Bowing to procedure
The ANC will this week observe its constitutional obligation to “convene a national policy conference at least six months before the national conference”.
Not doing so would very likely leave the leadership in breach of the party’s constitution and consequently facing the repercussions thereof. The obvious basic human instinct, under the circumstances, is for the leadership to “tick the boxes” and be on the right side of the rules.
The people who understood the importance of constitutional awareness in the ANC much earlier are ANC branch members. Even if you don’t do anything else to advance the popular interests of the ANC, you are guaranteed all the privileges and rights of a member or a structure in good standing if you know the rules and you stick to them. Has our national executive committee (NEC) descended to the same level of our primary leadership organs?
But in what way is this week’s gathering beginning to contribute towards a successful National Conference of the ANC in December? How are this policy conference’s recommendations going to help minimise the visible and serious threats against the December conference where they are only going to be ratified?
It is appropriate here to make the point that many constitutional provisions of organisations and institutions are informed by concrete experiences of their historical journeys. The inclusion in our constitution of a policy conference is one of those new practices which were considered necessary, informed by recent experiences, for the better management of ANC conferences. It was instigated by the growing vigour and zeal with which canvassing for leadership at national conferences was pursued, to the neglect of policy discussions – a phenomenon that has intensified. Today even the policy conference which was designed to minimise the detraction of slates politics that occurs at national conferences has arguably fallen prey to the shenanigans of factions.
Factions in our political life are a manifestation of the emergence of diverse interests outside of the common popular interests which members share. There is evidence that special conferences such as the consultative conferences which the ANC gave consideration to over its years of struggle have helped regain the unity of purpose within its leadership and its rank and file. This can only be achieved through a penultimate gathering at a particular moment, which devises concrete measures to arrest and redirect the energies of the organisation accordingly. The ANC constitution has a provision for a special conference. A successful special or consultative conference convened to address all the current wrongs which are alien to the ANC brand may have such a positive impact and engender a single-mindedness that would see the national conference in December take place in a relatively conflict-free environment, allowing more space and time to focus on delivery policies.
The Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) National Council believes we need a gathering which can sound a new clarion call. A call which foregrounds a fresh definition of discipline for cadres and members, and a scientific cadre policy anchored in the principle of social solidarity which integrates party and civic duties with the interests and ambitions of individuals.
In this regard, we find the libelous allegations that former MK members mobilised under the umbrella of the national council have declined to take part in the consultative conference deeply hurtful and regrettable.
Firstly, this untruth comes after we were told in a formally constituted meeting of the task team representing Luthuli House, the MK National Council and the 101 veterans and stalwarts that the ANC leadership has never agreed to nor will it in future agree to convening a consultative conference. All along we had been told that the only snag had been the disagreement on whether or not it should be linked to the policy conference. This effectively scuppered preparations for the national consultative conference. It is disingenuous for the secretary-general of the ANC to give the impression, particularly within the ANC community, that the MK council steering committee members childishly worked away from what he himself said does not exist.
Secondly, there is an abundance of evidence that the ANC secretary-general never supported the idea of a consultative conference because he did not, in his report to the last NEC meeting, advocate the discussion of the matter. Relevant preparatory issues would be: Who would be invited in addition to the elected leadership? What would the agenda be? What format was this dialogue going to assume? For example, were there discussion papers which were going to be prepared? Or were different structures and stakeholders going to be given slots to table their inputs? What was the anticipated status which the resolutions were going to be accorded? The secretary-general never canvassed these matters within the NEC.
Thirdly, the leadership, in particular the secretary-general’s office, did not expedite the preparations of the ANC’s provincial structures for what the secretary-general now calls “a meeting for a special dialogue”. Of all nine provinces only the Eastern Cape convened a provincial consultative conference to canvass views for its inputs.
The leadership of the ANC has let itself down. In the wake of the local government elections last year, the NEC opined that it would not act hastily, but would listen to the broad membership of the ANC first. There can be no better exercise in listening to the broad membership of the ANC than convening a special conference to consult them. Critically, the purpose cannot be to further enrich our understanding of the malady afflicting the organisation. We have philosophised for far too long about this syndrome. What we need is unanimity on a set of measures to be implemented immediately and the protocols which must be in place to expedite the smooth implementation of these measures; time frames and monitoring and evaluation procedures.
Whatever happens this weekend, even after all the time we have lost, we still believe that the leadership of the ANC will come to the realisation that a special consultative conference is not an option, but a necessity, for the success of the December conference. Makwetla is a joint convenor of the steering
committee of the MK National Council