Opinionista Jessie Duarte 30 March 2017

For renewal and relevance, let’s shine a light into the dark corners of the soul of the ANC

The policy issues and contestations around policy are really often proxies to battle for power and leadership, so as to control patterns of patronage. The ANC has to take the lead and reshape the organisation into a fighting force for the resolution of issues that face the people in the areas where they live. This is hard work and requires a concentrated programme on issues such as crime, corruption, youth unemployment and delivery.

In an era when our society is engaged in a struggle around decolonisation, forgive me for starting with a quote form WB Yeats, who wrote,

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

This quote sums up the ANC as we enter into a period where we will be engaging on our policies for the future and electing a new leadership to implement those policies. If, however, we do not examine the dark corners in the soul of the ANC, we will be doing this organisation that is more than a century old a disservice. This disservice will be tantamount to selling out the revolution and the goals of transforming our society.

The ANC was born in 1912. Throughout its history, there have been other liberation organisations who felt that the ANC was too conservative, while of course the organisations of the oppressors felt that it was the too radical.

Despite these opposing views and forces, the ANC has always been able to tap into the soul of the majority of South Africans. It was able to read and shape the political mood and organise people around what affected them directly. It was also able to interpret the diverse thoughts and ideas of ordinary people in such a way that it helped shape a national and international consciousness around rights and values in such a way that South Africa was synonymous with the ideal of a country and government that had, as its end-game, a government of the people that models freedom, equality and justice.

This ideal is exemplified in the Constitution and a governance framework based on the principles of the Rule of Law – which simply means that all people are equal before the law and that no person or institution is above the law.

The ANC has done this, accepting a form of internal democracy that acknowledges plurality within a single organisation. Our term for this is a “broad church”. This describes an organisation where there are several ideological views represented in individuals who join the organisation, and within those, varying tendencies. Within this historical strength lies a weakness when confronted by a lack of leadership that is able to contain and manage the different strains of ideologies and tendencies within the organisation.

The ANC has opened its doors to the entire citizenry of South Africa and thus the spectrum of views is wide and may at times appear to be irreconcilable, yet over the decades a programme for the liberation of the people of South Africa from colonialism of a special type and apartheid has ensued with success.

A key issue that now arises is whether we faltered in these goals and are the internal dynamics of the ANC and its traditional alliance structures weakening our abilities to govern in a manner that demonstrates that we are not only concerned with our own immediate needs and wants but are acting to create a better life and society for our children and grandchildren.

A key question, a “dark corner” that must be explored, is whether the new trend of almost permanent power struggles is due to the contradictions becoming too sharp for the leadership to contain and manage it, or are contestations about power in the organisation really about access to resources, given that we are a governing party?

This “dark corner” must be explored in-depth if we are to rebuild the organisation.

Let me use the issues of social grants administration as an example. The country’s social assistance programme has been built by an ANC government to the extent that it is regarded as a role model for other developing countries. At the same time we have an ANC and government policy that places significant importance on Broad Based Economic Empowerment. In this example our noble policy of providing a safety net for the poor was undermined by deviating from the policies of Broad Based Economic Empowerment. In fact, the contract for grants administration was awarded to a foreign-listed wealthy white-owned company whose profit motive expanded to include the abuse of private information of the recipients so as to create a market that exploited the poor by selling them unnecessary secondary financial services.

The Constitutional Court berated SASSA for allowing a company to win a huge tender while its BBEE credentials was essentially fronting. In this case we undermined a key ANC policy broadening opportunities for the black businesses. It is also symptomatic of an administrative weakness wherein essentially white-owned businesses need only show scant evidence of a BEE partner to qualify for tenders with the state.

The contestation by BEE partners for a slice of this pie serves to deepen cleavages in the ANC as our own seek to monopolise access to these resources. This is a weakness, a “dark corner” in the soul of the organisation that must be addressed as we seek to rebuild the organisation.

From a policy perspective the broad church has left us with fractured and sometimes contradictory policies. This has in some cases led to different arms of government implementing different policies that are contradictory. For example, the chapter on the economy in the National Development Plan is being implemented by the economic cluster. The social cluster departments are implementing chapters from the National Development Plan that are more expansionary and pro-poor. Both clusters are implementing agreed ANC policies and are indicative of the different policy narratives within the the ANC itself. Unless we deal with this policy “dark corner” within our organisation we will keep open the doors for opportunists who will use slogans like “he needs to deal with white monopoly capital” as a cover for essentially contesting for state resources. In the process they weaken the ANC!

Within this broad church we need to agree on what constitutes radical economic transformation. We need to define it beyond the realms of slogans and then task government deployees to implement them, with proper oversight by the ANC. This includes detailed plans on what is needed to restructure the economy so that we can reduce poverty and inequality. It means we must define and agree on how we want to change apartheid-era land ownership patterns and task government deployees to implement it with due oversight from the ANC.

We can only do this by defining the policy soul of the ANC. Are we centre, centre-left or a left organisation? What does a “disciplined home of the left”, as we state in our strategy and tactics documents, really mean? This means that we must engage openly and robustly with our alliance partners about the nature of the ANC and the alliance and also the nature of the state we want to build.

What is to be done?

We need to deal with all the “dark corners” I alluded to above. The policy issues and contestations around policy are really often proxies to battle for power and leadership, so as to control patterns of patronage. The ANC has to take the lead and reshape the organisation into a fighting force for the resolution of issues that face the people in the areas where they live. This is hard work and requires a concentrated programme on issues such as crime, corruption, youth unemployment and delivery.

The tussle between the ANC leadership and the veterans of the ANC is a misdirected power battle that will neither result in the NDR being put back on a firm track nor will it build the ANC, it has the potential to destroy the ANC and harden existing factional lines. There is a reluctance on the part of the ANC at various levels to acknowledge the existence of factions, but these factions have been in place since 2005, they manifest as those who supported Mbeki and those who support Zuma, but in reality these are factions that are hell-bent on owning the resource highway in the state. This is perhaps the most important “dark corner” which, if not resolved, will destroy the organisation.

The future of the ANC lies in broadening its political base to be very inclusive and a management plan to take the organisation through the troubled period between now and December 2017. The reality that loss of power to a right-wing and severely reactionary DA is a threat may shock both the veterans of the ANC into a more positive work-based agenda as well as shock the branches and structures of the ANC to accept that the leadership battles are futile in the face of an impending general election with lower margins.

Ambitious leadership was the style of the Mbeki era with ever changing plans and acrimonious relationships with left-leaning alliance partners. The current leadership may be afflicted by a similar malaise, that leading and power become the objectives rather than a programme to transform the country that must be ably led. We may find that those who win the ANC leadership later this year, through undisciplined and unprincipled means, will also ironically lose power in government. It may be easy to be angry with the views of the elderly in our organisation, but what is more important is that we have to in fact address the challenge of reasserting the influence of the ANC in our society. The policies of the ANC are correct but need to be correctly applied. Corruption and crime need to be viciously and relentlessly booted out. Transactional political relationships need to be replaced with revolutionary relationships based on the one and only thing that matters – serving the people.

When ordinary people and civil society organisations are moved to counter the ANC and the government in key areas wherein the ANC has historically been seen as the leader, then we are indeed facing a dilemma. The loss of hegemony can be seen when broad issue-based movements we, as the then UDF, mobilised to systemically erode the formal and informal legitimacy of the National Party, are being deployed against the ANC government, and with significant levels of legitimacy.

We are far from becoming an illegitimate government, but if we continue to let things proceed as they are we will lose the critical mass of legal and moral authority to govern well and democratically.

To conclude, while we may not yet agree on the nature of the state, we must be able to agree on building a capable state. This means not rewarding those of our deployed cadres who blatantly disregard the laws of the country and the policies of the ANC, while needlessly punishing and pressuring those who follow the current policies and laws we have, even if we may not like those policies and laws. A capable state needs dedicated civil servants and institutions that respect the rule of law and do not bring the ANC into disrepute. DM

Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary-General of the African National Congress

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