A father became concerned with the constant bickering and rivalry between his four sons and could no longer stand it. He called them together one day and handed the first son a pile of sticks. “Break them”, he said. Taking the pile of sticks, the first son tried, but couldn’t break them.
Then the father handed the second son the pile of sticks, and gave him the same command: “break them”. Together still in a pile, the second son tried but couldn’t break them. The father handed it to his third son, same, the third son could not break them.
Outwitting his three brothers, the youngest son, when it was his turn, took each stick one by one and began to break them. The father’s lesson was simple: together and united, you cannot be broken. Yet if you divide each other up, the enemy will be able to break you one at a time.
South Africa has witnessed in the last few months attempts being made by its former liberation movement and now ruling party, the ANC, to unite the organisation. Former President Jacob Zuma was at pains to explain that his desire to stay longer in office was to display this unity between him and the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, in the build-up to the national and provincial elections in 2019.
While some may argue that the recall and the subsequent Cabinet reshuffle had the consequences of once again breaking the unity in the ANC, we have seen Luthuli House, in particular, go out of its way in order to ensure that no one is left out in the cold but kept inside the ANC. Even the invitation to invite former presidents of the ANC and the republic to participate in NEC meetings, ANC activities and electioneering has exemplified this, ensuring that ANC leaders and members remain united.
The deployment of various leaders to various positions within the organisation, some on a full-time basis, has also illustrated this need for ensuring that all are kept inside the fold. Evidently the Luthuli House of Ace Magashule is going to be a very different one from that of Gwede Mantashe, given that the headquarters of the party has now been bolstered with such senior leadership and young talent. The deployment of Fikile Mbalula shows intent on the part of the new officials at Luthuli House.
However, the word for “blessing” in Hebrew is the same word for “curse”. What may be a blessing could also easily be a curse. The inclusion of such senior leaders could easily spell a situation where a number of whales find themselves in a fish pond. But this scenario is illustrative of all the structures of the ANC. Often egos, personalities and individuals try to outshine each other at a provincial, regional and even branch level. If anything, division, patronage and factionalism are often based on the individual.
Yet as individuals it is easy to break the organisation, just as it is easier to break an individual stick at a time.
Those deployed and volunteering for the ANC, at all levels, would therefore do well to create unity of purpose among themselves. This purpose should be fundamentally one which spells the orientation and programme of the ANC. As this new leadership emerges from the 54th National Conference, one can think of no better purpose than simply following the resolutions of that conference as a guide for unity.
One of the resolutions of the conference was the task to ensure that the ANC becomes a modern, feisty political party but appreciating its history and making itself electable as a government of the future.
The 54th National Conference was clear that the Freedom Charter remained the cornerstone of all ANC policy and that the South African economy, in particular, had to be orientated towards the goals of the Freedom Charter, especially the call that all the people shall share in the wealth of the country.
In this respect, the resolutions went even further to indicate to government that it had to ensure a social pact between itself, labour, business and civil society which must prioritise the acceleration of economic growth and the creation of jobs. Already we have seen evidence in President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address in ensuring that this social compact is strengthened and implemented.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed the debates on the expropriation of land without compensation and the nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank. Yet the 54th National Conference was also sensible to ensure that these be done through careful consideration of the economy and other sectors, such as food security, in the case of land, and the financial sector, in the instance of the SARB, and not through populism. Sensible and well-reasoned arguments are what Team ANC should be putting out.
After being in office for more than two decades, the ANC resolved that it has to speed up the implementation of programmes which deliver basic services to communities and that all spheres of government are capacitated to do so. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that after two decades the ANC still prioritises capacity but hopefully urgency will now be added to this need.
Even more so, the conference resolved that ANC members must ensure that they roll out and participate in programmes aimed at addressing the serious social ills that continue to plague our communities: gender-based violence, substance abuse, crime and violence. The ANC, its members resolved, must be a leader in fighting corruption, both in the public and private sectors, as well as being the prime mover in building social cohesion in South Africa.
Yet the most important resolution, the ANC may yet find, is the one in addressing the plight of young people and ensuring that the skills revolution takes place. For if anything, history has taught us that it is young people who are the leaders in development and who could easily ensure the downfall of the ANC.
In this respect, President Ramaphosa should be appointing more young people to his Cabinet and the ANC must ensure that more of its members in Parliament come from the ranks of young people. It was, after all, the youngest son who knew exactly how to break the sticks.
Fifteen years ago, in 2004, the ANC was given a special opportunity. It had been in office for a decade and it had changed people’s lives. The opposition was at its weakest and as a result the ANC could secure a result of nearly 70% of the national vote. In that same year, it was also able to govern all nine provinces, yet the message from the leadership was simple: we are united, let us make sure we deliver.
If the ANC wishes to deliver such a result again in 2019, it could easily do so. The opposition is weak and fighting among themselves. All the ANC needs to do is to stop fighting, stop the politics of vindictiveness, and tell some within its ranks to stop being triumphalist and unite to deliver on the mandate of the 54th National Conference. If the ANC does that, stands united and delivers, it will not be broken! DM