ANC needs to relearn how to listen, understand, not just reply
AT THE ANC’S 53rd elective conference in Mangaung in 2012, the party committed itself to organisational renewal and to taking urgent and practical steps to restore core party values, stamp out factionalism and promote political discipline.
This week’s damning court ruling nullifying its 2015 provincial elective conference is an indictment on those resolutions taken to protect the image of the ANC and lays bare the deep factional fissures within the party, despite its public denials.
Witnessing the self-destruction of a liberation party is painful, a tragedy made worse by the fact that the destruction could have been avoided had it listened and acted to mend squabbles.
Instead, the blood-thirsty quest for power and position at all costs has meant party unity is no longer a central core value – despite its conference resolutions.
Even for many loyal ANC supporters, the internal fighting is becoming increasingly difficult to defend and ignore.
And, while many, particularly in Kwazulu-natal, still feel they “could never vote for the DA”, the court’s ruling on the illegitimacy of provincial leadership may be the final tipping point on their sentimental loyalty to the party.
This ANC must take responsibility for this tipping point. They are handing votes to opposition parties who are no doubt lapping them up with glee.
The court ruling also marks a turning point for the ANC’S dominant leadership structure. It weakens the strength of the mother body as key decision maker, sharpens party divisions and is precedent setting for other regions which will now take comfort in turning to the courts when they feel their grievances are not being addressed by the party’s top structures.
The approach to turn to the courts is humiliating for the ANC as it has always taken pride in resolving disputes internally.
Asking the courts to settle internal party disagreements is often seen as an act of treachery – like breaking the Mafia’s rule of omertà – a code of honour which prohibits members from betraying each other to authorities or speaking out against each other.
But, despite the writing on the wall, recent developments may well be the catalyst needed by the party to rise from the ashes.
It’s an opportunity to reinvent itself and emerge as a party willing to listen and act with integrity and humility. It cannot take loyalty for granted. The court decision proves that.
Already, barely a few days into the court ruling, the tide is turning as many disgruntled supporters of the ANC provincial leadership are said to be going back to former party chairperson Senzo Mchunu, cap in hand.
It’s a blow to Sihle Zikalala who now stands accused of ursurping his position as party chairperson in 2015.
The timing could not be worse. Zikalala is a Zuma man and with him at the helm in KZN, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was a confident presidential front runner.
This week’s judgment has thrown a curve ball to the party not just provincially but nationally.
Several party insiders have already cast doubt on the December elective taking place, saying it is now likely to be pushed to later next year.
“KZN will need to have a provincial elective conference first and there isn’t enough time. Even if a negotiated settlement does take place regions are going to object citing irregularities in the regional conferences as well.
“The ramifications are huge, we are going to see new leadership being elected regionally and provincially which are not likely to support the Zuma camp.
“It changes the presidential race completely, that’s the biggest outcome of the court decision and we could have avoided all this if the party listened to the concerns raised back in 2015. Now we have a fractured party with irreparable damage,” said one key insider.
With sentiments running high and political tension over the presidential race clouding party unity, its leadership has been left visibly shaken, overwhelmed and under siege – and it’s not a pretty sight.
Not even the ANC Women’s League has been able to mobilise internal support based on gender – turning against those female candidates – Lindiwe Sisulu and Baleka Mbete for daring to enter the presidential race against Dlamini Zuma.
As if that were not enough, the party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, this week called having eight candidates contesting for the position of ANC president in the party “abnormal and ridiculous”.
One can argue the ANC is the most diverse party and therefore likely to have robust disagreements.
The presidential ambitions of so many within the party and their bravado to openly declare their willingness to enter the race is commendable too. It demonstrates our political maturity and democracy.
But the ANC is playing a dangerous game in how it settles internal wrangling and position jostling. By failing to act and intervene decisively and fairly it has created a toxic environment where comrades are turning on each other with ease and impunity.
This is not the making of a third force or the opposition. This is the making of the party itself.
The vast majority of South Africans still believe in the core principle values of the ANC – even if they disagree with some of its leadership.
To regain this trust, the party’s leadership must first regain its integrity internally, among their own comrades.
They must relearn how to listen and to understand – not just to reply. Until then, the party will continue to self-destruct.