ANC needs to re­learn how to lis­ten, un­der­stand, not just re­ply

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Sunday Tribune - - NEWS&VIEWS - Zohra Teke

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.

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