Mori­bund ANC’s sal­va­tion lies in los­ing next elec­tion

• Self-cor­rec­tion seems fu­tile as pa­tron­age has be­come a fea­ture not a bug

Business Day - - IN-DEPTH - Yunus Momo­niat

Adecade of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s lead­er­ship has brought the ANC to the point of no re­turn: it is fin­ished, and a bet­ter ver­sion can emerge only if it loses the 2019 elec­tion.

The ANC has un­der­gone many trans­for­ma­tions dur­ing its his­tory, but few pe­ri­ods have seen changes as rad­i­cal since Ja­cob Zuma be­came ANC pres­i­dent in De­cem­ber 2007. The only com­pa­ra­ble pe­riod, in dis­rup­tion, but not in con­tent, was the Man­dela-Sisulu revo­lu­tion in the mid-1940s.

A decade is a long time, even for a body 105 years old — enough time to in­flict per­ma­nent changes in its com­po­si­tion, na­ture, struc­ture and func­tion.

Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa has been one of many ANC lead­ers call­ing for an end to fac­tion­al­ism, for unity and for re­newal, but these amount to ap­peals that have no force or ef­fect — the butt of jokes made by cor­rupt, cyn­i­cal el­e­ments in the party.

Ramaphosa does not be­long to the dom­i­nant fac­tion in the ANC. The na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC) elected in Polok­wane in De­cem­ber 2007 was cho­sen by branch mem­bers mo­bilised by the Zuma fac­tion, which packed the branches to en­sure Zuma’s slate was elected.

When Thabo Mbeki was re­called in Septem­ber 2008, his friend and en­forcer Es­sop Pa­had was shocked. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port, he said: “Some­thing has hap­pened. I’m not sure what. But this NEC de­ci­sion is not the NEC I know.”

A purge of Mbeki-ites fol­lowed and those who re­mained were ren­dered im­po­tent. The MPs cho­sen for elec­tion lists by the Zuma fac­tion were per­ceived as pli­able and obe­di­ent to his dic­tates. The ANC en­tered into an era in which pa­tron­age — un­til then re­garded as a de­vi­a­tion — was the way of the party.

The ANC lead­er­ship that emerged af­ter its un­ban­ning in 1990 was an un­wieldy con­glom­er­a­tion of ex­iles, United Demo­cratic Front (UDF) ac­tivists and Robben Is­lan­ders. The for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers took prece­dence, fol­lowed in the peck­ing or­der by the ex­iles and UDF ac­tivists. Nel­son Man­dela and Wal­ter Sisulu set the moral tone and de­ter­mined the po­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties, while Mbeki, Ramaphosa and their sup­port bases vied for power.

De­spite the power plays, they were largely in agree­ment about po­lit­i­cal and moral im­per­a­tives, although the UDF fac­tion, Ramaphosa’s peo­ple, were dis­grun­tled, a sen­ti­ment that af­flicted Cosatu and South African Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers af­ter Mbeki took the reins.

The tra­jec­tory is more com­plex than this, and the ANC Youth League fea­tures heav­ily in this im­plo­sion. When Man­dela, Sisulu and Oliver Tambo were the dom­i­nant forces in the league of the 1940s, they de­fined the ANC po­si­tion for the next half-cen­tury.

By the early 1990s, the re­sus­ci­tated league’s lead­ers be­gan to re­de­fine the na­ture of the ANC, with Peter Mok­aba set­ting the tone for de­vel­op­ments that would cul­mi­nate in the leagues of Malusi Gi­gaba, Fik­ile Mbalula, Julius Malema and, most hor­ri­ble of all, Collen Maine.

When Mbalula was pres­i­dent, the youth league sold its soul to Brett Keb­ble. The death of the fake ty­coon opened the way for re­place­ment fun­ders, and the Gup­tas soon ap­peared.

Malema en­sured Zuma’s dom­i­nance, and op­po­nents were heck­led, si­lenced and po­lit­i­cally neu­tralised. The de­fence of Zuma dur­ing his rape trial, with its tribal mo­bil­i­sa­tion and con­tempt for in­clu­siv­ity, re­de­fined the ANC.

By 2007, the ANC and the tri­par­tite al­liance were well on their way to be­ing cap­tured by ten­der­preneurs and the Gup­tas. Cosatu and the com­mu­nist party willed Zuma on and gave the green light to state cap­ture.

The Zuma purge saw the ear­lier ethos of the party re­viled — se­nior lead­ers such as Kgalema Motlanthe, Joel Net­shiten­zhe and Pallo Jor­dan suf­fered the same fate as the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan. With them went state­craft, the well­be­ing of the coun­try and the ANC’s vot­ers.

Motlanthe, de­ter­mined to re­new the ANC, wanted to start a po­lit­i­cal school to ed­u­cate ANC youth and so­cialise them into the tra­di­tions of the move­ment. He never got the sup­port to get this project off the ground. He might even have been pre­vented from putting to­gether what would have been per­ceived as an eth­i­cal base to chal­lenge the cor­rupt body.

The in­creas­ingly dys­func­tional na­ture of the ANC can be seen in its pri­or­i­ties: “rebels” who up­hold the Man­dela line are cas­ti­gated, re­viled and ejected, while Cab­i­net min­is­ters who fail to ac­count to Par­lia­ment rise in stature. Cru­cial is­sues re­lated to state cap­ture are dis­cussed re­luc­tantly. When trea­son is not even recognised, the state has per­haps al­ready with­ered away.

Last week­end, Net­shiten­zhe lamented that the ANC no longer con­sti­tuted a cen­tre of power. It could no longer in­struct its de­ploy­ees on the way for­ward. In­stead, the courts, vet­er­ans and church lead­ers were try­ing in vain to get the body to self­cor­rect — a re­ver­sal from when the ANC de­fined the agenda. If self-cor­rec­tion proved a fail­ure, he said, “we will be known as the gen­er­a­tion in whose hands the ANC died”.

Ef­forts to save the ANC might al­ready be too late. In 2008, The Econ­o­mist re­ported: “Motlanthe warned a re­cent provin­cial con­fer­ence in Lim­popo that the party was in dan­ger of fol­low­ing other lib­er­a­tion move­ments that lost their way af­ter suc­cumb­ing to ‘di­vi­sion, fac­tion­al­ism, stag­na­tion and pa­tron­age’. If this scram­ble for of­fice and its spoils turns uglier, the ANC’s pop­u­lar­ity could dip.”

On Tues­day, Motlanthe told the BBC that the ANC had al­ready died. It needed, he said, to lose the 2019 elec­tion in or­der to be res­ur­rected and be­come it­self again, for that would be the only way the cor­rupt el­e­ments would slink away and leave the party to those in­ter­ested in the well­be­ing of the na­tion.


/Sim­phiwe Nk­wali

End of an era: The ear­lier ethos of the ANC, as de­fined by Nel­son Man­dela and his co­hort, is re­viled and se­nior leader Kgalema Motlanthe says or­di­nary mem­bers no longer have a say in run­ning the party. On Tues­day, he an­nounced to the BBC that the ANC had al­ready died.

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