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ANC Conference: How it should work, how it does work, and what might actually happen


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

As both sides steady themselves with the start of the ANC national conference in December, all eyes will be on the credentials report. This is the report that will determine whether the conference continues or not. Chaos will erupt at the December conference, of this I am certain.

The process followed by the ANC leading up to its five yearly elective conference is rather involved and it’s also the highest decision-making constitutional structure of the entire organisation. The National Executive Committee (NEC) elected at this conference will be the highest decision-making structure between such conferences. The NEC consist of 80 members and only meets quarterly; however, a National Working Committee (NWC) is constituted to meet monthly to do the more day-to-day management of the party. The top six officials meet weekly and these individuals are responsible for the running of the party, hence the full-time positions of Secretary-General and Treasurer-General respectively.

The NEC was not always so large and in fact the Zuma leadership enlarged the committee by 30 members, having only been 50 in the past. This decision also led to the executive being enlarged at government level.

Branches of the ANC are encouraged in the five-year period between conferences to engage with community issues for the betterment of those communities and engage in political education and thought. When, however, it is a conference year such as this one, branches are expected to prepare for the national policy conference (usually six months before the elective conference) and the various resolutions that will find expression at such a conference. These are circulated weeks before so that proper engagements are allowed for.

A group of branches constitute a region and a group of regions constitute a province. Each structure in the value chain has a leadership; in the regions these are known as regional executive committees (RECs) and in the provinces is PECs. These structures in turn engage with such policy documents towards the policy conference. The individual policy documents/papers are commissioned to individual persons to write and/or a group of persons. This is engaged with by the NWC and NEC and only after it is adopted as an official document will it be presented at policy conference, in the various commissions.

In the same year of the elective conference after the policy conference, though, the SG’s office undertakes a full membership audit. This exercise is necessary in order to check whether branches (the most basic units in the organisation) are in good standing, since the organisation is made up of branches and technically not regions or provinces. The audit looks at verifying whether all members of a branch are paid-up and in good standing, meaning that besides being paid up he/she does not have any outstanding disciplinary actions levelled against them.

This verification process is done manually because the ANC does not have a proper functioning membership database system and hence membership cards to its members are something foreign. One wonders whose interests this dysfunction serves better?

All branches are encouraged to meet at their Annual General Meeting to elect their respective delegates who will in turn represent their branch at the National Elective Conference. The same branch would have discussed their preferred candidates for the top six and as a result the presidential candidate’s name.

For every 100 members you have in good standing you are allowed to elect one delegate to represent the branch. In your previously advantaged (white) areas, where it is usually difficult to register 100-plus members, an allowance is made for 50 plus one members to constitute a branch and hence for 50 members you are allowed one representative to the conference; thereafter they must have 100 or more. A commonly held belief which is not true is that if you have 3,000 members (in good standing) in your branch, you are allowed to elect 30 representatives to conference.

It’s untrue because the actual formula as per the ANC constitution is that first, all branches must have one delegate to the conference, in other words, all branches must have representation, first and foremost. Then, the leagues get their number of delegates, youth, women and veterans (normally about 30 representatives each); these three leagues have the same standing in conference as a province, then the guests that the ANC invites to the open session of the conference, diplomatic corps, corporate types, government officials and so on (usually another 200 people). Then what is taken into consideration is the capacity of the venue after all of the above. So if an additional 2,000 seats are still available, a formula is agreed upon to allow the bigger branches to send additional representatives. In other words, those branches that have more than the customary 100 members will now be allowed to send additional representatives. By way of example, for every branch that has an additional 200 members, one additional delegate, thereafter, every branch with an additional 1,000 members, one more delegate and so on. This formula is not fixed and changes from time to time. This is done until the capacity of the venue is saturated. The point is that it is not automatic that big-number branches will have huge numbers of delegates, apropos Mpumalanga province.

This is what is supposed to happen; now let’s look at what actually happens in the current ANC

Irregularities creep in even at the verification of branches stage, in other words with the audit process. Regions and/or provinces manipulate the numbers, bogus members are created by paying membership fees into the organisation’s bank accounts (R100 per member) when in fact these members do not exist. When it comes to the Annual General Meetings and you now have to produce these members, you simply get them from the streets, paying them a nominal fee for their participation on the day; intimidation and death threats and in some cases actual deaths of opponents to ensure that nominations go according to what some want. This is a reality in all provinces, one only has to look at the number of court cases in all provinces challenging each other’s legitimacy, processes and who the real leadership is.

In KZN we have the case between the current illegal PEC (as the court ruling stated) and those that were deposed some months back. In Free State, some have decided to take Ace Magashule and his PEC leadership to court for not having held a provincial conference to date (required by the ANC constitution). In North West, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, lawfare is also continuing unabated. Whether these cases will all have been resolved before December is another consideration.

We can safely conclude that the National Conference will also end up in our courts. And dare I say, there won’t only be flying chairs but the public order police might have to come in to disperse some unruly elements from the conference.

Then there is the full might of the State apparatus, through the Intelligence structures, that also want to see a preferred outcome, if what we read nowadays is to be believed. Everyone is probably being listened to through bugging devices, with their phones bugged; the Grabbers are most likely working overtime and the number of agents that have been allocated to this new mission must be extraordinary to say the least. Last, a final intervention by some corrupt elements will be to entice voting delegates at the conference venue with the lure of money. Huge stashes of money make the rounds and certain unsavoury characters go around paying various amounts to certain delegates to ensure they vote a certain way. And dare I say, money is no object for some of these people as we have seen with the Guptas and the sums of money they have offered some good people in order to get their way.

However, let us assume that by some miracle the conference takes place without incidents. What can we expect?

Scenario One

The Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma group wins the elections and attempts to extend a hand of friendship to the CR17 group and in fact would want to accommodate some of their members in the new NEC; this will however be refused out of hand by some. With the Premier League team being in the top echelons of the ANC leadership now, we can safely assume more of the same continuing. In other words, corruption, a failing economy, State Capture, and a government that is losing its legitimacy daily. This remains a logical assumption since the Guptas and these cronies are in cahoots with one another. President Dlamini Zuma will of course try to appease investors and the nation at large by making certain political statements such as guaranteeing the independence of the Reserve Bank, the NPA head might have to fall, guarantees around National Treasury being respected and no political interference assured, and so on. And the country takes a wait-and-see approach till 2019 and how radical economic transformation will be implemented in the interim period.

Scenario Two

The CR17 (Cyril Ramaphosa) group wins the elections and again will extend a hand of friendship to attempt to accommodate some selected few in the new NEC. This will only be done to ensure some institutional memory of government and to accommodate some of the younger members of the NDZ group. As soon as January sweeping changes will be announced, such as President Zuma will be recalled and if he refuses, Parliament will be instructed to start the necessary steps to institute impeachment procedures.

The acting president will be told to reshuffle Cabinet with immediate effect; Finance Ministry and the entire security cluster will be cleaned up. Prepare for the 2019 general elections and appeal to the nation to grant us another opportunity to correct the ills of the past, including the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment. A radical intervention will of course be required. Radical for me means the private sector, in a new social compact, agrees to a stimulus package to kick-start the economy again; for every rand value the government puts forward corporate South Africa commits to match it; R300-billion is what will be required according to some economists. Labour on the other hand in the same social compact, in turn, commits to a public wage bill freeze for three years to assist in their own small way to the recovery of the SA economy.

Both camps will of course put the land question at the top of their transformation agenda; asserting how land appropriation and land redistribution should be executed going forward.

Everyone, I’m certain, hopes for the above, but we cannot ignore that currently the alliance is totally divided, whether it be Cosatu affiliates, the SACP and indeed the ANC and all its leagues, what with all its infighting.

Given all this, setting this scene, let us now look at some scenarios that will play out in December if the above miracle does not happen

Scenario One

Immediately after the credentials report is contested, the CR17 group realise that they do not have the numbers and that huge irregularities have occurred in the process running up to conference, so they decide to walk out of conference, causing a legitimacy vacuum to occur. The Zuma group continue with the conference, each side claiming that they are the legitimate representatives of the members of the ANC. This will be put before the courts.

Scenario Two

Immediately after the credentials report is contested, the Zuma group realise they do not have the numbers and the only option open to them is to disrupt the conference (like what we saw in the Eastern Cape conference) and ensure that whatever happens, this conference will not take place. Chaos will be the order of the day with police and all security personnel being put in a very awkward position. The courts will later come into the fray.

Scenario Three

Reason prevails from both sides and a third compromise candidate is agreed upon to ensure unity, peace and stability and a likely guaranteed victory at the polls in 2019.

With the options this bleak, what is to be done?

Do not be surprised if this ANC leadership decides at the last minute, unlike previous conferences, that no media will be invited inside the conference and that a perimeter fence is created, where the spokespersons meeting with them somewhere far removed from conference proceedings.

Second, they will decide that no mobile phones will be allowed inside the conference hall so as to ensure that no amateur footage finds its way to news outlets. Anyone found to violate these recommendations will be summarily told to vacate and return to their respective provinces at their own cost. I do hope that the curbing of these fundamental rights will not occur but I will put nothing past this current leadership.

So, in the final analysis, it’s really not about what will be the outcome of the December conference but whether there will be an outcome at all.

Chaos will erupt at the December conference, of this I am certain. The only question of any relevance is how fast the ANC will kill itself over the weeks to follow and leading up to the 2019 general elections. DM


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