Mavuso Msimang reached a critical tipping point with the ANC — will the voters follow?
The decision by the veteran ANC leader Mavuso Msimang to formally resign from the movement he belonged to for over 60 years has the potential to seriously damage the governing party, because of his own track record, the state of the party, and growing public perceptions that it is inherently corrupt. The timing of this announcement, as our politics is in a state of flux, could also be of significance.
There can be no doubt of the anger and despair currently felt by Msimang. In a radio interview in the hours after his resignation letter became public (leaked by Luthuli House, apparently), he said he was relieved it was a radio discussion, because if people could see him, he would be embarrassed.
It was a testament to the emotion he was feeling over this decision.
And it is easy to understand why. He joined the ANC during the Struggle, back in the 1960s. The party has literally shaped his entire life. And he has sometimes shaped the ANC.
In 2014 he spoke with authority about events he was involved in in the party back in 1969.
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While some talk of the ANC’s Magoro Conference almost in mythical terms, he was a real role-player.
And, famously during the Zuma years, he was the one ANC member who was prepared to publicly criticise the party that he was still loyal to.
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Even after his resignation, speaking in Welkom in the Free State, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that Msimang was “someone who I continue to hold in the highest regard”.
Now, the veteran whom Ramaphosa still holds in the “highest regard” has said in his resignation letter that “the corruption we once decried is now part of our movement’s DNA”.
Perhaps worse than that, he puts the blame for almost all of the problems in our society, from corruption through to mismanagement and our social problems, squarely at the foot of the ANC.
This could further legitimise the criticism expressed so strongly by many important people of South Africa. People still deciding whether to support the ANC again may see Msimang’s example as one to follow, and themselves walk away from the party, too.
The critics will see his statements as a confirmation they were right all along, and allow them to repeat their claims without having to worry about being painted as simply “anti-ANC”, or worse.
However, the real power of his letter may be what appears to have been the tipping point for Msimang.
He points out that his own former structure in the party, the Veterans League, had passed a resolution that the ANC’s leadership should ensure that no one accused of criminality should be allowed to continue in office. This is particularly about the Zondo Commission, which made findings against a large number of ANC members and leaders.
As he notes:
“The Veterans league specifically recommended that such individuals be considered ineligible for nomination to represent the ANC in the 2024 national and provincial elections. Unfortunately, the ANC NEC has shown no urgency to deal with this matter”.
Msimang is putting his finger straight on the spot that is probably the most important dynamic of the moment. As has been noted on these pages many times, he is entirely correct.
The ANC NEC has declared that those implicated by the Zondo Commission must refer themselves to the Integrity Commission. And yet, as many as 95 of them have refused to do this.
Last year, the chair of the party’s Integrity Commission at the time, George Mashamba, claimed that this was not a problem. During an interview with Newzroom Afrika he left an unfortunate impression that the party was less than determined to act against these people.
Since then, Frank Chikane has taken over as Chair of the Integrity Commission and promised stronger action.
Msimang and others are still waiting.
Key to this dynamic is the fact that it is the ANC NEC who has to decide what to do with those who have failed to heed its own instruction.
They are never going to vote for action to be taken against themselves.
By resigning now, Msimang may well have reminded voters what is at stake. As he himself said in that interview, the party is surely going to suffer in the elections by nominating these people to positions in Parliament.
The ANC’s response shows that it possibly fails to understand the scale of the problem.
Despite the obvious fact the ANC is not acting against those implicated in corruption; the party’s spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri says the party is determined to fulfill its conference resolutions around discipline. And she says, “There is sufficient evidence of the strides that are made”.
Ninety-five ANC members (95!) have failed to heed the NEC instruction and report to the Integrity Committee. And nothing has happened to them.
While Bhengu-Motsiri may believe “there is sufficient evidence of the strides being made”, voters may ask what more evidence do they need that the ANC cannot act on corruption?
Meanwhile, the timing of Msimang’s resignation may give this added power.
At the moment, our politics appears to be in a state of flux, where players and leaders do not know which direction to go in.
The attempts by the opposition to form a coalition, or Multi-Party Charter, the new players like Rise Mzanzi, the introduction of independent candidates, and the possible entry of individuals like Roger Jardine all suggest that major changes could be on the horizon.
Even in the ANC, there is evidence of titanic struggles, with some structures disobeying the national leadership. The fact the Gauteng ANC is still in coalitions with the EFF despite NEC decisions they should stop show how little control there is over events within the governing party.
All of this suggests there could be a lot more movement in our politics in the next few months. The main reason for this is that the ANC is no longer the only party to belong to by default, as there are now other routes to power.
Msimang’s resignation may well be a part of this longer process, a spark that started the fire. And he will not be the last to leave their political home, even if it is where they have lived for over 60 years. DM