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If the ANC doesn’t change now, it risks governing in a coalition after the 2024 general elections


Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

The ANC is in a serious crisis — the party is highly divided. This is the first time that the party has gone below 50% of the vote since the dawn of our democracy.

It has been interesting to observe the election results responses. The party still enjoys so much goodwill in South African society and arguably internationally. It still has the luxury of people opting out of the electoral process altogether instead of voting for alternatives.

I don’t think the ANC fully appreciates the significance of the historical moment in which it finds itself; and the window to “self-correct and renew” is rapidly diminishing, as evidenced by the local government elections results.

The party will have to revisit the suggestion by the ANC Veterans that they hold a consultative conference. Since its formation, the ANC has held two consultative conferences; the first in 1969 and the second in 1985. If the ANC NEC took this route, it would show that it is indeed serious about self-correcting and about the renewal of the ANC.

It would have to also use a different method in electing delegates to such a conference and not use the one that we all know — of branch delegates — since this would be an extraordinary conference. 

In December next year, the ANC will hold its elective national conference although it has not held its National General Conference (NGC) which was due last year. Should the ANC go this route without holding a consultative conference, it would show that it is not serious about self-correcting.

The above-mentioned conference will further divide the organisation rather than unify it. The ANC leadership spends most of its time fighting internal factional battles. How will the leadership focus on good governance when it continues to fight among itself on a daily basis and plot on removing opposing faction members from political positions? 

On the other hand, there are regions and provinces that are due to hold their respective conferences, and there has been a delay in this regard over the past few months due to Covid-19 regulations. This is also where the battles will start in the build-up to the national conference, because both the CR and RET factions will have to consolidate power among regions that will support them next year once the nomination process has been opened by the ANC NEC. 

The ANC cannot want the short cut of rushing to an NGC or a national conference. It continues to decline because it can’t hold its deployed cadres accountable for not performing in their respective positions in government.

This is because the factions feel that they need to manage political relations which is often at the expense of the people, leading to the ANC losing votes during elections. If the ANC has to renew itself or self-correct, it will have to make very difficult decisions.

It will also have to start by looking at the kind of people it recruits into the ANC. The ANC has a document that it calls “through the eye of the needle”. It should actually use this document as a basis when it recruits new members instead of just recruiting for the sake of conferences because it wants to have numbers at a conference. This factional conduct ignores the quality of delegates and how those members or delegates would help to build a strong organisation. 

The process of renewal and self-correcting will need sober-minded people, as this process can’t be used to purge people. It needs people who will not be emotional and point fingers at others. Both the CR and RET factions will have to listen to each other and be tolerant of each other. Fighting each other after these elections will not be in the best interests of the ANC.

Post-Polokwane, the ANC has been at war with itself and we saw the formation of Cope and the EFF because of a lack of political tolerance within the party. It needs to put aside its differences if it is serious about unity. This will not be an easy process, but it will have to be done. 

This process should also include the ANCWL, ANCYL and MKMVA. A weak ANC means that its leagues become weaker and also the alliance becomes weaker. The ANC is the leader of an alliance that includes Cosatu and the SACP. The alliance partners have become weaker over the years as they continue to be involved in ANC factional battles that are not in the best interests of the ANC, but of individuals within the party. 

Renewal means also changing the character of the ANC as an organisation, as it can’t operate in the manner it has since 1994. It will also have to be transparent with members about its finances. The treasurer-general’s report is the only ANC report that is not given to delegates, who receive the political and organisational reports at every party conference.

Change is scary by its nature, but there is a need for change if the ANC is serious about governing South Africa.

The national general election is in 2024 and if the ANC does not change now, it will find itself in a national coalition government — as well as in some provinces. DM


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  • Dennis Bailey says:

    A national coalition is what any democratic government should be. How can any party represent the aspirations of such diverse citizenry as the people of SA? We have an end to the one-party state which has allowed the ANC carte-blanch and with which we are finally gatvol. May coalitions abound and may accountability and fairer representation result. The people have spoken. Suck it up.

  • Robert Morgan says:

    A leopard, or in this case a hyena cannot change its own spots. And the ANC is teeming with blemishes and blotches that no amount of self-correcting muti will eliminate. Excision of every corrupt cadre and their beneficiaries is the only way to save what’s left of this pustulent sore of a political party. Time for the lance.

  • District Six says:

    Only now? The ANC has been in crisis since 2012, deepening its factionalism and hobbling itself. “Oh, what crisis?” At any rate, it makes for interesting politics. The danger is that Ramaphosa is under even more pressure from the Z-ANC, which is certainly bad for all of us.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    This writer writes as if there are no alternatives. In fact, the ANC did its job, which was to liberate us. The best thing now – for us, the people – is for them to disband and re-emerge as properly constituted and focussed parties: a social-democratic party (the CR faction) a communist party, and a black nationalist party (the RET faction). The ‘broad church’ scenario worked for the struggle, but not thereafter. Today, its just about power, and it’s pickings. This boat can never be righted again.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    There isn’t enough time. For the ANC to change (to service delivery) would require selecting criminal and incompetent people out, changing the internal culture away from power-politics, train people in systems and performance management systems that don’t exist, and start systematically listening to the electorate. All this against ongoing faction-based resistance and sabotage. Good luck!

  • Hilary Morris says:

    As a piece of wishful thinking this article is a masterpiece. The ANC is incapable of unity because people hold diametrically opposed views and different ambitions. The LGE showed how little credence was given to the talk about unity – or indeed anything else. Sadly Ramaphosa has shown himself to be unable or unwilling to do what is needed. My guess is we’ll all look on with mounting horror as the charade continues to the point of implosion – let’s just hope it is sooner rather than later.

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