Attacking the stalwarts won’t solve ANC’s woes
In the course of delivering his opening address at the ANC policy conference last weekend, President Jacob Zuma put aside his prepared speech and unleashed a no-holds-barred invective against the stalwarts and veterans of the organisation.
Subsequent protests by some of the senior leaders, among them national executive committee member Lindiwe Sisulu and Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile, sustain the hope that not all is lost. In these challenging times, our leaders need to remind themselves of the maxim, “Qui tacet consentire videtur” – silence implies consent.
Here was a man who leads a deeply fissured organisation compounding its woes by maliciously attacking a group of people whose only crime was that they continued to insist on the ANC seriously and expeditiously tackling a crisis that has seen it inexorably lose the confidence and trust of the nation – a crisis that has cost the ANC its hard-earned position as a respected leader of society.
The people Zuma derisively refers to as “so-called leaders” include upwards of 175 individuals, 101 of whom signed the document: For the Sake of our Future, which is in the public domain. (Many more veterans who were not signatories are requesting to be included.) To qualify to be an ANC veteran, one must be at least 60 years of age, and have been a member of the organisation for at least 40 years.
In the South African historical context, pretty much all the veterans have made a contribution of some significance, however little, to the freedom the country achieved in 1994.
Despite Zuma’s charges that this group considers itself too important to be members of the organisation’s branches, it just so happens that all the veterans with whom this writer has a personal acquaintanceship are, in fact, ANC branch members, and in good standing.
Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe have both accused the veterans of spurning the two days the ANC leadership had set aside for holding the consultative conference the veterans had been requesting since October last year. Mantashe calls it “a lost opportunity.” They also accuse the veterans of looking down on ANC branch members.
Strange that, considering that, in clause 15.1 of the veterans’ For the Sake of Our Future document, they say: “Among others, the radical positions the organisation should take must include: open and transparent discussions by members of branches and other structures and in open public meetings facilitated by the veterans.”
This is what Zuma said about the veterans to the policy conference delegates: “The branches, they think is just riff-raff. They want the discussions to be on a high level.”
Mantashe, quoted in The Citizen, said: “We could not agree how we talk to delegates, and said they [stalwarts] won’t talk to delegates of poor quality, and they wanted to talk to ANC leadership... If you say branches are of poor quality, you are blaming the victims.”
The president says something no one quite understands and the secretary-general creates a straw man and then deftly demolishes, with feigned wisdom, a case that was never made to begin with. So much for leadership integrity.
For the record, in their email of June 9 this year, addressed to Mantashe, the stalwarts and veterans said: “The stalwarts expressed concern that the November 2016 decision of the [national executive committee] requiring that the first two days of the policy conference would be dedicated to the national consultative conference, preempted any discussion on a number of critical factors, not least the need for there to be an opportunity for branches and other structures of the ANC to consider the For the Sake Our Future document prior to the national consultative conference, and to critically reflect on the outcomes of the conference.”
This is at variance with Mantashe’s claim that the veterans exclusively “wanted to talk to ANC leadership” or that they have scant regard for branch members.
The view of the veterans has always been that the consultative conference would be the culmination of an extensive stakeholderengagement process.
The ANC leadership obviously saw it differently, if at all. It is important to evaluate the statements made by Zuma and Mantashe about the veterans against recent statements made by Fikile Mbalula and Jessie Duarte, who maintain that there was never any agreement with the stalwarts and veterans on the holding a consultative conference. Neither Zuma nor Mantashe distanced themselves from these utterances.
When all has been said and done, the policy conference has come and gone, with Zuma triumphantly calling for a united ANC. Hearty congratulations, Mr President!
However, a number of key items await the imperiled ANC’s rescue agenda. These include, among others:
The development of a ruthless strategy to root out the endemic corruption engulfing the organisation and the state;
Dealing decisively with the phenomenon of “criminal state capture” – the SA Council of Churches’ Unbundling Report, the academic study, Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen, and the #GuptaLeaks would be good source documents;
How to get the ANC leadership to extricate its parliamentarians from being in breach of the Constitution; and
Modernising the organisation’s membership recruitment strategy and its internal electoral processes, and so on.