Smaller ANC is better
In 2002, then president Thabo Mbeki used the term coined by Russia’s Vladimir Lenin to describe a good governing party. It should be, he said, “better smaller, but better”.
By this he meant that an ANC in government would be best served by a smaller signed-up membership so that it had high-quality cadres who would implement the party’s policies.
As the ANC battled the flames of Tshwane this week – started by disgruntled rank and file members, but then rapidly hijacked by a lumpenproletariat (a dystopian urban working class without jobs) – we ask: would the governing party now be better if it was smaller?
Here is why. The ANC has ballooned in size – it is down to about 700 000 members from just more than 1 million, but that is still too big. It is as easy as anything to sign up.
As writer Raymond Suttner has noted, the motivation for joining is very different today.
Whereas, in the past, members were aligned to the ANC’s mission of liberation, now the impetus to join is for goodies and access to power.
Wealthy businesspeople are said to easily buy branches of the ANC and, in so doing, swing votes, thereby corrupting the party and the state – but also corrupting the reason for being a member.
Branches are now so powerful that they can stop important policy and personnel decisions, and leaders are increasingly chosen not on their core qualities, but on their abilities to work or court the branches.
The phrase “Amandla asemasebeni” is increasingly no longer a statement of grassroots democracy lying with the membership, but a cry of power suggesting that he who controls the branches controls the party.
City Press is not arguing for a return to Mbeki’s style of running things with a hand-picked and often unelected cohort of intellectuals. But the massive network of branches and members all jockeying out of self-interest, and not for public interest, no longer serves state, party or public.
Because it has grown unwieldy, the ANC is in a pickle. Its Tshwane candidate, Thoko Didiza, can’t campaign in Pretoria or its townships. Yet the party can’t change its mind or it will risk a serious domino effect in other councils, where warring cadres will adopt a copy-cat approach. A smaller ANC is a better ANC for a period that requires development, not intense intra-party political contestation.
Better smaller, but better.