Opportunity lost for the greater good
Organisational turnaround and ANC’s flawed leadership not dealt with, writes
THE 5th ANC policy conference has been an opportunity lost. For a ruling party fraught with internal discord; increasing poor record of state governance; declining electoral support, and integrity challenges – the policy conference did not meet these challenges. Rather than setting in motion means to turn a new corner, the conference degenerated into the usual business as usual.
In retrospect, it was a mistake to factor in the consultative element into the policy conference. It now does appear that perhaps the movement’s veterans and stalwarts were correct to argue that a consultative summit should have been set apart from the policy conference.
Allocating the first two days as a consultative summit, watered down the vitality of a consultative summit as the basis for the movement’s transformation and revitalisation. Rather than being seen as an important substantive step towards rebuilding the ANC, the first two days just appeared as an act to accommodate the veterans.
It did not help that most of the veterans boycotted these two days. Thus, making the first two days more of muscle flexing than a reflection of the growing weaknesses of the organisation. Moreover, party president Jacob Zuma’s unscripted onslaught on the veterans only served to sharpen the internal battle lines.
Rather than uniting a fragmenting organisation by reaching out to the stalwarts, the president’s take on the veterans was more divisive.
The most valuable opportunity was missed in the manner that various factions reacted to the diagnostic report presented by secretary- general Gwede Mantashe.
The report presented the challenges facing the ANC. Among other issues, the report articulated itself on the following ANC challenges: growing mistrust against the ANC by the people; internal decline in values and ethics; the growing perception of a corrupt ANC; factional divisions; decline of internal discipline; and the inability of the ANC to focus on organisational solutions. The one major challenge of the diagnostic report is failure to make direct reference to the ANC’s flawed leadership. As is the case with some of the other policy conference discussion documents, reference to leadership is merely implied.
Thus, while the diagnostic report refers to organisational ills of factionalism; corruption, state capture and the Guptarisation of the executive, public sector senior administration, and state-owned enterprises, itshies away from directly dealing with the role of leadership.
While the diagnostic report seeks to deal with the “health of the organisation”, it makes no substantive reflection that its own president has faced eight motions of no confidence in Parliament.
It makes no reference to its president going through two motions of no confidence within the highest decision-making structure – the NEC.
It makes no reference to its president being barred from speaking at certain gatherings of the ANC’s strategic partners – the SACP and Cosatu. The ANC has lost the status of being broadly the “leader of society” and of being the “leader of the alliance”.
However, besides this substantive omission in the diagnostic report, an honest engagement with the report could have still yielded a substantive outcome. Instead, different groupings reacted to the report as per their factional alignment. Those in the leading faction, saw the report as an attack on the leadership regime.
Therefore, they resisted the tabling of the report, despite the fact that the NEC sanctioned it. This factional alignment prioritisation over substantive ideas marked how many other discussions and debates unfolded. In the main, this may not be a problem if the leadership itself is above these factions. Then, it is too entrenched within the factions to provide guidance.
The ANC’s missed opportunity is an organisational one rather than a policy one. The ANC missed an opportunity to map out its own leadership and managerial transformation.
The current failures of the ANC and loss of integrity and popularity with many of its followers, are not a result of policy deficiency. The failures and challenges of the ANC are organisational.
Even at the organisational level, the challenges are not the branches, internal systems, and processes per se. But leadership guidance, and the management of group and individual contestations.
What has been christened in the ANC as “factions” are merely a result of failure of internal political management. Internal group contestations, can, through prudent leadership, be geared towards the organisation’s greater good.
When the leadership fails in this regard, these contests assume a life of their own. In the main, they become inward looking, in the process, they become destructive to both the organisation and the ANC as the majority party.
Policy debates or discussions on radical economic transformation, or the much debated monopoly capital, are immaterial in the context of an organisationally weak ANC. Interestingly, it was suggested at the conference that ANC policies are good, but implementation is poor.
If indeed this is true, the ANC then needs to focus on its organisational capacity as the majority party to perform. But then, for the ANC to perform well as the party of the majority, it must first strengthen itself well organisationally.
The much pronounced factionalism in the organisation, is an indication of an organisation in disarray. The poor performance of some state-owned enterprises, and the economy, is a reflection of poor performance by the majority party.
In essence, the ANC’s problems are organisational integrity, and party performance related. At the heart of this, is the challenge of leadership.
This policy conference, has failed to position an ANC movement that could be on a transformation path to deliver a better quality of life for the downtrodden masses. This failure, is primarily based on a factional-based approach to deliberations, rather than organisational utility.
The conference was structured on the same basis as always, when in reality, the ANC requires an organisational turnaround strategy. It was bound to produce the usual outcomes. This conference therefore, has not produced groundbreaking decisions, and hence, moving forward, the ANC is on business as usual. It is indeed, an opportunity lost.
Has not produced groundbreaking decisions
Hlophe is a governance specialist at the Unisa School of Governance. He writes in his personal capacity.