South Africa

ANALYSIS

Kgalema Motlanthe’s common sense ANC election rules – great move, 20 years too late?

Kgalema Motlanthe’s common sense ANC election rules – great move, 20 years too late?
Illustrative image | Sources: Former health minister Zweli Mkhize. (Photo: Gallo Images / STR) | ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni and former ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius) | Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius

New rules governing the nomination and election of the ANC’s NEC members have the potential to completely change the way the party conducts its elections. The huge question mark that remains, though, is whether the ANC will really be able to enforce the rules — or not.

With the ANC preparing for December’s contest for top leadership positions, there is a clear sense that the results could lead to a major change in the ANC. The elections committee of the party has now published the rules for the elections, which will govern how the campaigns will be run. They make illegal several practices that have become almost ingrained in the ANC since the Polokwane Conference in 2007.

It also means that if the rules are followed, people such as Bathabile Dlamini and Tony Yengeni will not be able to be part of the party’s leadership, even in the national executive committee (NEC). 

The huge question mark that remains is whether the ANC will really be able to enforce these rules or not. If it does enforce them, will it lead to some candidates presenting their opponents as unelectable (by accusing them of violating the election commission’s rules) as a major part of their election strategies?

The Rules for Nomination and Election of NEC Members 2022 document, published by the electoral committee chair, former president Kgalema Motlanthe, has the potential to completely change the way the ANC conducts its elections.

First, there is a huge change to the structure of the election itself. In the past, ANC conferences have seen the election of the top six national officials in one poll.

This is what led to the heart-stopping moments at Polokwane and Nasrec, as people waited to hear who won. It also led to a gasp of surprise when it turned out that delegates had elected both President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the party, and Ace Magashule as secretary general.

Now, delegates will not vote for these positions in one go. Rather, the document spells out a process where the leadership elections will be held in three stages.

There will first be an election for the positions of party president, secretary general, national chair and treasurer. Once delegates have voted on that, then there will be a second ballot for the positions of deputy president and deputy secretary general.

This is a big change, suggesting an effort to prevent slates from winning it all. It also means that voters will be voting on the second ballot — say, the position of deputy leader — while already knowing who the leader is.

One of the aims of this is to achieve proper gender parity and representativity in the top six. The other, perhaps more political, aim is to break up the slate system. It means that someone could, perhaps, run for the position of leader and, if they lose that, still run for the position of deputy leader.

This could change the game. It’s likely to lead to much more working around gender and demographic representation within the ANC’s top leadership.

Once that poll is finished, then there will be an election for the 80 members of the NEC.

Again there is a provision that attempts to make sure that at least 40 of those members are women by putting their nominations through first. This appears to be part of what has been a huge movement in the ANC to ensure gender representation on its NEC.

Then there are the other rules around who may contest.

It’s worth quoting the document at length on one particular feature. The electoral committee (EC) says that no one may contest elections for ANC leadership if: 

“They have been found guilty of, or have been charged with unethical or immoral conduct, or any serious crime, or corruption. A serious crime is defined by the EC as a crime that could result in a prison sentence of longer than 6 months. A charge is defined as being charged in a court of law. This rule applies also to members who have been charged with any criminal offences in cases that are still being heard, or where a judgment or sentence is being appealed.”

Although it is likely that there will be serious arguments over this, for the short-term future it appears to mean that people such as Dlamini (convicted for perjury) and Yengeni (convicted of corruption) simply cannot run.

Although Dlamini’s supporters may argue that her sentence was only a fine and thus does not fall under the definition of “serious crime”, it is surely also the case that perjury (lying under oath) is “unethical or immoral behaviour”.


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What could have been?

One can only wonder what would have happened if this rule had been implemented 20 years ago? What direction would South Africa have taken?

For a start, it would have prevented all of the ANC MPs convicted over the Travelgate scandal from remaining in leadership positions in the party. And it may well have led to Jacob Zuma being forced to give up his position as leader just days after he was elected ANC leader in December 2007.

For now, though, the more important question may well be what happens to those who are implicated in the Zondo Commission’s report.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has promised that there will be more State Capture-related arrests by the end of September.

Also, it will have to make a decision soon on whether to charge Dr Zweli Mkhize, the former health minister, over the Digital Vibes scandal (where his former personal assistant Tahera Mather won a contract worth R150-million and his family benefitted directly) as well as other scandals.

On top of all that, it may still even be possible for the NPA to charge Ramaphosa for possessing US dollars in apparent contravention of Reserve Bank regulations over the Phala Phala scandal.

All of this means that if all of these rules are implemented, it could be a very different NEC and top leadership for the ANC after December.

Back in the real world…

There are also other rules that could have a huge impact. For example, the rules state that no one may try to sow division or “campaign negatively”, that is to impugn the integrity of other candidates. And no one may try to campaign on the basis of “slates” or a particular group of NEC candidates.

The problem, of course, is enforcing all of these strong points and amendments. The rules state: 

“Any candidate whose campaign supporters participate in such activities must condemn the actions of their supporters and may be disqualified if they do not make a strong effort to end this behaviour.”

This brings in an element to ANC elections that has not been present before. Time and time again, supporters of certain leaders would make statements or even perform particular actions. And the leader would make no attempt to disavow them. Zuma, in particular, was guilty of this. 

Now there is a rule that states a leader must publicly condemn wrongdoing on the part of their supporters.

It is also entirely possible that supporters of Candidate A may disrupt an event while claiming to be supporters of Candidate B in an attempt to put them under pressure. Massive arguments will ensue and many headaches will come for Motlanthe’s team.

There are also fairly strict rules about finance. Many have claimed that vast amounts of money were spent at the last ANC conference at Nasrec — some estimate that more than R1-billion was spent on campaigns and the buying of votes.

Now the rules state: 

“The full financial record of every campaign must be maintained and submitted to the EC. All campaigns must submit detailed financial reports to the EC. The EC has the right to demand further particulars and to inspect bank statements of candidates, campaigns and campaign workers and to interview members of campaign teams.”

This appears to go quite far in preventing a repeat of what happened five years ago, and the endless court cases over the CR17 documents that appear to be the financial contributions to Ramaphosa’s campaign five years ago.

Of course, the devil here may well be in the detail.

It is clear that these rules are an attempt to impose much more order on the ANC’s internal elections, to continue with what the party calls its programme of “renewal”. Many may feel these rules are simply common sense — why should someone convicted of a serious offence be allowed to contest for a leadership position?

It is tempting to ask how different the ANC would be now, and perhaps how different the country, if these rules had been imposed and enforced before 2007. And to ask if the party may well be in a much stronger electoral position?

Possibly.

For now, the real test is upon the ANC. It may be that the real story of 2022 is not who wins the December elections, but whether these rules are enforced. If they indeed are, it could remove many who are perceived as corrupt from the ANC, and mark the start of a real change in its character. 

Should we hold our breath? DM

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