‘Act urgently to reverse decline’
THE FORTHCOMING ANC policy conference should only focus on three issues: organisational leadership; organisational modernisation and internal political management; and state performance of the ANC government. Other issues submitted for discussions at the conference are rather non-material for a political party that is currently crisis prone, in decline, and at the risk of losing the 2019 general elections.
The ANC is in a peculiar position internally, and in terms of its standing in society. It is increasingly vanishing into a sinkhole. Thus, its strategic engagement gatherings should be geared to pulling the organisation out of its own decline. Leading and managing this policy conference in the usual manner would yield the usual outcomes, when in fact it requires a turnaround strategic outcome.
Despite the ANC suffering major setbacks, it has not demonstrated a sense of urgency in strategy and tactic formulation to progressively reposition itself. The organisational setbacks include, but are not limited to the following: losing three metros in the last local government elections; its president having gone through seven motions of no confidence in the National Assembly, and two motions of no confidence from within the highest decision-making body in the ANC; economic decline to junk status; and persistently high levels of unemployment.
In all the NEC meetings the ANC has held since all the above happened, the outcomes have not been commensurate with an organisation historically honoured as a “leader of society”.
This policy conference is patterned similarly to past conferences when the ANC was stable. The draft policy discussion papers are relatively similar to the corresponding ones in the past in terms of both title and conceptual basis.
Therefore, all indications are that the policy conference will not yield a ground-breaking strategic outcome. In essence, the challenges that besiege the ANC will continue after the conference. Unless, of course, these challenges are addressed at the conference.
Here are the challenges facing the ANC: unwillingness to think differently and chart a new strategic pathway; a divisive factional leadership; a declining electoral support linked to the divisive leadership, ill governance, and the overwhelming public discourse on a captured government executive; and issues of corruption.
These issues perceptually and substantively affect the image and performance of the ANC. Unless these issues are aggressively and progressively addressed, the ANC will continue on an accelerated decline. Main-streamed, these are issues of leadership, organisational design and operational model, internal political management, and clean, capable government. The ANC should be prioritising these issues.
Other issues are mere routine compliance matters.
The first aspect of the ANC’s recovery or self-correction is leadership review and regeneration. The problems of the ANC are not membership-based, but orchestrated by a fragmented and factional leadership. It is a leadership short of individual statesmanship, but locked in factionalism.
Given the factional character of the leadership, it is inherently unable to manage internal conflict. Such conflicts are a common feature within the party. This is all the more so in liberal political dispensations. Besides the interest of the greater good, political parties serve as vehicles for the petty bourgeoisie to contest political power and access economic resources.
This is the case within the ANC. The ANC provides an institutional base for the political petty bourgeoisie and their allies within the private sector to contest for political leadership positions as a means to access wealth resources.
In this regard, the most that the ANC leadership could do is develop the ability to provide leadership, and manage such internal contestations.
Therefore, the ANC’s main leaders, from the president to the top six, should rise to the level of diplomacy, rather than explicitly being factional themselves. The factionalism of the ANC’s leadership renders it unable to instil the essential elements of political party sustainability – internal party cohesion and discipline.
This lack of leadership and political contestation management leads to the factions using the state institutions at their control to battle one another, rather than prioritising the public good. In the process, state performance, good governance, and the party itself collapses. This leads to the ANC losing public trust, and thus losing elections. In other words, the fortunes of the ANC as the ruling party are intrinsically linked to the cohesion and discipline of the party at the organisational level.
This requires the ANC to remodel itself, and strengthen its internal managerial capacity. Rather than the ANC’s preoccupation with the external balance of forces, it is actually its own internal unmanaged forces that lead to the decline of the party.
Hence, the second preoccupation for the ANC is its own internal political management. It is not so much the ANC’s internal democracy processes that matter, but rather how such internal democracy is managed.
As things stand, the ANC’s internal democracy, left to its own devices, is proving to be a problem to the party itself. ANC factions manipulate the internal democratic process of the party to achieve their inward, narrow goals. They partly use money to oil and hijack the democratic process for narrow, selfish outcomes. In essence, despite the predictive nature of internal democratic processes, they nevertheless require management.
Due to the failure of the ANC’s leadership to manage its internal politics, the factions have now assumed centre stage. It is for this leadership managerial failure that even a crucial succession process is actually led by the factions themselves.
Rather than the ANC leadership presenting an organisational concept and policy parameters within which the ANC presidential candidates should contest the elections, the contestation is led by the factions, and without leadership guidance and management.
This inability of the ANC leadership to manage its internal democracy, and the succession race, will result in the sustenance centrality of factions after the policy conference, and possibly after the December elective conference. This could be averted if the policy conference treats the current state of the ANC as critical, and therefore as requiring urgency and change.
As Albert Einstein famously noted: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Hlophe is a governance specialist at the Unisa School of Governance. He writes in his personal capacity.