To be a member of the ANC has always been more than about attending rallies and dinners and carrying your membership card in your back pocket. It’s always been about being part of something much bigger, a history of sacrifice and glory, a place where you could put down your roots and test your commitments – commitments to communities, to liberation, to nation-building, and ultimately to make your contribution to a country’s leap forward.
It’s always been easier to keep this purity when you work as a volunteer, a test to yourself mostly, that you believe. It is this belief that brings you out in the early hours of the morning, the belief in the National Democratic Revolution and the democratic society it seeks to realise, the small and daily steps towards that society, taken by all comrades and fellow believers, steps that create a ripple that becomes a revolution.
Today, however, the constant jostling for positions and personal gains has reduced this honour of just being a member of the ANC to almost a means to an end.
Rule 4 of the ANC constitution, which deals with membership of the organisation and what is to be expected of a member, concludes in Rule 4.17 by saying,
“On being accepted in the ANC, a new member shall, in a language he or she knows well, make the following solemn declaration to the body or person designated to administer such oaths:
“I, […], solemnly declare that I will abide by the aims and objectives of the African National Congress as set out in the constitution, the Freedom Charter and other duly adopted policy positions, that I am joining the organisation voluntarily and without motives of material advantage or personal gain, that I agree to respect the constitution and the structures and to work as a loyal member of the organisation, that I will place my energies and skills at the disposal of the organisation and carry out tasks given to me, that I will work towards making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people, and that I will defend the unity and integrity of the organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism.”
It is this solemn declaration that made President Thabo Mbeki, as an ANC member who has taken an oath to respect ANC structures, to be understandably upset when there was an insinuation that he might have leaked a letter he had sent to the Secretary-General’s office given the effort he had put in to ensure that the letter was hand-delivered to that office.
Mbeki’s sentiments would have naturally been based on his understanding of what the office of the Secretary-General represents, the very “custodian of the life” of the organisation. His sentiments also would have been based on the acknowledgement of the responsibility that is on every member of the organisation to protect its structures and offices at all times, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice.
Many people, of course, out of indulging particular vanities, have always assumed that because Gwede Mantashe was the one who personally delivered the news of Mbeki’s recall, that Mbeki would have a particular view about Mantashe. Of course, Mbeki as a seasoned comrade would have known that the secretary-general is constitutionally mandated to communicate the decisions of the NEC, NWC, conferences, and it would involve a high level of immaturity to reduce an SG communique to the person holding the office.
Rule 16.6 of the ANC’s constitution states the position and duties of the secretary-general clearly.
The secretary-general must:
1 Communicate the decisions of all national structures of the ANC on behalf of the NEC;
2 Keep records of the National Conference, the National General Council, the NEC, the NWC, as well as other records of the ANC;
3 Conduct the correspondence of the NEC and the NWC and send out notices of all conferences and meetings at the national level;
4 Convey the decisions and instructions of the National Conference, the National General Council, the NEC and the NWC to the provincial executive committees and see to it that all units of the ANC carry out their duties properly.
5 Prepare annual reports on the work of the NEC and the NWC and such other documents which may, from time to time, be required by the NEC and the NWC, and
6 Present to the National Conference and National General Council a comprehensive statement of the state of the organisation and the administrative situation of the ANC.
Rule 16.8 closes it by saying:
“All departments shall report on their activities and be accountable to the secretary-general.”
Why then would a member of the ANC, who joins an organisation voluntarily, who agrees to respect both the organisation’s constitution and its structures as a matter of oath, decide that they can hold on to both this voluntary membership while not respecting the structures of the organisation? Why would anyone, knowing the responsibilities of the secretary-general, the powers bestowed upon him/her by the organisation’s constitution, choose to defy an ANC communication (as delivered by SG) and attack the person holding the office?
The one reason for these unwanted contradictions in the organisation, at least according to the document analysis produced by the ANC Political Education Subcommittee in 2015, is factionalism. If lower organisational structures and members of the party suspect that a decision by the higher structure was generated through a faction, they become reluctant to abide by it. When members and lower structures suspect that the best interests of the organisation are relegated to the back yard and factional interest finds pre-eminence, they lose confidence in higher structures and this manifest itself in subtle, sometimes open, revolts against the decisions of higher structures. Democratic centralism, which is a guiding principle of the ANC, requires that all members and lower organisational structures must have confidence in the capacity of higher organisational structures to take grounded and politically sound decisions that are in the best interests of the organisation.
The reluctance to abide by the decisions of the ANC as communicated by the secretary-general can only effectively mean these comrades view the SG and the decisions he communicates in factional lenses. The onus of course is on these comrades to prove this, otherwise the lack of a culture of discipline by members and structures of the organisation will dilute its revolutionary character and seriously degrade the capacity of the ANC to engage in the battle of ideas. It would be a road to ruin for the ANC to continue to allow factionalism to thrive, because factionalism generates an agitation that detests both organisational processes and the organisation’s constitution, as these are perceived as impediments to the factional agenda being realised.
Regrettably, though, in most instances factional politics reflect a leadership crisis and a weak organisation.
If you look at India, there is a general view that their late industrialisation was due to a weak state, weak political leadership and a fragmented Congress Party that was caught up in a web of factional battles. This means that if the ANC continues to reflect these factional traits, this will not only destroy the organisation but will derail the economic growth so needed in the country to sustain our way of life. The vision and purpose of the ANC stretches beyond immediate ANC members and its constituency; we dare not be so possessed in our perceived personal grievances to forget that.
The other dangerous aspect of defying a party line as communicated by the secretary-general, if the experience of other countries is to be believed, is that the chances of not getting re-elected are high. Once the effects of your defiance kick in, which usually results in poor performance both in elections and in office, the voters abandon you and blame you harshly for the poor performance. So defying the party line is a short-lived indulgence which may give one some modicum of independence, but it’s always the end of the road.
As Fidel Castro puts it in 1979, factions are a “debasement and a blemish to a revolutionary movement” and no self-respecting organisation or cadre can co-exist with factions.
We must unite now or perish. DM