Smaller ANC is bet­ter

CityPress - - Voices -

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.

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