EFF’s loss did nothing for ANC’s reputation
The “failure” by Julius Malema and his Red Berets to get the ANC to support their motion to have the Constitution amended so that land could be expropriated without compensation was a welcome loss. But it was worse than a hollow victory for the ANC, and one it will probably regret later.
Remember that, recently, President Jacob Zuma intimated that the party may have the Constitution amended to allow for land expropriation without compensation. Recent history has taught us that former liberation movements that face a possible loss of political power often resort to playing the land card to galvanise popular support.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and its strategists saw this as a weapon the ANC could use more effectively than it ever could, and figured out a way to delegitimise the ANC and wrest back the moral high ground, at least when it comes to land.
The ANC, which is permanently lethargic – its leaders have bigger fish to fry ahead of the December electoral conference – surrendered the fight to the EFF. By opposing the motion, it severely weakened Zuma at best, and, at worst, projected the party as out of touch and not quite serious about radical land reform.
Yes, the EFF outfoxed the ANC in Parliament on Tuesday.
How does the EFF find it so easy to run rings around the ANC the way it does? The EFF is on top of its game with its young and hungry political operators in Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and others.
The ANC does have similar talent, but they are “deployed” in government and other places, where their political voices are muted.
ANC leaders, who mostly serve in Parliament and the executive, are absorbed in the game of Survivor as they fight hard for the powerful positions that will be contested at the December conference. What makes matters worse is that they have to influence the membership in person, which is a costly and time-consuming exercise because they are not allowed to openly campaign. Thanks to their preoccupation with the conference, Parliament and executive duties suffer.
This leads to the real problem facing the ANC: it is stuck in a political strategy formed in 1997, when it had no real challengers and minimal internal issues. It was the year that saw former president Thabo Mbeki and Zuma elected unopposed as party president and deputy president, respectively. It was the year in which former president Nelson Mandela gladly surrendered power to a younger man who was not his first choice.
The ANC is a totally different animal now. It needs to start adapting to the 21st-century way of doing politics or prepare for its eventual demise. The ANC needs to modernise.
Crying victim to the bogeyman that is “white monopoly capital” is more a poor reflection of its own performance as a ruling party than it is the intransigence of those who control the economy.
After its dismal showing in last year’s local government elections, the party promised to become more introspective. Instead of going back to its supporters and voters, the ANC has been very busy speaking to itself. Branches and regions are party machinery, not its target audience.
This lapse has cost the ANC a golden opportunity to reboot itself by being informed by its support base. With a denialist Zuma downplaying the losses, the party is bound to repeat the loss and even do worse in two years’ time.
To modernise itself, the party must go back to basics. Its main tasks are to govern the country and lead society. To be effective in that regard, the ANC doesn’t need the kind of bloated structure it has – it needs a lean and mean force. At Luthuli House, it needs only a general secretary or CEO, overseen by the party president or chairperson and a national executive committee with fewer members. Functionaries must be professionals selected from the best its membership has to offer.
Elections that should matter are national, provincial and local government contests, not party positions. The ANC must allow its support base to nominate its candidates for such elections. Nothing energises the support base quite like being involved in such important contests, and that also keeps the base engaged. Engaged supporters energise their families and friends to go out and vote for their party when it matters.
An analysis of social-media insights suggests that ANC supporters want to have a say in political matters pertaining to the ANC. They long for the days when the ANC was a congress of the people and not a congress of “members in good standing”. However, the party isn’t hearing these voices because it is atrocious when it comes to public engagement.
This has also led to the popular belief that it has become arrogant.
When leaders only need to impress the voters and not the party bosses to earn and keep their jobs, they will do better for the party and the country. That will encourage excellence and the party will always field the best among its membership and not the most conniving.
As we defer the dream, 2017 will be bumpier, and the likes of the EFF and the DA are rubbing their hands with glee. Nkosi is an independent strategic communications
and public engagement specialist