South Africa


Chaos among ANC women, youth and veterans is a mere subset of the party’s pre-conference mess

Chaos among ANC women, youth and veterans is a mere subset of the party’s pre-conference mess
From left: Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Masi Losi) | Former health minister Zweli Mkhize. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | ANC Women’s League leader Bathabile Dlamini. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Herald / Eugene Coetzee) | Suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw) | ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo) | Former ANC Youth League president Collen Maine. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

Last week, the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) gave the first indication that it was possible the party’s top leadership would formally disband the leadership structures of the ANC Women’s League. There is still no formally elected leadership for the ANC Youth League, while the MKMVA has been formally disbanded. At the same time, eight of the party’s nine provinces still have to hold conferences and elect leadership this year. Many would call it a mess.

It certainly appears there is a very real weakness within many, perhaps all, of the ANC’s structures, and that unless there is some kind of radical action this weakness will simply perpetuate itself, making the party’s organisation shakier than ever before a national elective conference.

Last week, the NWC announced it was creating a task team to examine the situation within the party’s Women’s League. The league last held a conference in 2015, meaning that a full seven years have passed since it elected Bathabile Dlamini as its leader.

It could be argued that since then the league has had a negligible influence on our politics. It has not been at the forefront of issues that affect women — its voice on gender-based violence, and issues such as social grants and the pandemic generally, has not been heard aloud by our society. Too many in South African society, the Women’s League is a non-factor these days.

Meanwhile, the ANC Youth League last had an elected leadership in 2018. That leadership was disbanded in the aftermath of the 2017 Nasrec Conference.

Its leader at the time, Collen Maine, was widely seen as a figure of no legitimacy and consequence. He had been in the pay of the Guptas and used talking points about “White Monopoly Capital” he received from the now-disgraced, destroyed and, thankfully, defunct “reputation management” firm Bell Pottinger.

The league has been run by a national task team that has tried to take it to an elective conference.

Unless there are decisive events in the near future, it is entirely possible that by the time the ANC holds its national conference, both these leagues will not have elected leaderships.

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Considering that they do get apportioned 50 votes each at the conference, this is politically significant.

It is also surely significant that even if they do hold elective conferences, both leagues will have failed to be political forces during this term of the ANC’s national leadership.

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In the past, this was not the case. The Youth League in particular was known to make the political running, to be capable of mobilising support for a candidate. The role of Fikile Mbalula, then the leader of the ANC Youth League, was hugely important in the run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane Conference and the ultimate election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president.

Meanwhile, two organisations representing ANC veterans have been disbanded (the MKMVA and the MK Council) with a unity conference planned for the next few months.

However, the problems of the ANC’s structures do not end there.

At present, eight of the party’s provinces need to hold conferences this year, and some of these may be heavily, and angrily, contested.

The Eastern Cape conference will see a serious challenge against Premier Oscar Mabuyane from Babalo Madikizela.

In KwaZulu-Natal, former health minister Zweli Mkhize appears to be claiming he is being lobbied for a position while Premier Sihle Zikalala may not be re-elected.

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In Gauteng, Premier David Makhura is not running again, leading to a contest between Cogta MEC Lebogang Maile and deputy provincial leader and Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.

In Mpumalanga, a complex picture has emerged with violence at regional conferences and possibly as many as four factions contesting for power.

North West has been dogged by consistent problems and has been run by an interim structure for several years.

While conditions may be easier in other ANC provinces, the party may be about to enter a period of dramatic change and possibly violent turbulence.

At the same time, the office that will handle much of the administration of these conferences (and the preparations for the national conference), the party’s Secretary-General’s Office, has less capacity than in the past.

Elected Secretary-General Ace Magashule is still on suspension and appears destined to play no official part in this year’s national conference. This will be the second time that he has been denied a vote at a national ANC Conference. In 2017, the Free State provincial executive committee lost the right to vote at Nasrec because of the way Magashule had managed the provincial conference. In 2012, he was able to participate because he was a member of the NEC, even though the provincial leadership of the Free State ANC was not allowed to vote because of a similar problem with a regional conference that Magashule, again, oversaw.

The deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, is still recovering from a serious illness, meaning that Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile is acting as secretary-general.

So serious is this problem that the NWC has asked Gwen Ramakgopa to assist the office.

Examining the ANC’s structures in this way may reveal some of its problems. However, it is important to also ask why the ANC is in this position.

What should be noted is the impact of the pandemic in all this. It has made it difficult to hold meetings and conferences.

However, it has not necessarily made it impossible.

The DA held a national conference from 31 October-1 November 2020 during a relatively strict lockdown.

The ANC might argue that its members are poorer and thus less able to take part in a virtual, or a hybrid conference.

A more cynical argument may be that some leaders did not want to have a conference unless absolutely forced to. Or they tried to drag their feet to prevent use of the technology that could have enabled a conference. Or they needed to practise gatekeeping.

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It may also be that the tensions within the ANC are higher than those in the DA, and thus it is simply harder to get people to agree to a conference that is not held in person.

No matter the reason, there is now a vast amount of work for the party’s administrators to get through while the party’s administration machinery has never been weaker in the democratic era.

And, considering how often decisions made by that machinery, along with regional and provincial conference outcomes, have been challenged in court, the stakes may be high.

The remaining months of 2022 will be enormously complex. It will also be a highly stressful time for the governing party, just before a crucial conference followed by a vital national election. Something may just break. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • anton kleinschmidt says:

    The portents over 30 years have grown increasingly bleak, but the speed and extent of the decline has outstripped worst expectations.

    All this adds to the urgency of the Western Cape achieving levels of self sufficiency that do not rely on effective national government.

    Political, administrative, business and civil society leaders in the province need to work together. They need to brush aside all political and ideological differences and cooperate. They need to urgently place the Province above the destructive fray that is growing within the ranks of the ANC. Time is running out to create functional self sufficiency

  • Trevor Pope says:

    How does one throw chairs at a virtual conference?

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