RITA NDZANGA MEMORIAL
Thabo Mbeki tears into ANC’s succession debate, saying party keeps attracting ‘power-hungry’ leaders
As the ANC grapples with renewal in a bid to ‘self-correct’, former president Thabo Mbeki on Thursday warned that the renewal must be genuine and not for show — otherwise the party risks further punishment from the masses.
Former President Thabo Mbeki on Thursday launched yet another scathing attack on the ruling party while paying tribute to Struggle stalwart and trade unionist Rita Ndzanga, who died on Wednesday at the age of 88.
At a memorial service in Soweto, Ndzanga was remembered as a giant of democracy, an anti-apartheid struggle activist, and a fierce trade unionist who was at the forefront of organising and forming labour movements to resist apartheid brutality in the workplace in the 1950s.
Mbeki said Ndzanga had served with diligence and dedication in the first, second and third democratic Parliaments. “It is therefore quite correct to say that she dedicated most of her life as an unflinching combatant of our liberation.”
Mbeki was delivering the keynote address to scores of people who gathered to honour Ndzanga. He said although there had been a warning against attacking the ANC in public, he would not stop pointing out the wrongs with which the movement continued to grapple.
Declining electoral support
He pointed to the ruling party’s declining electoral support in the 2021 local government elections which saw it get fewer than 50% of votes nationally.
“There is something that is very disturbing which has been happening over the last few years, that as we go to vote, the number of people in Soweto voting for the ANC keeps dropping. It keeps going down, including in the last elections.”
He concluded that the problem lay with members of the party and not the organisation itself.
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“There is something wrong with us. So, I am not criticising the ANC, I am criticising us. There is something wrong that we are doing and the population is saying, ‘you are behaving like the ANC we know, so something must change’.”
Mbeki also tore into the party’s conferences, which he said had repeatedly, without exception, been attracting the wrong people into the ANC’s ranks ever since it came into power in 1994.
“We are beginning to attract into our ranks people who joined the ANC because the ANC is a stepladder to power so that we can use that power to put money into our pockets — that’s what the veterans’ league is saying.”
He was critical of the party’s succession debate which has seen leaders raise their hands to lead in the party’s top six and in the highest decision-making body between conferences, the National Executive Committee.
“During the years of Struggle led by activists including Ndzanga, there was nobody who raised their hand for any leadership position.
“There was nobody who said, ‘I want to be a president’. There was nobody who said ‘ndikhetheni’ [pick me], ebengekho [there was none], but today, baninzi, ondikhetheni, [there are many contenders],” he said as the crowd chanted in agreement.
“Rita Ndzanga never said, ‘choose me’; what put her where she is, which we celebrate, was her selfless contribution to the Struggle, that’s what defined her as our leader that we celebrate today.”
The party faced a difficult task to find people of a similar calibre, he said.
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Mbeki lauded the party’s decision to scrutinise those whom it allowed to run as mayoral candidates in the 2021 local government elections. Mayoral candidates were also subjected to interviews by the party’s top six, a move which Mbeki said was not only important, but spoke directly to renewal.
“We need to renew the ANC — if we don’t renew the ANC, it will die.”
Reflecting on the lower voter turnout during last year’s election, Mbeki said the ANC was fortunate that people opted to stay away instead of voting for opposition parties.
“Fortunately, they have not deserted us, they are saying to us: ‘Become the ANC that we know, undertake this renewal which has been decided by conference’.”
He said it should be expected that some members would question how the party intended to renew itself when it kept the people who joined for the wrong reasons.
On members accused of corruption, Mbeki said it was increasingly difficult to see one ANC leader after another being implicated in wrongdoing as this tainted the image of the party.
He argued that the party itself was not corrupt, but had been infiltrated by the wrong people. “In the end, people say the ANC is corrupt. The ANC is not corrupt, but the ANC carries within its ranks people who are corrupt and to renew itself, it must get rid of those kinds of people.
“The process of renewal is very, very important, it is very urgent, and must happen. It’s going to be very challenging, but I think we owe it to Rita Ndzanga and others like her to do something about the ANC.
“The masses of our people know who is wrong, who is bad among us. So I am saying that therefore we have got this examiner, who is the masses of our people.
“It is them who are going to give us a mark to say we have passed. So I am therefore saying, when we engage in the process of renewal, it has to be genuine, not a show or pretence, because the people will discover that we are pretending and will punish us.”
Mbeki said it was painful to see opposition political parties which boldly proclaimed that their existence was based on destroying the ANC and argued that in 2024, the ANC would not only lose votes, but be forced to govern South Africa through a coalition.
“Then we have to ask, what have we done to ourselves that we would have people with that kind of ‘courage’ determined to ensure that the ANC is destroyed? And that is not criticism of the ANC, that’s a reality we have to deal with.”
Mbeki said that as the ANC bade farewell to Ndzanga, “We are making a commitment to say we are going to rebuild the ANC, about which she was very worried.” DM