28 March 2017

South Africa: Towards the ANC Policy Conference - What Hope for Renewal?


As African National Congress (ANC) Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe announced that Nelson Mandela Bay Regional Chairperson, Andile Lungisa, needed to step down as he was in violation of the ANC constitution, President Jacob Zuma voiced his support for Lungisa - declaring that the 'ancestors' had ordained his appointment.

This, of course, is typical of the contradictory double-speak used by the ANC and Zuma. As a result, Mantashe's authority is diminished - as is the party's own ability to discipline its members. Is it any wonder then that the ANC is unable to deal with corruption within its ranks? As the ANC policy conference beckons, one wonders how open discussions on the state of the party can happen effectively.

In its optimistic statement on the recent release of its policy documents, the ANC declared that, '[It] has always been a people's Parliament and ... it remains vitally important that the decisions of the ANC are shaped by popular mass endorsement at all times.'

The ANC has set itself the task of 'a wide-ranging policy discussion' to examine the country's 'development trajectory' and the triple challenge of 'poverty, inequality and unemployment.' As is usual with ANC policy documents, one would do well to look past the political jargon and focus on what lies beneath.

The 'strategy and tactics' document is a good indicator of how the ANC views the current balance of forces, as is its reflection on 'organisational renewal'. It continues to want to retain the balance between being a liberation movement and a modern-day political party.

A grim assessment of the internal workings of the ANC sits at the heart of the document when it says, 'The ANC faces declining fortunes. Internal squabbles, money politics, corruption and poor performance in government all conspire to undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of the broader public.'

Can the ANC balance being a liberation movement and a modern-day political party?

It goes on to talk about the dangers of a party and a state which are 'hollowed out', and the deleterious impact that has on governance. The discussion document recognises that the ANC is increasingly losing the trust of the people, as shown by its declining electoral performance and intense public criticism.

The document goes on to highlight the importance of ensuring that the ANC's most capable cadres be available to do organisational work and strengthen the party. It is therefore suggested that the size of the national executive committee (NEC) be reduced, and that the number of NEC members who serve in government should be limited to 65%.

Contained in this proposal is the recognition that some of the organisation's best cadres must remain in the ANC on a full-time basis. The paper poses questions pertaining to the size and shape of ANC branches, and suggests that the organisation establish a 'Revolutionary Electoral Commission' to deal with the manipulation of electoral processes. The process of open contestation is also mooted. That would not be unwelcome in these circumstances.

On graft, the party is clear when it says that, 'Corruption is eroding the social fabric of our society and continues to undermine our development efforts. Corruption is a two-way process, and corrupt practices are observed in both the public and private sector.

'The recent Auditor General's report highlights the unacceptable level of corruption in the public sector, made possible by lax controls. The report notes irregular expenditure of R25.7 billion across the country's national and provincial departments and public entities. The magnitude of corruption in the public sector diverts much-needed and scarce resources from the upliftment of our communities. This high level of corruption in our society are undermining development and social cohesion.'

No one can disagree with this damning assessment. The challenge as always is what the ANC will do about all this once the grim picture has been painted. It talks in general about oversight of state-owned enterprises, and also that these should be compelled to report corruption to law enforcement agencies.

The ANC is increasingly losing the trust of the people

In addition, it calls for the modernisation of the public service and institutions supporting democracy. But we have heard all this before. And while the ANC talks the talk on corruption, it needs to prove to itself and the citizenry that it can walk the walk.

The ANC, after all, was weak on the Nkandla matter - and even now has not comprehensively dealt with the allegations of 'state capture'. Our democratic institutions like the Hawks, police service and State Security Agency are in disarray and hamstrung by factional politics and corruption - and yet the ANC has been unable to lead convincingly.

As far back as 2007, then-secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe warned of 'the cancer of corruption eating away at the ANC'. In December 2005, then-president Thabo Mbeki addressed an ANC staff lekgotla and spoke at length about the 'new cadre' of the movement.

Mbeki's analysis then described how at successive intervals in the ANC's history, a 'new cadre' was required. Mbeki pointed out that the challenges for the ANC was then dealing with 'being in power'. He said: 'We have seen these people attracted to join the ANC as a bee is to a honey pot. They come with the view that they will use access to power for personal benefit.' He went on pointedly to add: 'We have been trying to raise this matter for some time now,' before listing examples of those who may carry an ANC membership card but, in their actions of stoking violence to gain positions, 'are not ANC'.

The ANC is in serious trouble and no amount of papering over the cracks will show otherwise

So the complexity of the liberation movement dealing with power and attempting to become a modern political party - constrained by free and fair elections, and then the transparency and accountability required in a democracy - has found the ANC sorely lacking in depth as well as its ability to keep the rent-seekers out. This challenge is, of course, not unique to the ANC as a liberation movement.

At Polokwane, the deep strains of intolerance that had been building across the tripartite alliance during the Mbeki years were felt almost from the first day of that ANC conference. Ahead of the meeting, there were already significant gripes regarding membership numbers and whether some delegates at Polokwane were members of branches in good standing or not.

The depth of rot within the ANC can also thus not be solved overnight. Its failure of internal democracy and consistent inability to weed out the rent-seekers has become a governance challenge across most of the country.

The ANC - long detached from its founding ideals and its members' voices - is in serious trouble and no amount of papering over the cracks will show otherwise. How does it therefore rejuvenate itself; and is that even possible? It has managed to do so over successive generations, and mostly had the calibre of leadership when it mattered most. That cannot be said of the current ANC, a shadow of its former self.

Judith February, ISS Consultant

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