbency, particularly the Zondo Commission; they have tried to marshal revolutionary rhetoric under the RET banner to lend credence to their reactionary cause. 

A key target of this offensive has been the judiciary and the person of the president of the country in order to falsely link the president with judicial decisions. This deliberate and unfounded rhetoric and refusal to accept the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law was the main driver of the recent violence. 

These RET forces encouraged Zuma to disrespect the rule of law as well as judicial decisions and urged him to use his influence to bring down the citadel while they instigated the phoney uprising which has brought such devastation to KZN and Gauteng.

Sadly, these forces still remain in the ANC leadership.  And they are doing the utmost to sugar-coat the dangerous situation their activities have brought about. The only way for the ANC is to undertake a genuine introspective and embark upon a thoroughgoing renewal process. If it does, it might – just might – save itself from oblivion. Perhaps it has waited too long to deal with its demons to be able to redeem itself. DM


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All Comments 57

  • Until the ANC address their policy of party before country there will always be conflict of interest. Sadly CR may not have the stomach for this, if he did the way forward would be clear.

    • I was also thinking that there is no comeback. Voters, vote like they support soccer teams – it does not matter what the players or management does, they swear allegiance to the brand. Amakhozi for life, I am a Buccaneers forever.

      This worked for me for 27 years until now. When the brand hurts you directly, personally, in your face the game changes. People who buy fast foods will accept poor service & being treated badly – fact. They have become immune to being herded and treated badly in this New South Africa. Now this very same people, who buy food from you and you give them poor quality food will shout and complain because it now hurts their pocket. They see themselves as paying for the food not for customer service. They have accepted long queues and cashiers who do not smile.
      I see this playing out in the ANC support base now. For the 1st time they have witnessed their pockets being hurt. They have seen the ANC for who they are – corrupt money grabbers. This time they vote for someone else to punish the ANC.

      The time has come when the place which pays you is not there anymore. The supermarket is destroyed. ANC factions & specifically Jacob Zuma and his ANC faction has taken all away. Perhaps for the 1st time you see how the ANC has directly hurt your pocket and played you for a fool. It threatens your future and you life and your family. You go to the shop and cannot get bread, rice or milk.
      It’s time the people punished the ANC.

        • With Hellen and Steenhuizen at the lead. That ship was blasted out of the water. In retrospect Hellen Zille and the RET faction share equally in the responsibility for the disasters we are facing. We need a new consolidated Social Democratic movement, based around the Freedom Charter.

          • Are you objecting to the personalities that you name or to the policies of the DA and their governance record in Cape Town and in the Western Cape?

      • Sydney, that’s exactly why I can’t see CR being a good leader of the country. Too much faith in a rotten party and too little action for the benefit of the country. There’s too much talk of CR being our only hope and it’s time for better quality people to show their hand.

        • CR saved South Africa from having NDZ as President. Unfortunately for him, the ANC is now beyond redemption as suggested in the excellent article above.

    • Given the current available options to vote for, there’s only one party out there with a track record to pose a threat to the ANC
      There is no perfect solution, let’s be realistic.
      What’s the next best option?
      Let’s face it the ANC have damaged themselves irreparably and CR is most likely not going to clean house (not because he doesn’t want but probably because he’s caught between a rock and a hard spot) In any event, he continues with his ANC first doctrine. The majority of commentators seem to agree on this, so, until he takes some of the blatantly obvious steps available to him and uses the current situation to his advantage this remains the case.
      There’s a number of very good candidates in his cabinet who qualify for the chop, None other in my option than Gwede Man-trash.
      His allegiance to Zuma cannot be swept under the carpet (and I mean seriously, spend an estimated R 225 billion over 20 years and come out the other end with nothing.. given the government’s track record of doing budgets I’m guessing this would end up costing at least three times as much)
      So, let’s face it the ANC will merrily (or not probably not so merrily) carry on.
      So back to , What’s the next best option?
      We probably all actually know the answer but keep looking for something that’s not there, time to be realistic, maybe !
      Let’s give them some serious competition at the next election.
      For anyone in doubt about who I’m referring to do some research on the best and worst run municipalities in SA.

  • If I was ever to pray it would be for the collapse of this crooked, compromised, unfit for office bunch of miscreants and gangsters masquerading as a political party. Hopefully there would then be enough air for a true party of all the people to emerge with dynamic leadership, care and accountability. Big wish I know!

  • If only we had more men of your calibre in the ANC.
    A fundamental policy pivot to a business friendly one is required as well, if a renewed ANC understands that its own economic policy is at the centre of joblessness, together with the disastrous education system.

    • Miles I also caught myself wishing that the ANC had the old-guard goodness in the ranks, and realised that I was one of the people who are “committed to the brand” too. IOW, where is the psychological space to just vote for a better party? Cope ? GOOD? Made me realise how difficult it is for people to change, because in other democracies there is sufficient space to just swing to another party, or candidate. It seems that our political ideologies in SA have become so ingrained as a form of social control, its like religion.

      • Have you ever thought that governments only change when people change their votes? This means in a place like the USA only relatively few people change governments. The ground swell voters merely provide the platform.
        I too love the brand but it is not doing us any good.

    • Yip, he was arranging security contracts for himself instead of doing his job as minister. This man can’t be trusted at all and he’s just trying to save his own skin.

    • Spot on, Dennis. After an underwhelming spell as Minister of Communications (see Charles Parr’s comment below), Nyanda was appointed Parliamentary counselor to then-President Zuma. African governments are awash with former military brass who have rather well trading on their credentials. After reading his piece, pots and kettles spring to mind.

  • A great read from beginning to end but misses the punchline from a former General. This is history. Forget an ANC renewal. As a military strategist you must have your assessment of the RET plans going forward, is this attack going to be to destroy the economy of the Country and vote Cyril down in the ANC “democratically” or what is the split in loyalty of the Army Generals and is a coup a possibility.

  • As lifelong supporters of the ANC, we are faced with a dilemma of a viable Alternative Party, and there is no groundswell movement like COPE, in the offing.

    I just believe Cyril was a lame duck president from the start. He inherited a mess with the ANC and an even bigger mess with his top 6.

    Mcebisi Jonas was correct, he had 2 choices, that is to either choose the country or the ANC. He failed to choose either.

    The biggest question is to where to from here ……we all understand and know the problem with the ANC, but in all the Political Analysis I’ve yet to hear a viable solution.

    Siphiwe please enlighten us where to from here

    • Perhaps we don’t need a PARTY to vote for. In every community there are people who are the do-ers – they must be convinced to stand for office. There is a real opportunity with the local elections to, if not actually unseat the ANC, at least pack the councils with citizens instead of politicians.

  • So Cyril, do you still think after the violent events of the past week that you can still maintain unity in the ANC and at the same time cleanse it of its anti-constitutional strongmen? If so, you do not deserve to continue to lead South Africa. The events of this past week have brought the ANC and the country to a watershed moment. Continue with your ANC unity project and South Africa will eventually be ruled by strongmen dictators OR expel all the Zuma loyalists and looters in the ANC leadership and give South Africa a chance for a better life for all. It’s your choice to make Cyril.

    • I believe that this can only happen if the remainder of the ANC and the DA / COPE …. etc. can come together, leave the “strong men” behind and create a new social democratic movement

  • Ramaposa blew it the night he was elected ANC president and called for his faction to unite with a bunch of crooks instead of demanding their expulsion.

  • Thank you, so clearly summed up up. Could you and the other like minded seniors please come out of retirement and guide the ANC ship out of the rocks and sand banks and back onto its original course

  • Come back to the people with humility, no lies, no promises. Remember “We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people; that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality; that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that ***only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief***; And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together – equals, countrymen and brothers – adopt this Freedom Charter. And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.”

  • The ANC resembles a dead whale on the beach. The longer it is left the worse the stench. Only when it is buried can the smell dissipate and South Africa move on.

  • The profoundly arrogant, selfish, greedy yet fortunately incompetent instigators of this attempted violent, murderous insurrection played a high stakes, life or death gamble that has clearly failed. So it should be death for them then. Or, with any luck, a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Cyril: we, the entire world, are watching while you wring your hands and continue bloviating. You have now been handed a once-off, golden opportunity to act boldly for the sake of every South African. Do it man!!!

  • The problem is not the ANC, they are self-destructing. Vote them out, everyone shouts. The problem is that voters do not have an alternative. The opposition parties are equally useless and do not appeal to the majority of voters. Not voting is also dangerous as it allows more power to otherwise irrelevant noise-makers. The DA as official opposition are not getting their image/leadership/pronouncements etc etc right. And “anything is better than the ANC” is not clever. So what to do?

      • 100% – wake up people; stop blithering about how you hate Hellen Zille and and recognise the DA for what it is: a party that actually gets things done, even while swimming upstream in a waterfall of ANC corruption – and wannabe EFF dictators.

  • A Luta Continua !! Oh boy, I never foresaw THIS level when that moniker first came to mind mid 2020.
    General, I DO believe that you have been behind the scenes assisting your ANC and CR, and good for you – it needs you to. In response to so many of the forward looking comments above mine, please present us with a Part 2 of your assessment, please arrange for translation into selected focussed languages for distribution to the appropriate audience so that not only DM readers have access – thanks

    • Yes please, a Part 2 and maybe Parts 3, 4… You seem willing to share very informative insights, while others confusticate and obfuscate.

  • Sadly, in order for South Africa to move forward, the ANC as we know it today must cease to exist, or the electorate must wake up and vote for another party.

  • If we wait for the ANC to renew itself, it will bring South Africa down completely as it also disintegrates. Neither the DA nor the EFF provide an alternative – they are too divisive. Covid 19, the KZN revolt and the ANC’s willingness to allow South Africa to be sacrificed on the altar of its internal struggles all direct South Africa to find a new road that takes it into the 21st century.
    Now is the time for young leaders, men and women, Black, Coloured, Asian and White to say enough of current leaders destroying our and our children’s future and to form a new party; a party that unites South Africa behind a vision that addresses the tough issues that face us as a nation; a party that is democratic and accountable, open and transparent and fully inclusive; a party that sets goals for the country to become economically, socially, environmentally and politically sustainable; a party that recognizes the existential threats facing us all as human beings of inequality (including poverty and unemployment), climate change, waste of scarce resources and environmental degradation and the threat of pandemics.
    There are so many signs that South Africans yearn for unity – all we need is a few young leaders to come together and get it right. Support and funding will not be a problem.
    We need to get out and find these new leaders – they are there. This country has enormous talent and it does not lie in the current political professionals.

    • Starting to sound like a draft manifesto for this embryonic new party. This violent insurrection has quickly exposed a massive political vacuum in SA. And it will be filled, either with good people or the evil so-called RET faction by yet more pernicious and devious stealth. The silver lining here is a pivotal, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a powerful unifying political brand to be formed with the support of the vast majority of patriotic South Africans. Viva The Constitutional People’s Party of SA, Viva!

    • Couldn’t agree more ….it’s time for a New Party, or at the very least for the ANC to split, as the current party is beyond repair …..this from a lifelong member p/ supporter for over 50 years

      • Thanks for responding. Not a draft manifesto. I was just trying to put together a framework that would appeal to the under 40’s as well as providing a home for both haves and have nots. It was just a chopping block

  • Surely the ultimate question must be-who will Cyril Ramaphosa choose as his first priority, the ANC or the citizens of South. Africa? If he continues to talk about the unity of the former in his public utterances, we will know the answer.

  • Old news! I want to understand why everyone is so up in arms about CR’s comment on the Ethnic issue. From where I am, I think he was not wrong to make such a comment, but I need to understand why others think he has now really committed the ultimate sin?

  • Eish. Politician writing the lead story? No matter how much it seems to reinforce my own theories I am not comfortable with reading it. Same goes if Julius or Steenhuizen or any other politician had written it. Its a politician for Gods sake. If they tell you the sun is shining you open the curtains to check.

  • “Perhaps it has waited too long to deal with its demons to be able to redeem itself.” we can only hope and believe that it is way too late.

  • If anyone wants to understand the likelihood of the ANC taking the vital steps to reset and renew in the best interests of South Africa rather than fret about it’s own pathetic state as a political party, then read “The Presidents weekly letter”. Ramaphosa (or his letter writer) trots out flowery phrases week in and week out about “we must do this” and ” we must do that”. He NEVER EVER says we have done this and done that in total error and contributed unequivocally to the total mess we now see.. He NEVER EVER says we WILL DO this and we WILL DO that . It is pathetic and I am convinced he thinks as long as he writes that crap and talks about it, the problems and failures he and his party have created over the last 27 years will be solved. Can anyone think of anything the ANC has touched which is not BROKEN? Seriously, is there a single thing that functions efficiently which is under their control? In any normal democracy the ANC would have been voted out on their backsides a few years ago.

  • It must have taken enormous courage to pen this unflinching analysis of an organisation, especially if you were/are committed to it. Unfortunately that is what is required when faced with a psychopath … and HIS (invariably!) cultish supporters and beneficiaries. A remarkable insight … well said ! The ‘remains’ (as you clearly indicate) of that pernicious cycle (in their various guises) are still there for all to see … if they opened their eyes … and their minds and ethics above all.

  • Is now the time to join the ANC en masse? a new membership to support the trajectory of liberation, justice, good-governance and peace for South Africa. What is the alternative?

  • Couldn’t agree more ….it’s time for a New Party, or at the very least for the ANC to split, as the current party is beyond repair …..this from a lifelong member p/ supporter for over 50 years


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