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Eastern Cape ANC conference is a chance to redeem the party from thuggery and return to a contest of ideas

Vusumzi Mba is a former student activist and currently works as a researcher for the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders. Mawande Mnqayi is a former student activist and currently works as public servant in the Department of Justice and Correctional Services of South Africa.

How do you explain a person carrying a gun in an ANC meeting? That is an act of anti-intellectualism. The party has been hijacked by thugs and criminals who masquerade as political leaders. These are problems the ANC must confront if it is serious about its renewal.

The polarised political environment in the country has sparked the debate about the fundamental question of whether the ANC is still relevant, and if it is still relevant, how is it relevant? Another vital question that has emerged out of this debate is how to unite and reposition the ANC as a leader of society.

The debate has escalated to the level of igniting discussions on strengthening and reshaping the hegemony of the ANC in the current political arena. The premise in analysing the current challenges facing the ANC has to do with the quality of membership and leadership.

This article takes a contemporary approach in dealing with this given situation as opposed to articulating the history and role of the ANC as a national liberation movement that has shaped the current political environment.

The dismal performance of the ANC in the local government elections and cases of corruption have sharply raised concerns about what needs to be done to close ranks, unite and reposition the ANC as a peoples’ assembly. Even so, the concept of closing ranks is not a simple phenomenon. It requires serious political debate and education. The violence witnessed in branch general meetings leading up to regional conferences and last years’ local government elections represented a complete antithesis of the values espoused by this “once-glorious movement of the people”. 

We are great believers in political education because it breeds political maturity, organisational understanding, healthy political debates and exceptional leaders. It also breeds a political leadership that is honest and whose obsession lies with the people and not lie with the accumulation of wealth which is often accompanied by thuggery and violence.

While recognising contestation as a principle of democracy, there is a need for the ANC political leadership and elite to deal with factionalism and the general question of how to deal with corruption and cleanse the ANC. It is also necessary for the ANC to pay attention to particular issues such as the emergence of smaller political parties, poor service delivery, crime and the rise of vigilante groups.

Towards the end of April, the ANC in the Eastern Cape is supposed to convene its 2022 provincial elective conference. It will do so guided by the theme of the January 8 statement which serves as the ANCs mission statement for the year. This year’s theme – “The year of unity and renewal to defend and advance South Africa’s democratic gains” – sets out the organisational and political task before the party for 2022 and perhaps even beyond because no greater task faces the ANC today and in recent times than its renewal project and defending our country’s democratic gains.

The aforementioned conference is thus important because not only will it have to assess the ANC’s progress in relation to the task of renewal and defending the country’s gains, but it will also serve as a barometer of such progress. The activities that led to this conference have been marred by alleged membership rigging, factionalism and, at worst, violence, and there is an allegation of a hit list targeting certain leaders in Buffalo City.

What is taking place in the Eastern Cape is a microcosm of the problems besetting the ANC as an organisation nationally. Indeed, political education of its membership should be at the top of its renewal agenda.

In the recent past we have witnessed complete defiance of the “step-aside” resolution where questionable characters in both Mpumalanga provincial and eThekwini regional conferences were elected to office having been charged criminally. This is a clear demonstration of organisational ill-discipline.

More often than not a lack of organisational understanding among the rank and file is attributed to poor leadership. The emergence of vigilante groups such as Operation Dudula points to a sad reality of an existing leadership vacuum. Where is the “leader of society”? The obsession of the regional and provincial structures has significantly shifted towards access to government resources and deployment of cadres to strategic government positions rather than building strong branches which hold public representatives at the grassroots level accountable on matters of service delivery and development.

The ANC is no longer known for its historical role as a leader of society but is associated with ubusela and that those who dare hold dissenting views shall be removed from the face of the Earth. A branch meeting is designed for members to contest ideas in a constructive manner, guided by democratic principles. Today, meetings are no longer about superior logic prevailing in discussions, but intimidation and death threats.

How do you explain a person carrying a gun in a meeting? That is thuggery and an act of anti-intellectualism contrary to what the ANC used to be known for. It has been hijacked by thugs and criminals who masquerade as political leaders. These are, of course, problems the ANC must confront if it is serious about its renewal.

The ANC as a multiclass organisation has in its membership individuals from different sociocultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, with each contesting for power within the party, and obviously has a multiplicity of political personalities.

What has emerged out of the post-apartheid era is a black petit bourgeoisie that has added another layer to the fibre of ANC membership and has been able to use its economic resources to influence ANC conferences and consequently alter the organisation’s culture and traditions. Perhaps we need to urgently discuss the character and nature of the ANC in the post-democratic dispensation.

The selection and election of ANC leaders is no longer an exercise in examining who among the collective membership best embodies the core values of the organisation and can pass through the eye of a needle, but the outcome of an assessment of which patronage network best captures the individual and narrow interests of individuals within the party.

The latter is one factor that has served as the fundamental basis for the divisions within the “incumbent” provincial executive committee and to a greater extent the upward mobility of many ANC leaders. It must however be noted that while it may be argued that the campaign by Babalo Madikizela for party chair stands in conflict with ANC tradition in that it has not been seen before that a treasurer contests the centres of power in the leadership, it does create a progressive way of viewing these leadership structures and the ensuing contests within them.

It now stands to reason that anyone can be contested and anyone can contest. The old idea that the contest, as has been seen, would only be between the office of chairperson and secretariat is completely thrown out of the window by the Madikizela-led campaign.

It is our wish that the 2022 ANC provincial conference be remembered not for its violent behaviour – as displayed at its past conference dubbed “a festival of chairs” – but a meeting of minds where superior logic will prevail and where a tried and tested leadership will emerge victorious and advance the interests of the people.

If this does not happen, then the ANC as “a leader of society” runs the risk of being irrelevant. DM



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